Inside Google’s Toronto headquarters

Have you ever Googled “google”? Chances are you have. Google doesn’t really know why people are doing it — perhaps it has something to do with the longstanding but yet unproven rumour that typing “Google” into the search bar will actually break the internet.

Google knows a lot about the search habits of regular people. They know that searches for “hangover” peak on New Year’s Day, while “vodka” peaks the day before. Search remains the largest chunk of their business, with 70% of staffers dedicated to making smarter, more efficient search tools. On Tuesday evening, Google Canada and The Society of Business Editors and Writers invited journalists to the search giant’s Toronto headquarters for a free training session that quickly reached capacity.

The office is nested in the new mega-building that towers over Dundas Square. Step off the elevator on floor 6 and enter the multi-coloured warren that Googleites call home. I didn’t get a tour, but my minimal snooping encountered fridges stocked with free sugar-filled drinks and a wall filled with employee handprints, grade-school style.

Our host for the evening was Andrew Swartz, who works in Google’s communications department. He’s not a journalist, but he works with them, and he knows what they need (he gamely answered questions both inane and complex). He launched into all of Google’s search capabilities, covering the basics (Boolean searches, currency conversion, calculators and airport arrivals) and the more complex (Image searches by colour, recipe searches by food prep time or calorie count). The most useful tool for journalists is probably Google Insight, which helps curate data into charts, graphs and maps for easy digestion. One news org used Insight to discover a correlation between the DOW and searches for tuna-noodle casserole recipes. Turns out, as the economy tanks, casserole consumption goes up.

The event marked SABEW’s second foray into Canadian programming as it tries to expand beyond the U.S. The organization boasts 3,000 members, including reporters and editors working for institutions like Bloomberg and Reuters. Freelance financial journalists are also a growing portion of membership, the product of shrinking newsrooms.

In October, Fortune managing editor Andy Serwer spoke to a group of Torontonian business journalists about why journalism needs a saviour.

This time around, J-Source liveblogged the event with Toronto’s ScribbleLive, along with an enthusiastic group of tweeters. Read the coverage below for a glimpse of Google’s sacred search secrets (and photos from inside the giant itself).

Dana Lacey is a freelance writer, editor and photographer in Toronto. She’s also the digital journalism specialist at ScribbleLive, where she teaches journalists how to be better livebloggers