Google says 20% time is going strong, and Google Now is proof
There have been recent reports saying that Google's famous 20% time was on the ropes, or maybe even gone for good. The policy at Google had always been that employees weren't just allowed, but were encouraged to use 20% of their time to work on projects of their own choosing. The policy has given rise to products like Gmail and GTalk, and now Google says that it was also responsible for Google Now.
A spokesperson for Google said that 20% time is "alive and well"; and back in November Andrew Kirmse, an engineer at Google said that the start of Google Now came from 20% time:
Google Now started when a few of us on the Maps team thought there was some really useful information we could show you on your phone based on where you are, and so we started working on it in our spare time, as a 20% project (as many projects at Google start). The further we got on the project, the more compelling it became, and everyone saw the potential of it.
It's hard to say where the truth is, because the reports from Google engineers has been someone scattered on the topic. But, if Google Now really did start as a 20% time project, it seems as though the policy is still doing pretty well, because Google Now is easily one of the best products to come from any company recently.