1/29/2010

Googled: somewhat predictable, quite fascinating

Ken Auletta's new book Googled takes us for a fascinating look behind the scene as he shows us the growth of Google from its simple beginnings within the labs of Stanford University to its becoming what is perhaps the most influential technology company in Silicon Valley today.

Author Auletta is a technology journalist and media critic for the The New Yorker, and was one of the first to popularize the concept of the so-called "information superhighway" with a 1993 New Yorker profile of Barry Diller, in which he described how Diller used his Apple PowerBook to anticipate the digital future. In his new book he has interviewed many key players to tell this fascinating story as only he is able. Full of interesting tales, insight and remarkable scrutiny, this comprehensible book explains how and why Google matters to a lot of us, from basic Internet neophytes to business decision makers.

Mr. Auletta stands out at writing Google's company history in a solid chronological style. GoogledIndividual chapters are focused on the years of its growth from 1999 through 2008. We get an intimate look at Google's highly-private founders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, a pair of indisputably brilliant (but socially-awkward) individuals who have remained focused on their vision of making information accessible to the world, like so many Internet success stories of today. The author illustrates how Google's focus on perfecting its own proprietary search algorithms has proven to be equally unsettling to media and technology companies, while its control of information has gained often unwanted attention from governments and non-governmental organizations who are concerned about issues of personal privacy and corporate power.

Google's growth has posed internal challenges to its management, corporate culture and strategy, and while praising Page and Brin in general for their decisions, Mr. Auletta shows his concern that Google's founders, who have yet to be confronted with the kind of difficulties that affect most business owners, could be overlooking some of the external threats to the company's enduring capabilities. The author believes there are legitimate public concerns about the use of private information for profit, yet it's clear from his thoughtful examination that the data Google collects has positioned the company to continue to take advantage of and perhaps even define the technology and media backdrop for our own probable future.

Ken Auletta's book does an excellent job with its explanation of what Google actually is and what it does so well. It's significantly different from other books such as What Would Google Do?, by columnist and media blogger Jeff Jarvis, or Planet Google, by college business professor Randall Stross, who writes the New York Times column "Digital Domain." Mr. Auletta focuses some of the discussion from the point of view of the advertising industry. While that doesn't provide a significantly different perspective, it does provide for interesting reading. Just keep in mind that if you understand Google's revenue streams, you already knows it's in the advertising business.

For the beginner first looking at the Google story, this book will answer many questions. The author Auletta does raise significant issues, and some have been covered by others as well. The discussion on Google books and copyright issues is quite notable. The arrogance portrayed by traditional media companies during Google's early days is amazing and amusing, and well covered in the book, which is also available as a Kindle edition.

The business and community changes that are developing in our world are important to understand, and this book will help. It's an honest and balanced look at the reality that is Google. Overall it's an excellent 5-star read, and highly recommended.

Revised version posted on Amazon.com 1/29/2010

2 comments:

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