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


Can you change the world?

Is it actually possible to change the world?

Can you make it a better place? Or is this just an overly Utopian idea?

We all complain, but in fact most of us have it pretty easy. True, there are rough spots along the way; it happens to all of us. But why not help out someone who's going through a temporary difficulty?

The video below is a trailer for the film Pay It Forward, starring Kevin Spacey, Helen Hunt and Haley Joel Osment. In the motion picture, social studies teacher Eugene Simonet (Kevin Spacey) gives his class an assignment: look at the world around you and fix what you don’t like. Mr. Simonet’s student, Trevor McKinney (Haley Joel Osment) comes up with a concept for changing the world: “Pay It Forward.” But can you fix people?

You can see more about the film here.

Before it was a 2000 hit movie, Pay It Forward was a novel by Catherine Ryan Hyde. Challenged by a teacher to "think of an idea for world change and put it into action," 12-year-old Trevor McKinney decides to do a good deed for three people. Instead of paying him back, Trevor asks them to "pay it forward." The idea catches on and his initial acts of kindness have global consequences.

It's a hopeful book for our cynical times.

The concept isn't new, as the concept was described by Benjamin Franklin in 1784. Ralph Waldo Emerson, in his essay "Compensation", wrote: "In the order of nature we cannot render benefits to those from whom we receive them, or only seldom. But the benefit we receive must be rendered again, line for line, deed for deed, cent for cent, to somebody."

Lily Hardy Hammond wrote, "You don't pay love back; you pay it forward." And in 1944, an anonymous spokesman for Alcoholics Anonymous said in the Christian Science Monitor, "You can't pay anyone back for what has happened to you, so you try to find someone you can pay forward."

Science fiction author Robert A. Heinlein, used the phrase in Between Planets, a book published in 1951, almost fifty years before C. Ryan Hyde's novel. Heinlein both preached and practiced this philosophy, and now the Heinlein Society, a humanitarian organization founded in his name, does so today.

Making a Difference

The premise is fairly simple: you do a favor for three people over a few days or weeks. You ask for nothing back, nothing at all. When they ask how to repay you, you tell them to pay it forward to three more people. Each person is then impelled to pay it forward to three more. Nine becomes 27, which becomes 81, which becomes 243. Do the math: in just 14 levels we reach a group about the size of the population of Australia.

Hopefully, this thought will inspire everyone that reads this to start with just one deed today, be it big or small, to help someone. It could be a loved one, a neighbor, a co-worker, or even a complete stranger. Try to make a habit out of it... just one tiny gesture each day. If everyone did this, imagine the effect on the entire world. It's amazing to think about the possible results.

So, is "Pay It Forward" realistic? And what if your idea doesn't work? Then again, what if it does!

Want to know more? Maybe these links will help:

Pay It Forward links on Facebook:

Note: Pay It Forward bumper stickers are available to readers on request. There is no charge. The author asks only that you put them to use where they will be seen. Also follow the link on that page for info on Pay It Forward wristbands.

In conclusion...

OK, so why did I post all of this? It's simple: a dear and close friend recently did a very large favor for me with a surprise gift of a particular piece of electronic gear. As an aspiring author with books in the works, I had wanted since it was first announced: a new Amazon Kindle (Global Wireless), their latest generation wireless reading device.

As an Amazon Top 500 Reviewer, I've seen a number of new authors who have successfully published books using this new media, which I consider almost as revolutionary to the printed word as Johannes Gutenberg's printing press was when he first assembled in Germany in about 1440... the first in Western Europe to develop a printing press. It eventually replaced most versions of block printing, making it the most used format of modern movable type, until being superseded by the advent of offset printing.

This unnamed friend knew that as a single father of a 13-year-old son, I could not just plunk down the money to get this product, especially in this current economy. What this friend did not know was that having the Kindle would allow me to move up my publishing schedule by a good six months on one of the books (a technical manual) and possibly by as much as nine months on a novel that I've been working on for a few years.

And above all, this friend asked for absolutely nothing in return. It should also be noted that this friend made a substantial gift to a family on the other side of the world, a woman with children who wasn't going to be able to celebrate Christmas because of her particular economic situation. My friend gave the woman enough money for presents for each of her boys and enough food for an entire month.

That's what this is all about. When someone does you a big favor, don't pay it back... Pay It Forward.