The End of the World As We Know It
By Ken Auletta
Ken Auletta is a well-respected business journalist known for the thoroughness of his research and sober insights into the working of companies and the financial system.
In Googled, he turns his attention to the software phenomenon that has made instant pundits of us all by providing the keys to access the global information store cupboard. The combination of solid weighing of the facts with the tale of Google's stunning rise and what it means to the world is a happy one and a sound antidote to some of the more fanciful, fashionable analyses of the Google story that have been doing the rounds over the years.
The book tells the story of how Larry Page and Sergey Brin started Google as what some saw as a geeky project and ended up shaking the worlds of ICT, advertising and the media. It examines what Google has done and is doing to "old media" firms, the extent to which governance and privacy rules stand to curb search and the way in which Google operates as both competitor and collaborator with many other organisations.
Auletta apparently had unprecedented access to Google staff, interviewing CEO Eric Schmidt alone 13 times, but his is no Panglossian view of the Googlesphere as purely benevolent force. He writes that "Google is surfing a huge wave that seems not to have crested" but notes that the company has no "overarching strategy" and that by "waking up the bears" it will drive many to alliance - as Microsoft and Verizon have done - against the new giant. He also points out that while Google has become the dominant force in search and related advertising, many other properties set up by the firm have struggled and the company's performance varies hugely across geographies. Also, social networks such as Facebook and Twitter are very capable of doing a Google by keeping users on their sites and mining valuable data about them.
Google is perhaps the most interesting and influential business of recent times but Auletta is surely correct to cite critics who say that the company does not have the experience to attack some target markets. The company is remarkable but, like any newcomer, it is subject to the constraints of growth, culture, compensation and nous.
There is perhaps a little too much about the Google mythology of gawky founders and odd management styles and if I hear another story about the free gourmet food and massages on tap I may have to scream or at least apply for a job at the Googleplex myself. But this is the most important book about Google since John Batelle's The Search and at the end of it you are left with the sense that, as said by another Google executive, founders Page and Brin "are quintessential Montessori kids ... They didn't have a lot of structure". So far that hasn't been a block to growth but in some other garage there is surely another disintermediating force set to disrupt the world. In short, another Google is waiting in the wings.