Googled: The End of the World As We Know It
By Ken Auletta
Virgin Books £8.99 paperback/£11.99 hardback
Googling was being used as a verb for searching the Internet – in the same way that Hoovering became synonymous with using a vacuum cleaner – long before it became a formal entry in English dictionaries. Unlike the British manufacturer of domestic appliances, however, the Google brand had already come to represent much more than just one activity. By the time of its acceptance into mainstream culture, the Mountain View-based company had expanded into advertising, video hosting, news aggregation and a multitude of other enterprises.
At the heart of Ken Auletta’s account of this rise to fame is the familiar story of what happens when innovative people who are convinced they have a better way of doing things come up against powerful established industries. The difference in this case is the timeframe and the explosive growth of the Internet in the past two decades.
Corporations who were alarmed to feel their foundations rocked by the brave new world of the Web had the choice of either going into denial and trying to freeze out the innovators, or looking at how they could work with them. Most of the establishment soon realised that in the ‘adapt or die’ years of the late 20th century the latter course of action was the only way to go. As a result Google found itself courted by giants of the media world and – inevitably – faced with making some big decisions.
‘Googled’ does a comprehensive job of recounting why it made the choices it did, and the repercussions. It’s not an account of the technology that provides the quick indexing of the Web we now take for granted, but nevertheless provides a fascinating example of what happens when the worlds of business and engineering come together with billions of dollars at stake.
Auletta, whose book began as a 2007 article in the New Yorker, admits he couldn’t have told the story without cooperation from Google. Over the course of many week-long visits to the Google headquarters he interviewed many people including CEO Eric Schmidt, and co-founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page. Yet initially, he admits, the company was reluctant to cooperate, worrying that a paper book was an inefficient use of their time.
Auletta’s response was to speak to them in their own language, telling them they should look on the project in the same way that they look at searching. “If my book was good, it would rise to the top of search results, becoming common reference,” he told them. “After months of my kicking at the door, they opened it.”
‘Googled’ is inevitably a snapshot of a company in constant flux. Googling for news about ‘Google’ itself right now returns hundreds of thousands of stories ranging from the latest on the Google Books project to the impact that incorporating Twitter content into search results is having on the microblog service’s traffic.
There’s also the latest chapter in the conflict between free-spirited technologists and the murky world of politics with news that investigators have traced the source of attacks on Google servers that had been linked to disputes over China’s restrictions on search engine use.
From student project to the cause of major diplomatic disputes, ‘Googled’ isn’t a guide to making a fortune on the Internet, but it effectively captures the momentum that gathered behind a great idea whose time had come.