Planet Google: How One's Company's All-Encompassing Vision Is Transforming Our Lives (英語) ペーパーバック – 2008/9
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Based on unprecedented access he received to the highly secretive Googleplex, acclaimed New York Times columnist Randall Stross takes readers deep inside Google, the most important, most innovative, and most ambitious company of the Internet Age. His revelations demystify the strategy behind the company's recent flurry of bold moves, all driven by the pursuit of a business plan unlike any other: to become the indispensable gatekeeper of all the world's information, the one-stop destination for all our information needs. Will Google succeed? And what are the implications of a single company commanding so much information and knowing so much about us?
As ambitious as Google's goal is, with 68 percent of all Web searches (and growing), profits that are the envy of the business world, and a surplus of talent, the company is, Stross shows, well along the way to fulfilling its ambition, becoming as dominant a force on the Web as Microsoft became on the PC. Google isn't just a superior search service anymore. In recent years it has launched a dizzying array of new services and advanced into whole new businesses, from the introductions of its controversial Book Search and the irresistible Google Earth, to bidding for a slice of the wireless-phone spectrum and nonchalantly purchasing YouTube for $1.65 billion.
Google has also taken direct aim at Microsoft's core business, offering free e-mail and software from word processing to spreadsheets and calendars, pushing a transformative -- and highly disruptive -- concept known as cloud computing. According to this plan, users will increasingly store all of their data on Google's massive servers -- a network of a million computers that amounts to the world's largest supercomputer, with unlimited capacity to house all the information Google seeks.
The more offerings Google adds, and the more ubiquitous a presence it becomes, the more dependent its users become on its services and the more information they contribute to its uniquely comprehensive collection of data. Will Google stay true to its famous Don't Be Evil mantra, using its power in its customers' best interests?
Stross's access to those who have spearheaded so many of Google's new initiatives, his penetrating research into the company's strategy, and his gift for lively storytelling produce an entertaining, deeply informed, and provocative examination of the company's audacious vision for the future and the consequences not only for the business world, but for our culture at large.
At the onset Google founders were hell bent not relying on advertising. They accidentally fell into the key word text driven advertising concept. Google search-text advertising has created and dominated an ad market and generated billions of dollars in revenues for Google. The latter supports all their other products that are unprofitable.
Google has created several products to compete vs others. Most of them have failed. Google noticed that Wikipedia results ranked near the top of Google's search results. But, any search routed to Wikipedia represents lost advertising revenues for Google. So, Google created Knol where everyone can create articles just as in Wikipedia. But, with a Knol the author retains editing control. I have personally written and read articles at both websites. And, Wikipedia is far better and still does far better in search results. Google created Orkut, a social network, to compete with Facebook. And, Orkut has quickly become irrelevant.
Google may have created a game changer with Docs. Google introduced "Documents" a free web based competitor to MicroSoft very expensive PC based Office Suite. It has forced MicroSoft to reduce its prices. I personally use Documents more and more. I now write all my book reviews using Documents that I find more straightforward than Word. I also use its spreadsheet application often. Google may succeed in creating a centrally based alternative to MicroSoft PC centric world where many predecessors such as IBM and Oracle failed.
The chapter on "The Algorithm" confirms Google developed superior computer science behind its web search engine. Yahoo early on outsourced web searches to Google thinking web searches were worthless. The huge volume of web search Yahoo channelled Google's way became a competitive advantage for Google. Its search engine readily handles any scale, unlike its competitors who found the growing web overwhelming. And, the more data the algorithm crunched, the better its search performance. Google then tied the searches to text ads embedded on the side of searches and even figured for customers where to place adds to generate the most revenues for them and for Google. In doing that, Google leapfrogged the competition. And, the cash flow juggernaut (search text adds) was in place.
Google's algorithm approach had erratic results outside searches. The author suggests it has not worked well in news information aggregation (I am surprised, as I feel Google News is one of their most successful applications). On the other hand, the author indicates the same algorithm approach has been unexpectedly effective in language translation. And, Google has reached the top rank in language translation software competition for the toughest languages: Chinese or Arabic. And, it has achieved this feat with no native speakers! Instead, it has simply fed its software algorithm billions of matched documents (one version in English and the other in Chinese or Arabic) and let the software figure out the corresponding linguistic patterns. This has left the competition bedazzled.
The author indicates that several others of Google's ventures ran into difficulty. Google's ambitious goal of digitizing all the books in the World ran into copyright suits. It now lags far behind Amazon that has made many of its books searchable. Also, in video uploading and searches its product was so far behind YouTube that it decided to acquire YouTube for a staggering $1.65 billion. However, Google has not yet figured out how to generate an attractive return on this investment. YouTube videos with often inappropriate content do not cater well to Google search-ad text.
Google made another small acquisition that turned out hugely successful: Keyhole. The latter had developed the software capability to virtually fly and travel all over the world as shown in today's Google Earth. This allowed programmers to develop "mashups" that combine visual geographic information with data regarding restaurants, hotels, relevant ratings, home prices, etc... Successful users of such mashups include Zillow (home prices) and Yelp (consumer ratings of everything).
Importantly, Stross doesn't shy away from highlighting some of the mistakes Google has made, and he also goes into great detail about the privacy concerns raised by the sheer volume of information the company is now collecting. Although I personally believe most of these privacy fears are overblown, Stross does a nice job explaining why Google is likely going to attract more attention in coming years -- from users and policymakers alike -- as its search algorithm and other applications grow more powerful and comprehensive.
Stross also notes that Google's growing clout in the marketplace will likely invite more calls for antitrust intervention as the company gradually replaces Microsoft as the new King of the Tech Hill. I think those market power concerns are over-stated as well, but Stross rightly points out that making so many enemies so quickly is bound to come back to haunt Google in the long run (or perhaps even the short run).
In sum, Planet Google is a fine early history of the company and the new era of computing it has ushered in. Recommended.
My complete review of Planet Google is here:
The author claims to enjoy fairly generous access to Google's facilities and some of its top executives, including CEO Eric Schmidt. The book provides a quick read and is much shorter than the number of pages would suggest as the last 75 pages contain only massive amount of footnotes. It will certainly delight those who have always been fascinated by everything Google.