- Explore more great deals on thousands of titles in our Deals in Books store.
Enter your mobile number or email address below and we'll send you a link to download the free Kindle App. Then you can start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, or computer - no Kindle device required.
To get the free app, enter your mobile phone number.
In The Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives Hardcover – Bargain Price, April 12, 2011
|New from||Used from|
Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought
Special Offers and Product Promotions
From Publishers Weekly
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
Thoroughly versed in technology reporting, Wired senior writer Levy deliberates at great length about online behemoth Google and creatively documents the company’s genesis from a 'feisty start-up to a market-dominating giant.' The author capably describes Google’s founders, Stanford grads Larry Page and Sergey Brin, as sharp, user-focused and steadfastly intent on 'organizing all the world’s information.' Levy traces how Google’s intricately developed, intrepid beginnings and gradual ascent over a competitive marketplace birthed an advertising-fueled 'money machine' (especially following its IPO in 2004), and he follows the expansion and operation of the company’s liberal work campus ('Googleplex') and its distinctively selective hiring process (Page still signs off on every new hire). The author was afforded an opportunity to observe the company’s operations, development, culture and advertising model from within the infrastructure for two years with full managerial cooperation. From there, he performed hundreds of interviews with past and current employees and discovered the type of 'creative disorganization' that can either make or break a business. Though clearly in awe of Google’s crowning significance, Levy evenhandedly notes the company’s more glaring deficiencies, like the 2004 cyber-attack that forced the removal of the search engine from mainland China, a decision vehemently unsupported by co-founder Brin. Though the author offers plenty of well-known information, it’s his catbird-seat vantage point that really gets to the good stuff.
Outstanding reportage delivered in the upbeat, informative fashion for which Levy is well known."
—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
Discover books for all types of engineers, auto enthusiasts, and much more. Learn more
Top Customer Reviews
One of my favorite writers, Steven Levy of Wired, gained what may be unprecedented access to the employees and upper management of Google in order explore the history, the work environment key management decisions of one of the most innovative and culturally-influential companies of all time. Google manages this with 24,000 employees who see Google as the perfect employer for them. Levy describes Google as a place for the "unspeakably brainy", a kind of "geek never-never land" - just the right kind of environment to maximize innovativeness. Among the perks is the requirement for every engineer to spend a share of their time on personal projects. And as daunting as it sounds, Levy says Co-founder Larry Page actually still signs off on every single hire.
The co-founders Sergey Brin and Page literally started Google from a garage. (The name was a misspelling of the mathematical term for 10 to the 100th power - Googol. But the name stuck.) Their big idea: efficient searches and how to make money at it by selling keywords. Levy then leads us through Google's history of fantastic growth and innovation focusing mainly on big decisions in the firm. Among them the mistakes of handling the special case of China where media access is more controlled than Google would prefer and where management style of the China-based executives were more like a stodgy, old IBM than the free-thinking Google. The company with the motto "Don't be Evil", ultimately decided to leave the China market.
The rapid growth of the firm was itself a major challenge. That many smart people with the freedom and resources to chase many ideas could spread themselves thin. Some of the ideas could be technically possible because of the clever solutions Google staff would develop, but some ideas had other obstacles the engineering-oriented firm didn't anticipate. For example, Google's plan to scan in millions of books and offer them online ran into what should have been entirely foreseeable legal obstacles from authors. But as Levy describes in the first pages of the book, "To Google, it was a boon to civilization." It is this story that frames much of the rest of the book: visionary and cash-rich but somewhat naïve technologists struggle with practical realities of the rest of the world.
Some of the employee perks are drying up as economic hard times have even hit Google. The sheer size of the firm has required some amount of long-avoided bureaucracy and rapid acquisitions of firms the engineers thought were cool has slowed down. As Levy says, even the "Don't Be Evil" motto is now used as ironic humor by Google's detractors. But Google, with a $180+ billion dollar market capitalization is an example of a massive creation of wealth from one of a few areas where US exports lead the world: world-changing innovation.
Levy's telling of the Google story is based on access no other author had and, as a result, it is the best story about Google written to date.
The book is roughly organized around products (or projects). Since the book is about Google, it must start with the world of search and how Google was founded in Standford. How the two Googler founders were free-thinking Montessori idealists with an huge interest and background in technology stumbled on the idea of raking based on 'citations' and creating the world changing search -- google.com. It provides interesting stories about how advanced the Google search actually is and how it tried to learn from all the data it collects.
The second chapter takes Google from the start-up to a profitable company with Google Ads. The uncool product that became a cool product by changing the perspective from "boring ads" to an interesting technological problem. How to make ads useful? Introducing the auction, removing any middle-man and just do it based on data and algorithms was the trick Google used to ruin the existing markets of ads... or should I say, take it over. The Google Ads did lead to profit, which in turn lead to growth and...
To chapter 3 and an IPO. Google was funded based on VC money and they will expect to go public, so they can get their investment back. But Google didn't want to do that the traditional way... no... it had to be different. Nerdier, Googlier. They wanted to also disrupt the financial world, but that financial world didn't take Google too serious. It caused a lot of frustration, especially when Google stressed it's value of "Don't do Evil" which wasn't taken too serious by the (perhaps Evil) Wall Street firms. Eventually they succeeded, got lots of cash, so what do you do...
On to chapter 4 which starts with the invention of gmail and the need for more and more storage and computer power. This is the chapter where Google became really impressive as they changed the fiber and data centre world. Originally they ran in other company data centres, but eventually they figured they could do it better and build huge, secret data centres. Data centres need fast internet connections and power, so they actually bought most of the fiber connections, becoming one of the largest... cable companies.. I guess. They also made they move into power, but that is still undergoing. With the owning of the huge data centres, Google basically owned every aspect of their business and removed most dependencies. Now, they needed to show that they can do more than search/ads/mail, so...
Chapter 5 follows how Google tried different markets, first with Android and then with YouTube. As a company, being dependent on one market is risky, so expanding to others and increasing traffic and using your core assets (data centres) sounds logical. First into mobile making an operating systems (basically, together with Apple, killing Nokia), then a browser and becoming an active player in the 'second browser wars' and eventually buying YouTube to "go into video." These expanded Googles markets and made it less reliable on search only.
So, whats left? The rest of the world. Google began expanding in other countries from Chapter 6. The most interesting story is, of course, China where the corrupt government insists on stealing freedom from people by censoring the internet... a clear evil thing to do. So, do you play ball and try, from inside, to gradually open up the internet or do you refuse. Google went in... with a regret. The government considered it won and simply needed to push more and more rules otherwise it could simple remove the connectivity. Google shall listen. Google didn't like that and corrected its mistake after being hacked by the government. Painful. (The book doesn't share the wonderful details on how the government censorship simply makes google service look bad, missed opportunity, perhaps Steven needs to live in China for a while).
The US government is a lot better, right? Not really. It might be less corrupt, but it still is. Chapter 7 describes how some Googlers tried to help the Obama administration but were stifled by the bureaucracy. Also, competitors started lobbying more and more against Google, so they require Lobbyists too, which doesn't seem to be evil. The biggest legal problems came, of course, from the Google library project. Scanning all the world books is certainly evil, right?
Most of the book is exceptional positive about Google. The last chapter, Epilogue, suddenly changes its tone and shows how Google missed the boat on social networking, mostly because of how the company works. Also people became frustrated with Google, left, and started all kinds of wonderful companies such as Twitter, Foursquare, or left to join Facebook. Painful. Perhaps Google is now too big and traditional and will need to be replaced with a more modern company... facebook?
The book is structured (as you can read above) really well. It is well written and full with wonderful stories from Googlers. It is well research and was a pleasure to read. I'd recommend it to everyone who wants to have an insight into Google. It is probably better than some of the other Google-books. I'd rate if 4 stars, but not 5. Why? At times, I was disappointed with the technical inaccuracies in the book. Also, some points were left a bit too open. Last, it felt parts were missing, such as mentioning of the Google X projects or the Google Apps infrastructure. These seem like important new markets of Google, but it wasn't mentioned. So, an excellent book and definitively recommended, but not perfect.