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The Search: How Google and Its Rivals Rewrote the Rules of Business and Transformed Our Culture Hardcover – September 8, 2005
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If you pick your books by their popularity--how many and which other people are reading them--then know this about The Search: it's probably on Bill Gates' reading list, and that of almost every venture capitalist and startup-hungry entrepreneur in Silicon Valley. In its sweeping survey of the history of Internet search technologies, its gossip about and analysis of Google, and its speculation on the larger cultural implications of a Web-connected world, it will likely receive attention from a variety of businesspeople, technology futurists, journalists, and interested observers of mid-2000s zeitgeist.
This ambitious book comes with a strong pedigree. Author John Battelle was a founder of The Industry Standard and then one of the original editors of Wired, two magazines which helped shape our early perceptions of the wild world of the Internet. Battelle clearly drew from his experience and contacts in writing The Search. In addition to the sure-handed historical perspective and easy familiarity with such dot-com stalwarts as AltaVista, Lycos, and Excite, he speckles his narrative with conversational asides from a cast of fascinating characters, such Google's founders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin; Yahoo's, Jerry Yang and David Filo; key executives at Microsoft and different VC firms on the famed Sandhill road; and numerous other insiders, particularly at the company which currently sits atop the search world, Google.
The Search is not exactly the corporate history of Google. At the book's outset, Battelle specifically indicates his desire to understand what he calls the cultural anthropology of search, and to analyze search engines' current role as the "database of our intentions"--the repository of humanity's curiosity, exploration, and expressed desires. Interesting though that beginning is, though, Battelle's story really picks up speed when he starts dishing inside scoop on the darling business story of the decade, Google. To Battelle's credit, though, he doesn't stop just with historical retrospective: the final part of his book focuses on the potential future directions of Google and its products' development. In what Battelle himself acknowledges might just be a "digital fantasy train", he describes the possibility that Google will become the centralizing platform for our entire lives and quotes one early employee on the weightiness of Google's potential impact: "Sometimes I feel like I am on a bridge, twenty thousand feet up in the air. If I look down I'm afraid I'll fall. I don't feel like I can think about all the implications."
Some will shrug at such words; after all, similar hype has accompanied other technologies and other companies before. Many others, though, will search Battelle's story for meaning--and fast. --Peter Han
From Publishers Weekly
Rather than write a book strictly about the rise of Google as a business, technology journalist Battelle targets his research on the concept of Internet search, beginning the book with a discussion of an abstract idea he terms the "Database of Intentions," defined as the sum total of all queries that pour into search engines daily, revealing the intricacies and idiosyncrasies of our culture. Though most of the book is devoted to the search engine giant (which Battelle reports corners 51 percent of the search engine market), the author also includes chapters on "Search, Before Google" and the "Who, What, Where, Why, When. And How (much)" of search. Battelle is at his best when describing the creation of Google, especially through the yin-yang personalities of its founders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, and in describing the company's culture. Though Battelle's descriptions of Internet search technology can get too technical for readers without a computer science background, the book is a deeply researched and nimbly reported look at how search has defined the Internet and how it will continue to be a tremendous reflection of culture.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
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I'm glad that I did.
I had seen Battelle on Bloomberg West and he was particularly smart and articulate. My one initial hesitation with The Search: I had already read many books about Google. (I count Ken Auletta's book among my very favorites.) Did I really need to read yet another book about Larry and Sergey's company?
But here's the rub: Battelle's book is hardly Google-specific. Rather, it's about the vast implications of being able to find an increasing amount of information within seconds, a trend that shows no signs of abating. Now, to be sure, you can't write a book about the history of search without delving into Google, but this is a book about so much more than one company. For instance, I learned a great deal about the role of Bill Gross and GoTo.com, a precursor to Google and the guy who cracked the nut on paid placements. I hadn't realized that Larry and Sergey modified Gross' central idea.
A Glimpse of What's Beyond
While I probably should have read this excellent text when it was released, in a way I'm happy that I stumbled upon it now. Sure, AOL and Yahoo! are not nearly as relevant today as they were when Battelle was hammering away on his Mac. But reading books like this years after their release allows you to assess the author's predictions ex post facto. Battelle's vision of then then-future in 2006 is, for the most part, panning out.
On a general level, my very favorite business books do the following:
* advance a big idea
* teach me something new (not that easy to do, since I read many non-fiction, business, and technology books)
* tell interesting stories
* leave me wanting more
Battelle does all of the above with considerable aplomb. The man is a gifted writer and I can't wait for his next opus.
Get. This. Book. Now.
I remember how those SEs were visciously spammed and manipulated by Search Engine "Optimizers" (SEOs.) The search results were seldom relevant and porn links prevailed. (I recall the time when my 7-year-old son searched for "Pokemon" and landed at a hardcore porn site.)
There had to be a better way.
Then, out of the blue, appeared a new search engine that changed all the rules and introduced "link popularity." Search was never the same again. Now search results are ALWAYS relevant. In fact, Google always returns exactly the sites I look for. Amazingly, it sometimes even suggests what it THINKS I'm looking for.
This book tells this story and more, in detail. Although Google is featured prominently in the book, the author discusses in depth the search industry as a whole. You'll read about how ambitious and hungry Google, the company, is and about the power it possesses over Internet users.
Very engrossing reading. Highly recommended.
Secondarily, it is interesting to read about the tremendous success story of a company born in the bubble era. VCs, deals, control freaks, CEOs as puppets. The story carries nicely throughout.
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