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The Search: How Google and Its Rivals Rewrote the Rules of Business and Transformed Our Culture Hardcover – September 8, 2005

4.4 out of 5 stars 129 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

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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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Portfolio Hardcover; First Edition edition (September 8, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1591840880
  • ISBN-13: 978-1591840886
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1.1 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (129 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #213,106 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
The book is excellent, although if you are a true techno-geek it will be pedestrian from a technical sense. However, for the novice it is a great overview on the history of search engines and the power they are just starting to demonstrate. I found the history of all the various engineers and technology overlaid against the backdrop of luck, economics and timing, to be a fascinating glimpse into the reality that the best technology is not usually what makes the most money.

At the core of the book though is the concept of what a search engine can do. Obviously there are as many possibilities to develop and implement search algorithms as there are creative people to invent them (Microsoft MSN, Yahoo and others have products that compete directly with, and in many cases outperform the more well known brand the book focuses on), but essentially they have the power to pull together unbelievable amounts of formerly disconnected data, and create a targeted marketing aimed at you personally.

The potential danger of all of this technology is that depending on how you set the algorithm, you no longer simply search reality, but actually create it. For example, a change in how the search engine works can drive business to some on line retailers while destroying the business of others. It can conceivably literally create trends, and promote views, all through the seemingly blind eye of the program. The problem is that these programs are anything but blind, and we are on the verge of tremendous legal battles due to the creativity of those trying to use the system to deflect traffic from the owner of a trademark, to their own competing brand, with full compliance by the folks at Google.
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Format: Hardcover
Though I'm coming to a review of The Search a year too late, I can explain why. I bought the book on its release, very excited to read some good journalism about the hottest business topic of the day. I was sure that Battelle, who had been chronically his progress on the book on his own blog, would deliver. Halfway through the book (in a matter of three days - a possible sign pointing to its lack of depth) I'm realizing that this is not the case.

Thus far, I have two major gripes with the book. The first is the writing itself. The book is written in informal magazine style, in keeping with his roots as a "cutting edge" technology writer (having worked for Wired and Business 2.0, magazines that try desperately to be "too cool for the room").

This would be fine enough, except that Battelle has a habit of jumping around from year to year, talking about decisions made by players in Google's history before he actually introduces them. He never fully explains why it was important for Sergey Brin and Larry Page - Google's founders - to resign their chairman and CEO posts, nor does he tell the reader what their new titles are. Battelle also has a habit of reintroducing people several times, a practice which at times seems a cheap way to up his page count. His writing style thoroughly muddles however much thoughtfulness there was to his project. I considered keeping a tally of how many times he used "well" as an interjection, but lost interested after I ran out of fingers.

On page 150 he discusses a lack of managerial prowess on the part of Brin, Page and new CEO Eric Schmidt. According to Battelle, one of Google's investors, John Doerr, insisted that Intuit founder Bill Campbell come on as a leadership coach.
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Format: Hardcover
John Battelle knows search. His blog on the topic has become a standard of sorts in an industry that evolves by the minute (almost) and his book on the topic is as comprehensive as it is insightful. He does an excelled job at looking back at the evolution of the search field from its early days, going into greater detail about Google, and delving some into Yahoo!, Altavista and A9. Yet, he cleverly manages to keep the book fresh by not just sticking his head in the past, but posing interesting philosophical questions throughout the book.

After doing a fairly comprehensive assessment of the evolution and current state of the industry as of the publishing of the book, almost the entire last two chapters of "The Search" are devoted to the exploration of the possible avenues Google specifically and the search domain at large will likely be taking. This part of the book is bound to be fascinating to SEO/Internet Marketing professionals as well as to the average web user.

If you want to learn more about Google, I suggest you pick up "The Google Story", published shortly after this book. The truth is it will only save you from reading just a couple of chapters on the mega-successful search company in this book. Otherwise, there is not that much overlap between the two books. If you haven't read either one, I'd say start here, and if you feel like it, move on to "The Google Story". That for sure will wet your appetite for knowledge on the Search Engine topic.
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Format: Hardcover
This book gives a great overview of the past, present and future of search. Given the dominance of Google in the web and in culture, it is tempting to forget the companies that preceeded Google, and did a damn fine job in their own right. This book describes long forgotten search engines like AltaVista, Excite, Overture, and how their missteps allowed Google to overtake them as the dominant search engine. Read about how Yahoo changed their focus to being a media company, and by doing so, forever altered the landscape of the internet. Apart from the history of search, the bulk of the book focuses on Google, and gives a particularly interesting insight into the culture and inner workings in of the company. I spoke to a director at Google right before I read the book, and the book complemented what he told me really well.

Last but not least, the last chapter, 'The Perfect Search' was just fascinating. It relates so well, because it is essentially summarizes all the frustrations I ever had when searching, and describes how the perfect search is already becoming a reality in many ways, slowly but surely.

All in all, a great read that changes the way you look at search.
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