(@FTC – I received this book from the publisher)
Richard Brandt’s new book outlines the rise to success of Larry Page and Sergey Brin – the Google founders. The title of the book is, however, misleading. It provides no real insight into the psychology or radical thinking of the subjects, but is rather a flattering account of their trajectory coupled with a sympathetic account of their origins. Missing is any comparative analysis of their competitors, or any criticism of business decisions that would appear un-brilliant (like trying to sell their baby to the first taker before realizing what they were really onto) – missing too is one of my favourite topics: survivor bias
The positive and uncritical approach to the subjects leads to some light weight accounts of their success. For example, page 170 reports:
Google has figured out how to make money off all these new forms of entertainment, while every competitor is struggling with that issue.
Considering YouTube, the first statement is hard to swallow (read technovia’s summary of the $470 million that the site will lose this year). Considering the second, plenty of other companies are making money from social sites, blogging platforms and so on.
One of the distinct advantages of being so slow to finish a book for review is the benefit of reading the reviews of others. Strangely, I can’t find the correct page on Amazon – the page I link to above is to the book with the additional text (Spanish, Japanese, Mandarin Chinese and Portuguese Edition). This page has only 1 review which is a collection of review snippets provided by the author.
Traffick’s review has this interesting paragraph:
As someone who has watched the ad auction and the search products, in particular, emerge, I'm struck once again by just how far behind and how dismissive Yahoo and Microsoft were at various stages of innovation, on key areas like how the paid search auction worked, but also, in how much to prioritize search and paid search in overall company priorities.
This seems to be missing the innovation that was going on at Overture, well known to be the inspiration behind quite a bit of Google’s approach. As TechUser.Net summarizes:
Google always had excellent search engine indexing technology, but Google's search technology by itself never generated profits for the company. Google's profitability comes from its search technology combined with text ads and an ad placement mechanism that allows advertisers to bid for the placement of their ads (bid-for-placement mechanism). From a profitability perspective, the bid-for-placement mechanism is as valuable as Google's indexing technology. In the absence of the bid-for-placement mechanism, ad pricing can at best be inefficient. The bid-for-placement mechanism frees up extensive resources that would otherwise be required to set ad prices, and it allows Google to charge ad sponsors in proportion to the value Google is delivering to the sponsors.
The bid-for-placement mechanism was pioneered by Overture, a paid search specialist company. In July 2001, the US patent office issued Overture a patent covering the mechanism. Patent 6,269,361 also known as the '361 patent was bad news for Google: it threatened Google's core business model. It was imperative for Google to have access to the '361 patent, but Google never managed to negotiate a satisfactory licensing agreement with Overture. Consequently, in April 2002 Overture sued Google over patent infringement.
Brandt has (page 96):
A company called GoTo.com (later renamed Overture) had come up with the idea of an online Yellow Pages system, where users would type in search words and be taken to advertisers who bid to have their ads appear when people searched for those words. (In 2002, after Google started showing the way, Microsoft and yahoo both considered buying Overture. Yahoo won the bid).
Silicon Beat has very positive things to say about Brandt at the expense of Janet Lowe’s Google Speaks.
As a result, Brandt gets a number of things right. Most notably Brandt, manages to avoid easy cynicism, which is the first trap of any newbie reporter or book writer who takes on the company as a subject. And as a long-time technology writer, he knows the difference between cloud computing and client computing and doesn’t let technical details get in the way of his story.
In contrast, the newly published “Google Speaks,” by Janet Lowe, appears to be based almost entirely on other articles, which led the veteran author to such bizarre assertions as the patently wrong claim that Flickr was bought by Google and the more puzzling statement that Hewlett Packard once owned the Altavista search engine. (Flickr was bought by Yahoo, and Altavista was created by Digital Equipment Corporation, which was sold to Compaq in 1999, which was sold to Hewlett-Packard in 2002. In 2003 Altavista was sold to Overture which was then bought by Yahoo. So Lowe is technical correctly about the chain of ownership while simultaneously appearing totally confused about which facts are relevant in Silicon Valley’s complicated corporate histories.)
Well, now I’ve read a good number of reviews of the book (by searching for it on Google, of course) and the strange thing is, like the book on Google, I can’t find anything but glowing, uncritical comments. With Occam’s razor in hand, I have to assume that this is something to do with me, not the book! Perhaps I’m the wrong audience, or perhaps I took too long to read the thing. At any rate, I’ll make two final comments. The first is that I’d recommend John Battelle’s book The Search: How Google and Its Rivals Rewrote the Rules of Business and Transformed Our Culture for those interested in a (slightly dated) account of how we got here. The second is the final paragraph from Brandt’s book:
With Google and their sudden wealth at their disposal, Larry and Sergey now have enormous power to [change the world], and they will continue to do so for decades to come. They’re like Harry Potter after he discovered he was a wizard and got his wand. you can expect great things from them.