Don't be evil. That's Google's official motto. But what's really going on behind that simple little search box? Wired's Steven Levy guides us through a history of the rise of the internet, the development of complicated search algorithms, and, in many ways, a who's who of Silicon Valley all beautifully narrated by L.J. Ganser.
What started as two geeks obsessed with improving internet search engines rapidly ballooned into a company eager to gobble up other useful startups (Keyhole Inc., YouTube, Picassa) as well as larger, more obviously valuable companies (most notably the marketing goliath, DoubleClick). Google's strategy has also been a game-changer in regards to the way we use data and cloud computing. Thanks to its highly lucrative AdWords and AdSense programs, the company exploded the way people think about the internet and the way people think about making money on the internet.
In the Plex gives listeners a real idea of what it's like to exist within the company's quirky culture. And Ganser knows when to keep it serious, but that doesn't stop him from adding just the right amount of snark to the “like” and “um”-ridden quotations from various engineer types. This edition also includes a fascinating interview between the author and early hire Marissa Mayer, the youngest woman to ever make Fortune's "50 Most Powerful Women in Business" list.
Levy dedicates a large section of the book to Google's controversial actions in China, the ultimate test of the company's “don't be evil” philosophy. Here, In the Plex takes an unexpected turn from company profile to a technology coming-of-age story for notorious “founder kids” Larry Page and Sergey Brin. How does “don't be evil” play out in a real world that is sometimes, well, evil? Results are mixed.
In addition to China, Levy touches on some of Google's failures, flubs, and flops, like the company's book scanning project and its development of Google Wave and Google Buzz. However, he seems to miss the point when he makes excuses for their inability to compete in the social space. It seems particularly obvious why a corporation completely run by data-obsessed engineers would have trouble making inroads in the world of social media, which is by nature more organic and subtle.
From the early days as a gonzo-style startup to the massive corporate giant that has quickly integrated itself into almost everything we do, this is an essential history of Google. Gina Pensiero
Few companies in history have ever been as successful and as admired as Google, the company that has transformed the Internet and become an indispensable part of our lives. How has Google done it? Veteran technology reporter Steven Levy was granted unprecedented access to the company, and in this revelatory book he takes listeners inside Google headquarters - the Googleplex - to explain how Google works.
While they were still students at Stanford, Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin revolutionized Internet search. They followed this brilliant innovation with another, as two of Google's earliest employees found a way to do what no one else had: make billions of dollars from Internet advertising. With this cash cow (until Google's IPO, nobody other than Google management had any idea how lucrative the company's ad business was), Google was able to expand dramatically and take on other transformative projects: more efficient data centers, open-source cell phones, free Internet video (YouTube), cloud computing, digitizing books, and much more.
The key to Google's success in all these businesses, Levy reveals, is its engineering mind-set and adoption of such Internet values as speed, openness, experimentation, and risk taking. After it's unapologetically elitist approach to hiring, Google pampers its engineers with free food and dry cleaning, on-site doctors and masseuses, and gives them all the resources they need to succeed. Even today, with a workforce of more than 23,000, Larry Page signs off on every hire.
But has Google lost its innovative edge? It stumbled badly in China. And now, with its newest initiative, social networking, Google is chasing a successful competitor for the first time. Some employees are leaving the company for smaller, nimbler start-ups. Can the company that famously decided not to be "evil" still compete?
No other book has turned Google inside out as Levy does with In the Plex.
This edition of In the Plex includes an exclusive interview with Google's Marissa Mayer, one of the company's earliest hires and most visible executives, as well as the youngest woman to ever make Fortune's "50 Most Powerful Women in Business" list. She provides a high-level insider's perspective on the company's life story, its unique hiring practices, its new social networking initiative, and more.
©2011 Steven Levy (P)2011 Audible, Inc.
"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'.... 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)
"The book, a wide-ranging history of the company from start-up to behemoth, sheds light on the biggest threats Google faces today, from the Chinese government to Facebook and privacy critics." (The New York Times)
“With a commanding voice, L.J. Ganser narrates this history and exploration of Google….Ganser’s stern voice is clear and moves through the text with determination.” (AudioFile)
Excellent audio that held my attention the whole way through. I liked that it was not a puff piece and got a true look from a business perspective at where Google started and what they have succeeded and failed at.
Interesting, amazing and disturbing. It's great American entrepreneurial tale, but in the back of my mind I couldn't escape the realization that the core of their business is selling ads. Billions of dollars in ads, and said billions they spend like drunken sailors.
Barbarians at the Gate, because that book features a similar value toward large sums of money and the desire to own everything.
Neutral, bland and unexciting. There were a few pronunciation curiosities... "DEC" is usually pronounced "Deck," and to the best of my knowledge, "Vista" in "Alta Vista" is not pronounced "Vee-stuh." Small quibbles, though.
It's worse than you think.
I enjoy Steven Levy's books. Hackers is one of my all-time favorites. BUT it's clear that the cost of the level of access to Google that Levy was granted came at a cost of objectivity. Still, it's an interesting story.
Since the advent of the Internet, it was probably a matter of time that the society became more data-driven. But the two founders of Google, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, definitely pushed this process forward like no other people could. As mentioned in the book, this probably had to do with the fact that both guys happened to be educated in Montessori schools (which encourage students to question the authority and follow one's own quest) earlier in their lives. The book provides a fair assessment of how they evolved as Google became a big company, and yet they tried to retain their original goals. Google tends to be criticized for their invasion of privacies, and I admit that I also always felt nervous about what data they were collecting and how they were using them. But after listening to this book, at least I understand their original intentions and appreciate what they have done to a large extent. I thought the book was a bit too long (nearly 20 hours) - perhaps the author could have delivered the same information with a 2/3 of the length. The narrator was very good.
This is great read on the history of Google, it's founders (Larry Page and Sergey Brin), and search technology. In the early days of the internet if you had typed in "newspaper," you would not have gotten "New York Times" or "LA Times" because they didn't have "newspaper" in its title. You had to know exactly what key words would generate the results you wanted. It's amazing to think how far search engines have come -- as you type, they predict what you want and populate key words for you. It is due to Google's extreme focus on technology and goals (speed, measurement, refinement, and openness). And there are many more amazing Google technologies that work seamlessly into our lives, which I have forgotten about -- Google Earth, Google Maps, Google Translate....
There is a lot of reference to "Googley" people and culture and the company's motto of "don't be evil." I think some readers will find it as a bias towards Google. I think it simply describes a workforce obsessively dedicated to doing what they love. For example, many might argue that Google's entry into China was a major stumble and the book doesn't place much accountability on the executives of Google. I think it was daring that Google did that. Selling technology in China is a high-risk proposition. Corruption and copyright infringements turn many companies away from China. Google had to know failure was very likely. Google took a chance to do something for the people of China. Although they censored results as required by the Chinese government, the users were informed on the page whenever results were censored. It was a small step... but an important step to reflect the value of openness -- the Chinese people were told when they weren't getting everything they wanted to see because the government was censoring it.
I love learning, teaching, and exploring!
I love Google and Google products so this book enjoyable listening for me. It was informative to learn about the ideas and people behind the products that I love to use, but also interesting to learn more about some of the controversial practices used by Google. Everything from hiring practices, to the concept of page rank, and the China decision was covered. It might come across as a little bit pro-Google to those who are not Google fans, but I didn't mind.
I found this book a very informative and educational narrative and history of Google, about which I knew little. I remember the old days of "Webcrawler" and "Excite" as primitive search-engines, and how Google emerged as the best and dominant player. The expansion of the company after that into translation, mapping, images, advertising, telephony, operating systems and Internet browsers was fascinating. Having listened to the very long book "Jobs" last year, elevating as a visionary and Captain of Industry a micro-manager who obsessed on the inside cases of his gadgets, and demeaned and humiliated his troops, and in some cases cheated them out of equity, the culture at Google couldn't be more different. It's collaborative, people are encouraged to innovate and march to their own drummer, and new thinking takes place continuously by very bright people. The author, a Wall Street Journal reporter, is slanted in favor of Google, but I learned a lot about the company and really enjoyed the book.
The dilemma Google faced when it decided to enter the Chinese market. Burdened by the company's slogan "Do Not Be Evil," it was confronted by government demands to censor its search results. As the price of doing business in China, and competing with Baidu, it capitulated. Google was excoriated for this in the press and in the halls of Congress. Later, after the Chinese government hacked into Google's email system, found communications among dissidents and arrested them, Google said "enough" and pulled out.
"Don't Be Evil"
The book lags a bit at the very end.
I started this book only mildly interested and ended with an example of how to build a new world. I could have used a lot more detail on the technical aspects of this story: page rank, server clusters, etc.; and less of the internal politics and business models. But the message which was repeated throughout this story was "change the world for the better and let the algorithms do the heavy lifting". It is almost curious that such a bunch of technonerds could make such a profound humanitarian statement, but that is Steven Levy's genius for detail as much as anything purposely done of the principals in this story. Ganser did a superb narration job. If we are lucky this will be the first volume with another installment in 20 or so years. Spolier Alert: Paleonerds will really enjoy this tale. For all others, proceed with caution.
This book is way better than "What Would Google Do". I particularly like the sections that talked about Google's data centers: the machines they use, the cooling systems, the locations, etc. Techies and non-techies will get enjoyment out of this book.
l'enfer c'est les autres
Everything I thought I knew about Google was wrong. I have a whole new understanding and, yes, an appreciation for the success of Google. Google was much more than just a good search engine. They knew how to take that product and leverage it to make money. The author really lets you feel like your inside the company and understand how they succeeded. A very fun and eye opening read.
This is not all an objective treatment. However, even with the author's reverence for the
Yes and no: it's competent but nearly hagiographic. VERY few opposing viewpoints. I would bet that Google traded access for guaranteed favorable treatment.
The author would have been well-served to leave out the Obama-centric chapters near the end of the book. They add very little and sound too much like mainstream Obama puffery: according to Levy, the President's main problem is just being too darn rational.... Yeah, right.
Superb book, great insights into early as well as later Google. I couldn't imagine that there will be so much material to cover 20 hours worth of a book, but I have to say that there wasn't a section which I didn't find interesting. Very well researched and performed well as well.
One small note is I have no idea what was going on with chapter numbers - was saying 'chapter 3' half the time, with 'chapter 2 or 4' mixed in randomly.
"Explains Google well"
The content is very rich, all aspects of Google appear to be dealt with in logical ways, so that following the timelines and individual issues is not a problem.
The founders are really the main "characters" all the way through, and the book gives some insight into their personalities without a huge amount of access to them directly, just their company.
The birth of a giant
"A little boring"
The first half of the book is interesting and kept me interested but the sections on china, google books were just lenghtly and boring with too much pointless detail.
It does a good job on explaining how google was developped and how is essentially works. I would recommend this book to someone who really loves google products or wants to create a IT start-up.
"Interesting in parts"
One of those books that I am not enjoying enough to get excited about but not hating enough to delete. It's interesting in part but not enough to make up for the dullness of the subject.
The narrator is also very cheesy.
"Somehow left me flat ;-("
Having been an avid fan of audio books and captivated recently by the Steve Jobs biography. This review of Google seem somewhat 'clinical'. It was fine, historically interesting, giving insight but ultimately it just seemed a serious of facts strung together in a less than captivating way which did not draw you in or make you really care what happended (even though we all know how well Google has done).
I listened to it all but by halfway through the first half I was wishing it over but continued to the end.
Not the strongest book I have heard by far and don't expect a light story, but if you want to know about google then the author had access to the heart of the business.
Great insights into the amazing ascent of Google from an author who clearly has had some high level access.
"OK-but don't get too ecited"
This book is an OK look at Google and the rise of the search engine as it grows from early concept to where it is now and as it looks to enter new markets. However, there is nothing particularly new in the book over what you hear on the media regularly. Amd I have to say, although this may jut be me, I do find the narrators voice and intonation quite irritating!
"Fascinating, super read."
The last time I read a Steven Levy book was back 2001, the fascinating 'Insanely Great: The Life and Times of Macintosh, the Computer that Changed Everything'. Levy takes on a similar subject here, examining the birth and development of Google. I have to say, I thought this was an excellent read, with a thorough and comprehensive story and a clear theme as Levy focuses on the culture which the founders instilled into their organisation. The chapters on the early days were fascinating, and insights into Google's technology eye-opening, and the book left me with a whole new perspective on Google. If you enjoy technology books you'll love this!
Very complete history of an amazing company. I found the book more worthy than fun.
I found this book inspiring; this book is constructed in a way that it keeps you engaged from start to finish. I was disappointed when it ended, even if your not into technology the leadership principles demonstrated are sound.
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