Book Review/Notes – Planet Google by Randall Stross

NOTE: This was from my old A&L Enterprises blog – but I thought it was interesting…

I just read Planet Google by Randall Stross – a book about Google (can you Google about Google or would that cause some kind of time space distortion).  The book starts with the beginning of Google – in the academic world – an takes us through a brief history of Google – in it’s different aspects – search, book search, Gmail, etc.  Google started out small – but ambitious – to organize all information in the world.

I agree with the author – that Google’s timing was great – with the growth of cheap, but plentiful hardware, the explosive growth of web and the failure of it’s competitors.  The book points out what I’ve heard before – that Google has and still values it’s engineers.  Google seems to be a different company – less focused on money and shareholder value than other companies.  It helps that their core search business is a major revenue source – simple but very profitable.  This gives them a ton of cash to pursue other ventures – a luxury most companies don’t have.

It’s hard to estimate the effect Google has had on our world – much like Microsoft has had.  I’m personally fascinated by them – by a company that just behaves differently.  In fact, there is a culture of the web now that making money is secondary to making a product – build it and then figure out how to pay for it.  Of course, this doesn’t always work – but Google has the money now.

As Google expands beyond just search it hints at the future of Cloud computing – of moving away from silos of data to having you data available anywhere you want it.  If you think about – this has been a tension in the computing world for some time – remember mainframes?  At work my e-mail is not on my PC – even though my e-mail client is.  Do you store files on the PC or on the network?  I think one of the original drivers for moving away from the mainframe was flexibility – as it’s not simple to develop anything in the mainframe environment – versus a PC is easy (but not as mature).  Many companies live in the tension of centralizing vs. distributing – which has led to the growth of Virtualization.  That said, I do agree that the cloud seems to be the future – as the concept of having your data whenever you need is appealing.  And Google may be in the lead in this effort.

The book hints at it – and I agree -that the growth of the collaborative web is a challenge to Google.  They wrote the book on search algorithms and like to keep things in house (decided by data).  Wikpedia contrasts strongly with Google – as it’s a user driven approach.   This is different than what Google is doing with it’s book scanning – as it’s doing it by itself – and not collaborating with others.  I also know about Open Street Maps – why isn’t Google Maps using Open Street maps as a source – collaborating with the user community to improve data.  I wonder if the goal to digitize books could be better accomplished by having individuals volunteer to scan the books in (check them out one by one) and contribute to a community pool.  Then companies like Google could pull in that data and index it for searching, distribution, etc.  I wonder if it might go quicker that way – and would be less of an issue with everyone.

Overall I’m glad I read the book – as I learned about Google.  I think there are other books to read that would help me understand more (I think Jeff Jarvis has one).  It’s only 200 pages – so it didn’t take that long to get through (that’s short for me – ever read Battlefield Earth?)

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.