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In The Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives (English Edition) [Format Kindle]

Steven Levy
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“Have you heard of Google?”

It was a blazing hot July day in 2007, in the rural Indian village of Ragihalli, located thirty miles outside Bangalore. Twenty-two people from a company based in Mountain View, California, had driven in SUVs and vans up an unpaved road to this enclave of seventy threadbare huts with cement floors, surrounded by fields occasionally trampled by unwelcome elephants. Though electricity had come to Ragihalli some years earlier, there was not a single personal computer in the community. The visit had begun awkwardly, as the outsiders piled out of the cars and faced the entire population of the village, about two hundred people, who had turned out to welcome them. It was as if these well-dressed Westerners had dropped in from another planet, which in a sense they had. Young schoolchildren were pushed forward, and they performed a song. The visitors, in turn, gave the children notebooks and candy. There was an uncomfortable silence, broken when Marissa Mayer, the delegation’s leader, a woman of thirty-two, said, “Let’s interact with them.” The group fanned out and began to engage the villagers in awkward conversation.

That is how Alex Vogenthaler came to ask a spindly young man with a wide smile whether he had heard of Google, Vogenthaler’s employer. It was a question that he would never have had to ask in his home country: virtually everyone in the United States and everywhere in the wired-up world knew Google. Its uncannily effective Internet search product had changed the way people accessed information, changed the way they thought about information. Its 2004 IPO had established it as an economic giant. And its founders themselves were the perfect examples of the superbrainy engineering mentality that represented the future of business in the Internet age.

The villager admitted that, no, he had never heard of this Google. “What is it?” he asked. Vogenthaler tried to explain in the simplest terms that Google was a company that operated on the Internet. People used it to search for information. You would ask it a question, and it would immediately give you the answer from huge repositories of information it had gathered on the World Wide Web.

The man listened patiently but clearly was more familiar with rice fields than search fields.

Then the villager held up a cell phone. “Is this you what mean?” he seemed to ask.

The little connectivity meter on the phone display had four bars. There are significant swaths of the United States of America where one can barely pull in a signal—or gets no bars at all. But here in rural India, the signal was strong.

Google, it turns out, was on the verge of a multimillion-dollar mobile effort to make smart phones into information prostheses, adjuncts to the human brain that would allow people to get information to a vast swath of all the world’s knowledge instantly. This man might not know Google yet, but the company would soon be in Ragihalli. And then he would know Google.

I witnessed this exchange in 2007 as an observer on the annual trip of Google associate product managers, a select group pegged as the company’s future leaders. We began our journey in San Francisco and touched down in Tokyo, Beijing, Bangalore, and Tel Aviv before returning home sixteen days later.

My participation on the trip had been a consequence of a long relationship with Google. In late 1998, I’d heard buzz about a smarter search engine and tried it out. Google was miles better than anything I’d used before. When I heard a bit about the site’s method of extracting such good results—it relied on sort of a web-based democracy—I became even more intrigued. This is how I put it in the February 22, 1999, issue of Newsweek: “Google, the Net’s hottest search engine, draws on feedback from the web itself to deliver more relevant results to customer queries.”

Later that year, I arranged with Google’s newly hired director of corporate communications, Cindy McCaffrey, to visit its Mountain View headquarters. One day in October I drove to 2400 Bayshore Parkway, where Google had just moved from its previous location above a Palo Alto bicycle shop. I’d visited a lot of start-ups and wasn’t really surprised by the genial chaos—a vast room, with cubicles yet unfilled and a cluster of exercise balls. However, I hadn’t expected that instead of being attired in traditional T-shirts and jeans, the employees were decked out in costumes. I had come on Halloween.

“Steven, meet Larry Page and Sergey Brin,” said Cindy, introducing me to the two young men who had founded the company as Stanford graduate students. Larry was dressed as a Viking, with a long-haired fur vest and a hat with long antlers protruding. Sergey was in a cow suit. On his chest was a rubber slab from which protruded huge, wart-specked teats. They greeted me cheerfully and we all retreated to a conference room where the Viking and the cow explained the miraculous powers of Google’s PageRank technology.

That was the first of many interviews I would conduct at Google. Over the next few years, the company became a focus of my technology reporting at Newsweek. Google grew from the small start-up I had visited to a behemoth of more than 20,000 employees. Every day, billions of people used its search engine, and Google’s remarkable ability to deliver relevant results in milliseconds changed the way the world got its information. The people who clicked on its ads made Google wildly profitable and turned its founders into billionaires—and triggered an outcry among traditional beneficiaries of ad dollars.

Google also became known for its irreverent culture and its data-driven approach to business decision making; management experts rhapsodized about its unconventional methods. As the years went by, Google began to interpret its mission—to gather and make accessible and useful the world’s information—in the broadest possible sense. The company created a series of web-based applications. It announced its intention to scan all the world’s books. It became involved in satellite imagery, mobile phones, energy generation, photo storage. Clearly, Google was one of the most important contributors to the revolution of computers and technology that marked a turning point in civilization. I knew I wanted to write a book about the company but wasn’t sure how.

Then in early July 2007, I was asked to join the associate product managers on their trip. It was an unprecedented invitation from a company that usually limits contact between journalists and its employees. The APM program, I learned, was a highly valued initiative. To quote the pitch one of the participants made in 2006 to recent and upcoming college graduates: “We invest more into our APMs than any other company has ever invested into young employees…. We envision a world where everyone is awed by the fact that Google’s executives, the best CEOs in the Silicon Valley, and the most respected leaders of global non-profits all came through the Google APM program.” Eric Schmidt, Google’s CEO, told me, “One of these people will probably be our CEO one day—we just don’t know which one.”

The eighteen APMs on the trip worked all over Google: in search, advertising, applications, and even stealth projects such as Google’s attempt to capture the rights to include magazines in its index. Mayer’s team, along with the APMs themselves, had designed the agenda of the trip. Every activity had an underlying purpose to increase the participants’ understanding of a technology or business issue, or make them more (in the parlance of the company) “Googley.” In Tokyo, for instance, they engaged in a scavenger hunt in the city’s legendary Akihabara electronics district. Teams of APMs were each given $50 to buy the weirdest gadgets they could find. Ducking into backstreets with stalls full of electronic parts and gizmos, they wound up with a cornucopia: USB-powered ashtrays shaped like football helmets that suck up smoke; a plate-sized disk that simulated the phases of the moon; a breathalyzer you could install in your car; and a stubby wand that, when waved back and forth, spelled out words in LED lights. In Bangalore, there was a different shopping hunt—an excursion to the market area where the winner of the competition would be the one who haggled best. (Good training for making bulk purchases of computers or even buying an Internet start-up.) Another Tokyo high point was the 5 A.M. trip to the Tsukiji fish market. It wasn’t the fresh sushi that fascinated the APMs but the mechanics of the fish auction, in some ways similar to the way Google works its AdWords program.

In China, Google’s top executive there, Kai-Fu Lee, talked of balancing Google’s freewheeling style with government rules—and censorship. But during interviews with Chinese consumers, the APMs were discouraged to hear the perception of the company among locals: “Baidu [Google’s local competitor] knows more [about China] than Google,” said one young man to his APM interlocutors.

At every office the APMs visited, they attended meetings with local Googlers, first learning about projects under way and then explaining to the residents what was going on at Mountain View headquarters. I began to get an insider’s sense of Google’s product processes—and how serving its users was akin to a crusade. An interesting moment occurred in Bangalore when Mayer was taking questions from local engineers after presenting an overview of upcoming products. One of them asked, “We’ve heard the road map for products, what’s the road map for revenues?” She almost bit his head off. “That’s not the way to think,” she said. “We are focused on our users. If we make them happy, we will have revenues.”

The most fascinating part of the trip was the time spent with the young Googlers. They were generally from elite colleges, with SAT scores approaching or achieving perfection. Carefully culled from thousands of people who would have killed for the job, their personalities and abilities were a reflection of Google’s own character. During a bus ride to the Great Wall of China, one of the APMs charted the group demographics and found that almost all had parents who were professionals and more than half had parents who taught at a university—which put them in the company of Google’s founders. They all grew up with the Internet and considered its principles to be as natural as the laws of gravity. They were among the brightest and most ambitious of a generation that was better equipped to handle the disruptive technology wave than their elders were. Their minds hummed like tuning forks in resonance with the company’s values of speed, flexibility, and a deep respect for data.

Yet even while immersed in an optimism bubble with these young people, I could see the strains that came with Google’s abrupt growth from a feisty start-up to a market-dominating giant with more than 20,000 employees. The APMs had spent a year navigating the folkways of a complicated corporation, albeit a determinedly different one—and now they were almost senior employees. What’s more, I was stunned when a poll of my fellow travelers revealed that not a single one of them saw him- or herself working for Google in five years. Marissa Mayer took this news calmly, claiming that such ambition was why they had been hired in the first place. “This is the gene that Larry and Sergey look for,” she told me. “Even if they leave, it’s still good for us. They’re going to take the Google DNA with them.”

After covering the company for almost a decade, I thought I knew it pretty well, but the rare view of the company I got in those two weeks made me see it in a different, wider light. Still, there were considerable mysteries. Google was a company built on the values of its founders, who harbored ambitions to build a powerful corporation that would impact the entire world, at the same time loathing the bureaucracy and commitments that running such a company would entail. Google professed a sense of moral purity—as exemplified by its informal motto, “Don’t be evil”—but it seemed to have a blind spot regarding the consequences of its own technology on privacy and property rights. A bedrock principle of Google was serving its users—but a goal was building a giant artificial intelligence learning machine that would bring uncertain consequences to the way all of us live. From the very beginning, its founders said that they wanted to change the world. But who were they, and what did they envision this new world order to be?

After the trip I realized that the best way to answer these questions was to report as much as possible from inside Google. Just as I’d had a rare glimpse into its inner workings during that summer of 2007, I would try to immerse myself more deeply into its engineering, its corporate life, and its culture, to report how it really operated, how it developed its products, and how it was managing its growth and public exposure. I would be an outsider with an insider’s view.

To do this, of course, I’d need cooperation. Fortunately, based on our long relationship, Google’s executives, including “LSE”—Larry Page, Sergey Brin, and Eric Schmidt—agreed to let me in. During the next two years—a critical time when Google’s halo lost some of its glow even as the company grew more powerful—I interviewed hundreds of current and former Googlers and attended a variety of meetings in the company. These included product development meetings, “interface reviews,” search launch meetings, privacy council sessions, weekly TGIF all-hands gatherings, and the gatherings of the high command known as Google Product Strategy (GPS) meetings, where projects and initiatives are approved or rejected. I also ate a lot of meals at Andale, the burrito joint in Google’s Building 43.

What I discovered was a company exulting in creative disorganization, even if the creativity was not always as substantial as hoped for. Google had massive goals, and the entire company channeled its values from the founders. Its mission was collecting and organizing all the world’s information—and that’s only the beginning. From the very start, its founders saw Google as a vehicle to realize the dream of artificial intelligence in augmenting humanity. To realize their dreams, Page and Brin had to build a huge company. At the same time, they attempted to maintain as much as possible the nimble, irreverent, answer-to-no-one freedom of a small start-up. In the two years I researched this book, the clash between those goals reached a peak, as David had become a Goliath.

My inside perspective also provided me the keys to unlock more of the secrets of Google’s two “black boxes”—its search engine and its advertising model—than had previously been disclosed. Google search is part of our lives, and its ad system is the most important commercial product of the Internet age. In this book, for the first time, readers can learn the full story of their development, evolution, and inner workings. Understanding those groundbreaking products helps us understand Google and its employees because their operation embodies both the company’s values and its technological philosophy. More important, understanding them helps us understand our own world—and tomorrow’s.

The science fiction writer William Gibson once said that the future is already here—just not evenly distributed. At Google, the future is already under way. To understand this pioneering company and its people is to grasp our technological destiny. And so here is Google: how it works, what it thinks, why it’s changing, how it will continue to change us. And how it hopes to maintain its soul.

© 2011 Steven Levy

Revue de presse

"Levy is America’s premier technology journalist. . . . He has produced the most interesting book ever written about Google. He makes the biggest intellectual challenges of computer science seem endlessly fun and fascinating. . . . We can expect many more books about Google. But few will deliver the lively, idea-based journalism of In the Plex.”
—Siva Vaidhyanathan, The Washington Post

"Almost nothing can stop a remarkable idea executed well at the right time, as Steven Levy's brisk-but-detailed history of Google, In the Plex, convincingly proves. . . . makes obsolete previous books on the company."
—Jack Shafer, The San Francisco Chronicle

"The rise of Google is an engrossing story, and nobody's ever related it in such depth."
—Hiawatha Bray, The Boston Globe

"Dense, driven examination of the pioneering search engine that changed the face of the Internet.

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.' The author capably describes Google’s founders, Stanford grads Larry Page and Sergey Brin, as sharp, user-focused and steadfastly intent on 'organizing all the world’s information.' Levy traces how Google’s intricately developed, intrepid beginnings and gradual ascent over a competitive marketplace birthed an advertising-fueled 'money machine' (especially following its IPO in 2004), and he follows the expansion and operation of the company’s liberal work campus ('Googleplex') and its distinctively selective hiring process (Page still signs off on every new hire). The author was afforded an opportunity to observe the company’s operations, development, culture and advertising model from within the infrastructure for two years with full managerial cooperation. From there, he performed hundreds of interviews with past and current employees and discovered the type of 'creative disorganization' that can either make or break a business. Though clearly in awe of Google’s crowning significance, Levy evenhandedly notes the company’s more glaring deficiencies, like the 2004 cyber-attack that forced the removal of the search engine from mainland China, a decision vehemently unsupported by co-founder Brin. 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 (starred review)

"An instructive primer on how the minds behind the world's most influential internet company function."
—Richard Waters, The Wall Street Journal

"[Steven Levy] spent much of the past three years playing anthropologist at one of the Internet's most interesting villages and set of inhabitants -- the Googleplex and the tribue of Googlers who inhabit it. . . . A deep dive into Google's culture, history and technology."
--Mike Swift, San Jose Mercury News

"The wizards of Silicon Valley often hype their hardware/software breakthroughs as 'magical' for the products' ability to pull off dazzling stunts in the blink of an eye. And true to the magicians' code, these tech talents rarely let mere mortals peer behind the curtains. . . . That's what makes Levy's just-out tome so valuable."
—Jonathan Takiff, The Philadelphia Daily News

"The most comprehensive, intelligent and readable analysis of Google to date. Levy is particularly good on how those behind Google think and work. . . . What's more, his lucid introductions to Google's core technologies - the search engine and the company's data centres - are written in non-geek English and are rich with anecdotes and analysis. . . . In The Plex teems with original insight into Google's most controversial affairs."
—Andrew Keen, New Scientist

"Steven Levy's new account [of Google], In the Plex, is the most authoritative to date and in many ways the most entertaining."
—James Gleick, The New York Review of Books

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Commentaires client les plus utiles
Format:Relié|Achat vérifié
Je l'ai lu car il était recommandé par Charlie Munger et je n'ai pas été deçu (en même temps, je le suis très rarement avec les livres qu'il conseille...). L'histoire de Google est passionnante et tout au long on découvre une reflexion plus large sur la morale et l'éthique de l'internet et de l'ère de l'information, dans laquelle on vit.
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1 internautes sur 2 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
4.0 étoiles sur 5 Encore un Google Book ? 15 juin 2011
Format:Relié|Achat vérifié
Google n'est pas seulement le moteur de recherche le plus connu du monde, mais aussi l'entreprise qui attise les fantasmes et ... les auteurs.

On pourrait craindre un énième livre qui surfe sur la vague du succès et compte se vendre pour son seul sujet ... il n'en est rien !

Steven Levy a suivi les cadres de Google depuis longtemps et les connait si bien qu'il sait raconter leur histoire et les raisons de leur succès mieux que beaucoup.

Et plutôt que de vous le raconter ... je ne saurai trop vous en conseiller la lecture ;-)
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0 internautes sur 1 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 Passionant 30 juillet 2011
Google est une révolution, ils changent notre monde depuis 10 ans.
Ce livre nous explique pourquoi Larry et Sergey, qui ont etés élevés dans des écoles montessori, pensent que l'on manque généralement d'ambition et que eux veulent réellement avoir un impact sur le monde.

C'est passionant, très axé sur les maths et le "data roi", en gros les chiffres ont toujours raison et ne mentent pas, c'est pas très humain mais c'est la façon de voir de Google.

A lire pour comprendre l'ampleur de leur succès et de leur pouvoir.
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5.0 étoiles sur 5 Best Google book...ever 10 avril 2011
Par Robert Howburnowski - Publié sur Amazon.com
Among recent great books describing the business and impact of information technology, In the Plex is one of the best. As impactful as Pulse: The New Science of Harnessing Internet Buzz to Track Threats and Opportunities, and with story-telling as engaging as Idea Man: A Memoir by the Cofounder of Microsoft this book will be on the shortlist of 2011 "must reads" in the business of technology.

One of my favorite writers, Steven Levy of Wired, gained what may be unprecedented access to the employees and upper management of Google in order explore the history, the work environment key management decisions of one of the most innovative and culturally-influential companies of all time. Google manages this with 24,000 employees who see Google as the perfect employer for them. Levy describes Google as a place for the "unspeakably brainy", a kind of "geek never-never land" - just the right kind of environment to maximize innovativeness. Among the perks is the requirement for every engineer to spend a share of their time on personal projects. And as daunting as it sounds, Levy says Co-founder Larry Page actually still signs off on every single hire.

The co-founders Sergey Brin and Page literally started Google from a garage. (The name was a misspelling of the mathematical term for 10 to the 100th power - Googol. But the name stuck.) Their big idea: efficient searches and how to make money at it by selling keywords. Levy then leads us through Google's history of fantastic growth and innovation focusing mainly on big decisions in the firm. Among them the mistakes of handling the special case of China where media access is more controlled than Google would prefer and where management style of the China-based executives were more like a stodgy, old IBM than the free-thinking Google. The company with the motto "Don't be Evil", ultimately decided to leave the China market.

The rapid growth of the firm was itself a major challenge. That many smart people with the freedom and resources to chase many ideas could spread themselves thin. Some of the ideas could be technically possible because of the clever solutions Google staff would develop, but some ideas had other obstacles the engineering-oriented firm didn't anticipate. For example, Google's plan to scan in millions of books and offer them online ran into what should have been entirely foreseeable legal obstacles from authors. But as Levy describes in the first pages of the book, "To Google, it was a boon to civilization." It is this story that frames much of the rest of the book: visionary and cash-rich but somewhat naïve technologists struggle with practical realities of the rest of the world.

Some of the employee perks are drying up as economic hard times have even hit Google. The sheer size of the firm has required some amount of long-avoided bureaucracy and rapid acquisitions of firms the engineers thought were cool has slowed down. As Levy says, even the "Don't Be Evil" motto is now used as ironic humor by Google's detractors. But Google, with a $180+ billion dollar market capitalization is an example of a massive creation of wealth from one of a few areas where US exports lead the world: world-changing innovation.

Levy's telling of the Google story is based on access no other author had and, as a result, it is the best story about Google written to date.
120 internautes sur 151 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
3.0 étoiles sur 5 Great at ancient history, not so great at current events 31 mai 2011
Par Reader - Publié sur Amazon.com
If you want a good history of Google's early years, this is the book for you. The author, a Google booster, had unparalleled access to current and former Google employees and presents more information about the history and development of the company than has reached print before. If you're interested in the causes of Google's recent stumbles, though, the author's hagiographic approach gets in the way of understanding. Here are a half dozen "evil" approaches from the "don't be evil" company that simply are not adequately explained.

(1) Google went into the China market and self-censored itself based on what it understood the Chinese autocrats wanted it to do. It didn't get out of China until the Chinese government launched a sophisticated hack that not only broke into and stole Google's top secret code, it stole the gmail contact lists of Chinese dissidents. Why didn't Google recognize the slippery slope of the rationalizations that allowed it to participate in this charade, especially co-founder Sergey Brin, who had escaped from a similar regime?

(2) Google was initially in favor of the positive public good of "net neutrality" when it was trying to break into the field, but suddenly it's no longer in favor of such neutrality for wireless. Why the about-face?

(3) In its book scan project Google initially took the legal position that what it was doing was fair use, and the author makes clear that the legal community thought it would win on this point. (p. 362). Yet ultimately Google bought into a suggestion from the Writers Guild of America that Google should become the designated internet bookstore for copyrighted books that are out of print and that it should create a registry to determine who should be paid for the books. Not coincidentally, Google would have profited handsomely by this arrangement. The only explanation the author proffers is that "it was a foregone conclusion that [co-founder] Larry Page would sign on.... It was his personal history and that of Google that determined that he embrace the scheme." (p. 362). This tautology is no explanation, and of course a federal judge has now rejected the settlement, a fact that occurred too late to get into this volume.

(4) On the Wi-Fi-street view project, again the author has no explanation as to why Google cars roaming the street sucked up all unprotected communications to and from the internet, other than "the engineers working on the Wi-Fi street view project noticed that someone had written useful code and implemented it." (p. 343). What?

(5) Google implemented a social networking application based on gmail that automatically gave everyone access to your entire email contacts list, and showed the frequency with which you communicated with each contact ("Buzz"). The $8 million privacy settlement that Google entered into a few months ago didn't make its way into this book. How could the "don't be evil" company be so tone deaf on privacy? Again, the author doesn't offer any clues.

(6) The most problematic issue has resulted from Google's purchase of internet ad king Double Click. After the purchase, without letting any of us know, it substituted its former privacy-conserving policy of keeping track of our web browsing only when we clicked through to one of Google's advertisers, to a new policy of keeping track of us every time we visit a web page that either has a connection to Doubleclick or contains Google ads, whether or not we click on the ad. All Google has to do to keep track of ALL of our individual web browsing is to match this up with the search data that it keeps for each of us for 9 months. What guarantee do we have that Google won't do that in the search for the type of profits it was looking for in China, in the book search project, and everywhere else? The author just doesn't say.
7 internautes sur 7 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
4.0 étoiles sur 5 Great research, but needs a critical eye that the author didn't bring 19 septembre 2011
Par Mr. G. Carroll - Publié sur Amazon.com
I bought this book automatically because I had previously read and enjoyed Levy's previous works: Insanely Great, Hackers and Chaos. Given his heritage covering technology companies and personalities as both an author and a journalist, I was curious what he would make of Google.

The book is expansive and provides a lot of additional colour around Google, some of which I found of interest as I had worked at Yahoo! competing against Google and working with some of the early darlings of the web 2.0 movement - Flickr and Delicious. There were a couple of things that surprised me such as Google's use of machine learning on areas like translation explained why grammar is still so bad in this area as it needs heuristics that lexicographers could provide similar to that offered by Crystal Semantics.

Overall it was interesting to see that as with most large organisations Google is not only fallible but run through with realpolitik and a fair bit of serendipity. This contrasts with the external perception of Google as the technological Übermensch. A classic example of this is the series of missteps Google made whilst competing in China, which are documented in the book. From staffing practices, promotional tactics and legal to technology; Google blew it's chances and Baidu did a better job.

As an aside it was interesting to note that Google used queries on rival search engines to try and work out how to comply with Chinese government regulations, which is eerily like bad practices that Google accused Bing of last February in `hiybbprqag'-gate.

There is a curious myopia that runs through a lot of later Google product thinking that reminded me of the reality and perceptions that I was aware of existing inside Microsoft from the contact I have had with the organisation through the various different agencies I have worked at. A classic example of this is the Google view of a file-less future, which by implication assumes that people won't have legacy documents or use services other than the Google cloud. It is a myopia that comes part of arrogance and a patronising attitude towards the consumer that Google always knows best about every aspect of their needs.

Contrast this with Apple and iTunes. Whilst Apple would like to sell you only content from the iTunes store, it recognises that you will have content from different sources: Amazon MP3s, ripped CDs, podcasts and self-created files that iTunes needs to play nicely with.

The `no files' approach assumes ubiquitous bandwidth which is likely to be a fiction for a while. (Part of the reason why I am able to write this post is that I was stuck for half-a-day on a train journey to Wales enjoying patchy mobile phone coverage and a wi-fi free environment, which allowed me to focus on reading this book in hardback). This approach smacks of the old data lock-in that Microsoft used to have with proprietary file formats for its Office documents.

Levy does a good job pulling all of this together and chronicling Google, but he fails to cast a critical eye over it all. I suspect that this is because he is too close to the company: the access that he gained enveloped him. Which is a shame as all the experience and insight Levy could bring to the book that would add value to the reader is omitted. Whilst In The Plex is an interesting historical document, it could be so much more.
5 internautes sur 5 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
4.0 étoiles sur 5 Hackers insight into Google 20 juin 2013
Par Bas Vodde - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Relié|Achat vérifié
If you'd ask me, which technology journalist should write a book about Google, then Steven Levy would be high on my list. Steven's been around for a long time and wrote the excellent "Hackers" and the not so excellent "The Perfect Thing." He is able to write about technology in an engaging way, making "In the Plex" and insightful book about how Google works... and how it doesn't work.

The book is roughly organized around products (or projects). Since the book is about Google, it must start with the world of search and how Google was founded in Standford. How the two Googler founders were free-thinking Montessori idealists with an huge interest and background in technology stumbled on the idea of raking based on 'citations' and creating the world changing search -- google.com. It provides interesting stories about how advanced the Google search actually is and how it tried to learn from all the data it collects.

The second chapter takes Google from the start-up to a profitable company with Google Ads. The uncool product that became a cool product by changing the perspective from "boring ads" to an interesting technological problem. How to make ads useful? Introducing the auction, removing any middle-man and just do it based on data and algorithms was the trick Google used to ruin the existing markets of ads... or should I say, take it over. The Google Ads did lead to profit, which in turn lead to growth and...

To chapter 3 and an IPO. Google was funded based on VC money and they will expect to go public, so they can get their investment back. But Google didn't want to do that the traditional way... no... it had to be different. Nerdier, Googlier. They wanted to also disrupt the financial world, but that financial world didn't take Google too serious. It caused a lot of frustration, especially when Google stressed it's value of "Don't do Evil" which wasn't taken too serious by the (perhaps Evil) Wall Street firms. Eventually they succeeded, got lots of cash, so what do you do...

On to chapter 4 which starts with the invention of gmail and the need for more and more storage and computer power. This is the chapter where Google became really impressive as they changed the fiber and data centre world. Originally they ran in other company data centres, but eventually they figured they could do it better and build huge, secret data centres. Data centres need fast internet connections and power, so they actually bought most of the fiber connections, becoming one of the largest... cable companies.. I guess. They also made they move into power, but that is still undergoing. With the owning of the huge data centres, Google basically owned every aspect of their business and removed most dependencies. Now, they needed to show that they can do more than search/ads/mail, so...

Chapter 5 follows how Google tried different markets, first with Android and then with YouTube. As a company, being dependent on one market is risky, so expanding to others and increasing traffic and using your core assets (data centres) sounds logical. First into mobile making an operating systems (basically, together with Apple, killing Nokia), then a browser and becoming an active player in the 'second browser wars' and eventually buying YouTube to "go into video." These expanded Googles markets and made it less reliable on search only.

So, whats left? The rest of the world. Google began expanding in other countries from Chapter 6. The most interesting story is, of course, China where the corrupt government insists on stealing freedom from people by censoring the internet... a clear evil thing to do. So, do you play ball and try, from inside, to gradually open up the internet or do you refuse. Google went in... with a regret. The government considered it won and simply needed to push more and more rules otherwise it could simple remove the connectivity. Google shall listen. Google didn't like that and corrected its mistake after being hacked by the government. Painful. (The book doesn't share the wonderful details on how the government censorship simply makes google service look bad, missed opportunity, perhaps Steven needs to live in China for a while).

The US government is a lot better, right? Not really. It might be less corrupt, but it still is. Chapter 7 describes how some Googlers tried to help the Obama administration but were stifled by the bureaucracy. Also, competitors started lobbying more and more against Google, so they require Lobbyists too, which doesn't seem to be evil. The biggest legal problems came, of course, from the Google library project. Scanning all the world books is certainly evil, right?

Most of the book is exceptional positive about Google. The last chapter, Epilogue, suddenly changes its tone and shows how Google missed the boat on social networking, mostly because of how the company works. Also people became frustrated with Google, left, and started all kinds of wonderful companies such as Twitter, Foursquare, or left to join Facebook. Painful. Perhaps Google is now too big and traditional and will need to be replaced with a more modern company... facebook?

The book is structured (as you can read above) really well. It is well written and full with wonderful stories from Googlers. It is well research and was a pleasure to read. I'd recommend it to everyone who wants to have an insight into Google. It is probably better than some of the other Google-books. I'd rate if 4 stars, but not 5. Why? At times, I was disappointed with the technical inaccuracies in the book. Also, some points were left a bit too open. Last, it felt parts were missing, such as mentioning of the Google X projects or the Google Apps infrastructure. These seem like important new markets of Google, but it wasn't mentioned. So, an excellent book and definitively recommended, but not perfect.
7 internautes sur 8 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 Very long. Very smart. Very poignant. 17 juillet 2011
Par Michael A. Robson - Publié sur Amazon.com
In the late 90's a young Larry Page, enrolled at Stanford in Computer Science, needed a subject for his Phd dissertation. His was a razor sharp engineering mind, but he was in need of something big, something worthy of his geek brain. They say technology lies on the edge of complexity, and thus, in those days, the most complex thing was the Internet, just a few years from launching into the mainstream. The web was growing at an amazing rate, truly a worth challenge for Page. That Stanford project became Google (not Googol), and today, the web is sprawling more than it ever has, making a Search engine, on the face of it, worth more than it ever was. Amidst infinite complexity, Google's algorithm has incredible value precisely because the world, and the web, is incredibly complex.

The story of Google turns out to be a nice little summary of the last 15 or so years of Computing, picking up right about the time our last gen Silicon Valley Royals (those being Steve Jobs and Bill Gates) buried the hatchet (that story, by the way, is depicted nicely in the great "Pirates of Silicon Valley" TV Movie by Noah Wyle and Anthony Michael Hall, respectively).

So why read a book about Google anyway? Well the truth is, most people won't. Most people will find this stuff incredibly dry. Everyone wants a Google business card, but few of us actually want to actually work at Google and stay up for 14 hours discussing search algorithms, Gmail Spambots and Google Streetview. Engineers, however, love this stuff. The simple act of saying, "This is hard, it's never been done before, it's probably impossible" is the equivalent of telling Schwarzenegger in the late 70's that he couldn't pick up a huge boulder. He's going to pick that rock up or die trying.

The other thing Engineers like is money. It turns out that if you go back to Apple in the 80's, Microsoft in the 90's, and Google in the 2000's (and now Facebook in the 2010's), Engineers go wherever the IPO tells them to go. And thus we find ourselves in an interesting position: Google has lost some of its smartest people, and Facebook is the coolest kid on the block. Despite all the bad press, Mark Zuckerberg (who famously had more Facebook plaintiffs than Friends) is the most popular kid on Google Plus (Google's Facebook wannabe).

But before we get into that, let's take a step back and try to understand what really drives this company: Google was never about making money. In fact, the founders taunted the business guys, mostly because they weren't smart enough to be Engineers. To be an MBA with no Engineering experience at Google is to be, in a way, a second class citizen. And yet Google gets richer and richer, almost as if to say, "We can do this stuff without even trying. What do we need you for?"

So how does Google make money? By saving the logs of everything everybody on the Internet searches for, they can track incredibly detailed patterns of behaviour (like the way our brains have muscle memory and habits). If Google understands what you want, maybe Google can anticipate what you're looking for. And thus, perhaps they could actually give you an ad that you didn't hate. This is the point. You're not supposed to hate Google Ads. You're supposed to like them. And for that, Advertisers pay big money. Ideally, it's a win-win. If an advertiser starts talking to you about something you want, they're not annoying; they're actually useful.

Here's where it gets really interesting: you may have heard that Google's mission is to organize the world's information. As such, it's inextricably tied to the growth of the Web. And thus, Google will do anything that promotes Web usage. This is why almost all Google services are free.

Who could argue with this great business model? You take something that people are looking for, and give it to them for free. They never pay anything (like TV commercials), and we get big businesses to foot the bill. But Google does have its critics, namely Privacy advocates. Google often responds to criticism by calling upon the Invisible hand of the market: "If we do something wrong, people will tell us, and they'll stop using our stuff, and thus, the product will fail." It's the kind of undeniable and irrefutable logic that almost suggests the Governments step away from all consumer protection. There's just one problem: a similar defence could be used for Drug Dealers. After all, the addicts keep coming back, they obviously like the product right? (What's the emoticon for sarcasm again?)

And what's Google's drug in this analogy? Free (as in Beer). By getting the users hooked on free, they can pull in the advertisers. And it turns out, as long as you have lots of white space (Google's most preferred design language. Ahem.) you can put ads there. And if you suggest Google is exploiting people, they will respond that they are merely anticipating what their users are looking for and suggesting solutions. We users should be so lucky.

Don't think of Google as a Search Engine, or a business; think of Google as a Brain. And where is that brain? Strewn around the world in Google's top secret Data Centres of course, where it holds indexes of everything on the Web, with its own fibers engineered to bring you the fastest results it possibly can. Like a man made Cerebral cortex connected to the worlds most efficient and genetically perfect spinal cord. Zero Downtime, Unlimited Memory and Super-Speed.

You see, human brains are great, but they have this little problem of wearing down and expiring every 80 or so years.

So if you're going to build a mechianical brain that can live forever, first you have to teach it stuff (Indexing the world's Information), and you have to give it a great memory (aforementioned Data Centers). As the brain becomes more intelligent, soon you'll want it to learn to speak (Google Translate) and develop feelings and social skills, which brings us back to Google+, Google's "Facebook-killer".

So Social turns out to be the next phase in building a brain. Ironically, such technology only helps Google anticipate the users' wants and needs, feeding them better ads. Your friends know you.. they know what you like. That's why Apple integrated something called Ping into iTunes.. they figured your friends knew what kind of music you like better than a computer algorithm (previously known as iTunes Genius).

And Mark Zuckerberg figures your friends who actually know you know what kind of cola you drink, what kind of shoes you like, better than some computer. Your friends have actual brains. They're humans. As Business Guru Tom Peters famously said, the soft stuff is the hard stuff.

The next level of search will come full circle, riding on the back of actual humans who know you. After all the fiber-optic cables have been laid and multi-million dollar data centres have been built, Zuckerberg, Brin and Page are the guys at the party, asking your friends what you want for your birthday, then handing you a brightly coloured package. As you tear off the wrapping paper, you can't believe it: "Wow! This is perfect! How did you know I was looking for a new Tennis Racquet? I love it!"

I guess some questions are better left unanswered. ;)

More reviews like this at 21tiger
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