The New York Review of Books has a great group review of some recentish books on everyone’s favourite Internet behemoth: Google.
And they all look pretty interesting! (And I may have featured a couple of these before.)
In The Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives by Steven Levy (ISBN-13: 978-1416596585)
In barely a decade Google has made itself a global brand bigger than Coca-Cola or GE; it has created more wealth faster than any company in history; it dominates the information economy. How did that happen? It happened more or less in plain sight. Google has many secrets but the main ingredients of its success have not been secret at all, and the business story has already provided grist for dozens of books. Steven Levy’s new account, In the Plex, is the most authoritative to date and in many ways the most entertaining. Levy has covered personal computing for almost thirty years, for Newsweek and Wired and in six previous books, and has visited Google’s headquarters periodically since 1999, talking with its founders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, and, as much as has been possible for a journalist, observing the company from the inside.
I’m Feeling Lucky: The Confessions of Google Employee Number 59 by Douglas Edwards (ISBN-13: 978-0547416991)
Google’s first marketing hire lasted a matter of months in 1999; his experience included Miller Beer and Tropicana and his proposal involved focus groups and television commercials. When Doug Edwards interviewed for a job as marketing manager later that year, he understood that the key word was “viral.” Edwards lasted quite a bit longer, and now he’s the first Google insider to have published his memoir of the experience. He was, as he says proudly in his subtitle to I’m Feeling Lucky, Google employee number 59. He provides two other indicators of how early that was: so early that he nabbed the e-mail address firstname.lastname@example.org; and so early that Google’s entire server hardware lived in a rented “cage.”
The Googlization of Everything: (And Why We Should Worry) by Siva Vaidhyanathan (ISBN-13: 978-0520258822)
In The Googlization of Everything (and Why We Should Worry), a book that can be read as a sober and admonitory companion, Siva Vaidhyanathan, a media scholar at the University of Virginia, puts it this way: “We are not Google’s customers: we are its product. We–our fancies, fetishes, predilections, and preferences–are what Google sells to advertisers.”
The company always says users can “opt out” of many of its forms of data collection, which is true, up to a point, for savvy computer users; and the company speaks of privacy in terms of “trade-offs,” to which Vaidhyanathan objects:
Privacy is not something that can be counted, divided, or “traded.” It is not a substance or collection of data points. It’s just a word that we clumsily use to stand in for a wide array of values and practices that influence how we manage our reputations in various contexts. There is no formula for assessing it: I can’t give Google three of my privacy points in exchange for 10 percent better service.
Search & Destroy: Why You Can’t Trust Google Inc. by Scott Cleland with Ira Brodsky (ISBN-13: 978-0980038323)
So is Google evil? The question is out there now; it nags, even as we blithely rely on the company for answers–which now also means maps, translations, street views, calendars, video, financial data, and pointers to goods and services. The strong version of the case against Google is laid out starkly in Search & Destroy, by a self-described “Google critic” named Scott Cleland. He wields a blunt club; the book might as well been have been titled Google: Threat or Menace?! “There is evidence that Google is not all puppy dogs and rainbows,” he writes.
Google’s corporate mascot is a replica of a Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton on display outside the corporate headquarters. With its powerful jaws and teeth, T-Rex was a terrifying predator. And check out the B-52 bomber chair in Google Chairman Eric Schmidt’s office. The B-52 was a long range bomber designed to deliver nuclear weapons.
(Quotes from the NYRB article)