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Reading at Google

By - October 01, 2005

Google1998-1Yesterday I once again drove down to Google, but this time it wasn’t to do a set of interviews for the book, it was to read from the book to perhaps the most demanding audience I’ve ever encountered – a room full of Googlers, nearly 200 in all.

I was a bit nervous. While I think the book is fair, and clearly acknowledges the importance and power of Google, it also has more than its fair share of reporting on the negative aspects of the company’s astonishing rise – from privacy concerns to allegations of arrogance and self dealing. Would I be booed off the campus?

It didn’t help my anxiety to see a gaggle of folks in the audience who also were in the book or helped me in one way or another – from Louis Monier and Peter Norvig to Raymond Nasr, Steve Langdon, and Eric Case.

But my concern was overblown. I had a great time, and I think the folks in attendance did too. I read selections from the early years, as well as my riff on the future of Google. And the questions, man, the questions were challenging and very, very thoughtful. They ranged from “if we build the Google Grid, and succeed, what do we do then?” (answer – I have no idea!) to “What would you do if you were running Google?” (answer: buy a video asset and set it free, more on that soon). Another good question: “What might make Google fail?” I wrote about that in the book – two things – one is lack of direction – when you encourage thousands of folks to dream and provide them the chance to execute on those dreams, a company can lose focus. And the other is simply managing growth – the company is hiring more than ten folks a day.

At the end, Eric Schmidt came up and said hello, and we chatted about the book and my visit. I signed a lot of books, and I asked each person who came up what division they worked in and how long they’d been there. The average time of duty? About six months. A very young, very fast growing company indeed.

I am very thankful to Karen Wickre for inviting me down. It was the highlight of the book tour so far. Of course, week after next I am going to Microsoft and Amazon. That should be interesting as well!

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5 thoughts on “Reading at Google

  1. Remaining Anonymous says:

    [“What might make Google fail?” I wrote about that in the book – two things – one is lack of direction – when you encourage thousands of folks to dream and provide them the chance to execute on those dreams, a company can lose focus.]

    I think this is rather what’ll make google survive, it’s the ability is to be agile enough to enter new markets and even morph the business at will. Their mission statement reflects that ( organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful), and that is what I beleives what keeps Gates awake at night.

  2. Indeed, I should have been more direct – the company’s greatest strength is also its greatest weakness, classic Greek narrative, of course.

  3. Prasad Venkatram says:

    good question, and to answer that it will be interesting
    to examine what has led to google’s success so far,
    simply put – the power of good technology, in the
    early days google was by far the best search engine
    (that gap is a lot narrower now, I find yahoo’s
    results equally relevant, although google’s crawlers
    are still a lot faster when it comes to indexing and
    refreshing sites, often I update forums and find my
    comments on google the very next day while it takes
    a few days for yahoo to catch up, arguably this is
    a gap that should be easier to narrow than relevancy),
    google did ONE thing but did it WELL, and when
    consumers have to choose betn 2 services (both
    offered for free), they will always pick the
    better (or at least perceived better) service,
    how many people would continue to use google
    if they had to pay even 5$ a month to search
    on google, and how many would jump ship to
    yahoo/msn/etc? I am sure most people (including
    me) would switch. The example is purely hypothetical
    and online search is not going to become a paid service
    anytime soon. And as long as google maintains its search
    superiority over others, it will continue drawing a majority
    of the search traffic (thru or thru a
    variety of other services – like free wi-fi),
    and will continue to maintain/grow its advt
    revenue. I would like to mention 1 last point
    here – the power of branding – google search
    was featured on yahoo’s front page for 3+ yrs,
    and that played no small role in google getting
    popular and becoming kind of a brand name for
    “search”, I dont see google faltering as long
    as the technology/brand hold strong.

  4. alek says:

    FYI FWIW John,

    The Jonathan Thaw review (from Bloomberg) of SEARCH was picked up in Saturday’s Rocky Mountain News – page 5C. They printed quite a few words, and even included a nice picture of you sitting in front of 3 of the covers.

    Always “interesting” how stories make the rounds in cyberspace (you were basically EVERYWHERE) and then show up a few days/weeks afterwards in the mainstream media.

    Nice job,

  5. JiggaDigga says:

    Great reading, keep up the great posts.
    Peace, JiggaDigga