Google Story – get to the good stuff already
I was quite excited a few days ago when I got my audio book of The Google Story in the mail. Google is a fascinating company, and its “invention” of search advertising via pay-per-click has allowed a whole generation of online businesses to be successful (including our own).So I was quite surprised to find myself plodding through descriptions of their parents, some speeches they did at high schools, and their attendance at some event called “The Burning Man” – a sort of hippie/geek/creative sojourn in the desert every year… none of which had much, if anything, to do with the incredible story of Google’s ascendancy.
It wasn’t until an hour or so into the audiobook that the author began talking about their time at Stanford, the inspiration behind their better search results. The neat revelation that “Pagerank” was derived as much from Larry Paige’s name as from a website being called a page, and other fascinating tidbits.
It makes me wonder how much of biographical work is self-important and self-congratulatory. Reading stories about Bill Gates, or Steve Jobs, there is a real focus on relevance to the reader, not superfluous information on what Steve’s dad did for a living. Gates’ family was already wealthy and philanthropic prior to Bill’s achievements – that’s important. Gates and Ballmer being college room-mates – that’s interesting. But I have no idea what Steve Jobs’ dad did for a living.
The Burning Man thing is what really annoyed me. It sounds like a really fun event, and gee, maybe I just became aware of something that will become relevant to me (unlikely, but possible). But what does it have to do with the Google story? It’d be like me talking about the time when I was 21 and got so drunk at my birthday party that… Well, yes, there were elements of that story that shaped me as an adult (I also swore off Rum and Coke, thereby putting a dent in Coca Cola’s profits for a generation to come). But really, I don’t need to know about every party that Larry and Sergei went to while they were stumbling onto the secret sauce that makes Google one of the highest market cap companies ever.
And that’s the really interesting part of the Google story. I won’t give it away here. But much like the accidental discovery that iPod’s white headphones led to much of the rapid spread of Apple’s musical hardware, the story behind Google’s advertising money machine is not as straightforward as I thought.
Overall, a fascinating listen. Good thing, because I’m supposed to be doing a lot more walking these days (good for the heart).