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In The Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives


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[amazonsearch]In The Plex:  How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives[/amazonsearch]


Few companies in history have ever been as successful and as admired as Google, the company that has transformed the Internet and become an indispensable part of our lives. How has Google done it? Veteran technology reporter Steven Levy was granted unprecedented access to the company, and in this revelatory book he takes readers inside Google headquarters—the Googleplex—to show how Google works.


While they were still students at Stanford, Google cofounders Larry Page and Sergey Brin revolutionized Internet search. They followed this brilliant innovation with another, as two of Google’s earliest employees found a way to do what no one else had: make billions of dollars from Internet advertising. With this cash cow (until Google’s IPO nobody other than Google management had any idea how lucrative the company’s ad business was), Google was able to expand dramatically and take on other transformative projects: more efficient data centers, open-source cell phones, free Internet video (YouTube), cloud computing, digitizing books, and much more.


The key to Google’s success in all these businesses, Levy reveals, is its engineering mind-set and adoption of such Internet values as speed, openness, experimentation, and risk taking. After its unapologetically elitist approach to hiring, Google pampers its engineers—free food and dry cleaning, on-site doctors and masseuses—and gives them all the resources they need to succeed. Even today, with a workforce of more than 23,000, Larry Page signs off on every hire.


But has Google lost its innovative edge? It stumbled badly in China—Levy discloses what went wrong and how Brin disagreed with his peers on the China strategy—and now with its newest initiative, social networking, Google is chasing a successful competitor for the first time. Some employees are leaving the company for smaller, nimbler start-ups. Can the company that famously decided not to be evil still compete?


No other book has ever turned Google inside out as Levy does with In the Plex.  This book was terrific.  I didn't know much about Google and this gave me a lot of good background.  Highly recommend this book.

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A few years back I read Ken Auletta's book Googled, and found it to be entertaining and informative.  It covers the earlier history of the company and raises a series of questions about the future of the publishing industry, consumer privacy, and how the advertising industry has had to adapt.  Auletta is a good storyteller and has since published some decent magazine pieces on Silicon Valley.

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This book was terrific.  I didn't know much about Google and this gave me a lot of good background.  Highly recommend this book.


My only gripe about this book (well documented in the GOOG thread) is that Levy is overly sycophantic towards Larry Page and to a lesser degree Sergey Brin.  I get turned off when authors mistake eccentricity for unprecedented genius.  So to me it read a bit like a puff piece at times.  Otherwise, the book is informative and Levy's understanding of the core material makes it a much better read than, say, the Steve Jobs biography.


I thought The Search by John Battelle was also very good.  It's a much earlier publication and therefore has a much more narrow scope around Google's core business.



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I had lunch with another investor at the end of 2008. He was a Google shareholder at the time and recommended that I read Planet Google.


I finished the book on a Sunday and bought the stock on Monday morning. It's the first (and last) time I've ever done that before. Granted, it helped that stocks were selling at fire sale prices and Google was at $300.


I read the book 4.5 years ago and Google's business has changed quite a bit since then. However, at the time Planet Google left quite an impression on me. I remember thinking at the time that the book clearly laid out the company's moat. That wasn't the author's intent (i.e. it wasn't an investment book) but it was clear after reading the book why Google had surpassed some of the earlier search engines and why at the time Google's competitive position seemed firmly entrenched.


The other thing I remember about Planet Google was the section on potential threats to Google's business. One of the chapters talked about the threat of Facebook. At the time, I thought it was really strange to think of Facebook (a social networking site) being a direct threat to Google's core search business. The two business models seemed mutually exclusive.


After reading the book, I had a much better appreciation for the long-term threat of open vs. closed networks. As a Google shareholder, I used to worry that one day Facebook would announce a search partnership with Microsoft Bing and that users would not have to leave the Facebook network as they could perform their searches while logged into their Facebook profile (i.e. effectively blocking Google products from infiltrating the network). The more time you spent inside Facebook's closed network, the less time you were touching one of Google's products (i.e. less advertising revenues for Google).


Anyways, the book was written in 2008 and probably isn't that relevant today given the pace of change in the industry. But if you're interested in a good general read on the business and the company's history, it's not a bad place to start.


I read In the Plex as well. The book provides some interesting insights into how search engine algorithms have evolved as well as the economics behind Google's different types of ad revenue models. That said, I agree with the earlier comments that the book was somewhat off a puff piece.


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  • 3 weeks later...

Really enjoyed the book, it is well written -- albeit a bit stretched towards the end -- at times it feels like watching a TV series. I completely forgot about excite and all those search engines back then, it was real fun reading about that again.


I'm definitely biased as I do view google as one of the most amazing companies of the modern age.


Unless regulation will be too much in their way, which is quite possible, this is only the beginning.  All they have done so far, in a certain sense, is just a means to an end. AI that would be at least as competent as the human brain, nothing less. They might indeed achieve more, with their fantastic structure and unparalleled computing power, if anyone can do it they can.


The book shows nicely how a lot of Google's innovation did not originate from the two owners but from employees or companies which they have acquired; this healthy structure would pretty much guarantee a continuous chain of market disrupting innovations.  The author goes over the main products and explains how they were achieved keeping in context the general "Google way" and operation. At times he actually elaborates with very specific details. He does handle the company with a feather touch, hardly criticizing, and when he does it's very lightly.


People like Larry Page and Elon Musk will shape the world to come, hopefully for the better *


Definitely worth a read.



* I for one welcome our new robot overlords


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