Google as verb has come to generically refer to a search for information on the Internet, but with the astonishing growth of the company, the verb has come to refer as much to steamrolling over “old media” businesses from advertising to publishing to news gathering. Veteran reporter Auletta spent two and a half years researching the phenomenon of Google; its intensely private founders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin; and the quirky staff of engineers whose obsession with efficiency led to a powerhouse search engine aimed at helping users find the answer to any question. In the process, Google learned that as it found answers, it also found opportunities for expansion, eventually stepping on the toes of its partners and competitors and provoking government investigation of some planned acquisitions. The company has gone from its messianic philosophy of “Don’t be evil” to being viewed by some as evil (equivalent to Microsoft in villainous potential) because of its size and dominance. Auletta explores the clash of cultures as e-commerce has unsettled old assumptions and business models. Though popular among its users, Google’s image has been tarnished by caving to demands for censorship by the Chinese government and by an engineering mind-set that has made it amazingly deaf to issues of privacy and copyright protection. With profitability that rivals that of any media company, purchase of YouTube, and encroachment on mobile phones and other enterprises, the future for Google looks bright. But Auletta raises questions about Google’s ability to maintain focus as it grows, fight off challenges from competitors and government regulators, weigh the appeal of free access to information and entertainment against the need to make money, and balance its reliance on the algorithms with a more refined sense of the needs of its users and partners. This is an engrossing look at Google and the broader trends in information and entertainment in the Internet age.
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