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PLANET GOOGLE by Randall Stross


One Company’s Audacious Plan to Organize Everything We Know

by Randall Stross

Pub Date: Sept. 23rd, 2008
ISBN: 978-1-4165-4691-7
Publisher: Free Press

Yes, the Googleplex is trying to take over the world, but in the end this vaunted company is just as fallible as the others.

In his just-the-facts account, New York Times columnist Stross (Business/San Jose State Univ.; The Wizard of Menlo Park: How Thomas Alva Edison Invented the Modern World, 2007, etc.) assumes a judicious tone, avoiding the common extremes of either enthusing with childlike mania about the wonders of Google and its products, or expressing wild-eyed fear of its octopus-like reach in information gathering. This considered approach, combined with the author’s relatively dry writing style, doesn’t make for thrilling reading. The lack of any evident overarching thesis may also bother some readers, though perhaps not those whose knowledge of the organization doesn’t extend much beyond the Web page they access daily. Stross paints a credible portrait of a company that, at least for a time, seemed poised to be the left-field candidate to supplant Microsoft as the most important technology purveyor in the world. The author comes at his subject elliptically, in chapters gathered thematically instead of chronologically, to discuss Google’s brilliantly simple approach to its mammoth needs for storage capacity (lots of cheap servers networked together by themselves instead of the more expensive industry standard servers) or the paradigm-changing nature of its search software (known within the company simply as “The Algorithm”). Stross earns points by not fawning over the cuter aspects of Google culture that usually entrance journalists. Also, instead of attacking it for attempting world domination, he picks apart such missteps as the problem-plagued book-scanning program and early mistakes with Gmail. In the end, the author suggests, the vaunted wizards of information could turn out to just be the next Microsoft.

Occasionally pedestrian but always interesting take on the organization that simply wants to organize the world's information…all of it.