Book to Read: In The Plex

5/25/2011

- Andrew Wetzler, President

In The Plex,: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives, is a great read for anyone who was involved with the Internet in the late 1990s and early years of this decade or for anyone who wants an insightful account of how Google has transformed the world since its humble beginnings in a garage in Menlo Park, California.

Author Steven Levy, Senior Writer for Wired Magazine, takes readers through a myriad of fascinating stories that will resonate with folks who interacted with Google (and their algorithm) during the early days of search. Levy's access to the key team members, including founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page, plus Marissa Mayer, Eric Schmidt and other prominent team members has enabled him to deliver a wealth of insights about how Google came to be.

Themes from the book include:

  • The company places Engineers and Mathematicians at the highest level on their organizational chart. No other skill set comes close.
  • Relevancy and Speed were and remain key objectives of the Google Search experience

Anecdotes include:

  • Google's hardware infrastructure was built with Band-Aids holding it together. Their growth rate and capital investment requirements were so gigantic that they scrimped on hardware and anticipated (abnormally high) failure rates of their equipment.
  • Google was very fearful of letting Microsoft gain an understanding of how explosive their growth and revenue were or how lucrative Search was proving to be. They went so far as to create fake company names to lease new server facilities so nobody could quantify the pace with which they were expanding.
  • The transition from an impression-based ad-serving model (CPM) to an auction-based one was a gigantic step; one that was met with significant internal resistance, primarily from the sales and marketing folks who thought it would open up a hornet's nest with their customers.  It was a $300 million business when they shut it down. The engineers however were all for it, as they were able to calculate, then estimate the jump in revenue that would occur after the switch to the auction model took effect.
  • CEO Eric Schmidt became very upset when he discovered that personal information about him was readily available through a Google search.

If you can carve out the time to read this book, you will be rewarded with a collection of details on Google that should help put the history of Search into perspective and shed light on where Google is headed in the future.

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