Google, This Side of $100 Billion

Ken Auletta Reports on the Search Giant's 11 Years of Growth...and Its Mighty Challenging Future

By Published on .

A considerable collection of internet history books have been written over the last decade. Ken Auletta's "Googled: The End of the World As We Know It," is one of the better entries I've read from the genre. Like many dot-com profiles, this one is full of "anecdotes" -- we industry folks might call it gossip -- from the early days of Google down through the search giant's challenges in recent years.

These stories range from how Google got its name, to its market share-gaining deals with Yahoo and AOL and recounts of meetings between various media moguls (Diller, Karmazin, Zucker, etc.) and Google's co-founders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin. Mr. Auletta has gleaned a meaty string of details about Google's maturation into a huge public company. He neatly summarizes many of the key battles Google has fought, both internally as it grew and externally with other internet and media companies.

And while Mr. Auletta does not answer how, or even if, Google will end the world as we know it, he does outline with clarity how Google has been at the forefront of many of the changes to traditional media today.

I found it interesting how Mr. Auletta, media columnist for The New Yorker since 1992, details the evolution of Google's relationship with advertising -- as a business and a consumer opportunity -- from its early days to the present. He describes how Google's founders initially worried advertising could be skewed as a consumer negative, something to trick consumers into consumption, and that the metrics weren't in place to efficiently measure its success with users. He mentions a number of times how Google believed advertising revenue might influence the quality and validity of search. The irony, of course, is that this early fear of advertising revenue has given way to Google's very engine of growth and the engine of wealth for its founders.

Looking ahead, Mr. Auletta lays out a number of potential challenges Google faces because of its rapid growth, including the fear of some that Google will lose its ability to hire only the highest-caliber employees and will become bogged down with bureaucracy. The most immediate challenge, he points out, is for Google to maintain its growth rate, or at least try to. The immediate opportunity, we're told, is mobile search.

Mr. Auletta does a thorough job of pointing out the threats Google presents to traditional media, especially news organizations and book publishers. But the fates of those deteriorating business models are anybody's guess. Perhaps it's here that the author contributes least to an understanding of how the world may indeed end -- or at least transform as we know it. Sequel, anyone?

Mike Vorhaus is president of Magid Advisors, a unit of Frank N. Magid Associates, Inc., and a monthly columnist for Ad Age. You can reach Mike at [email protected], or follow him at Vorhaus.
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