Planet Google: One Company's Audacious Plan to Organize Everything We Know

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Based on unprecedented access he received to the highly secretive "Googleplex," acclaimed New York Times columnist Randall Stross takes readers deep inside Google, the most important, most innovative, and most ambitious company of the Internet Age. His revelations demystify the strategy behind the company's recent flurry of bold moves, all driven by the pursuit of a business plan unlike any other: to become the indispensable gatekeeper of all the world's information, the one-stop destination for all our ...
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Planet Google: One Company's Audacious Plan to Organize Everything We Know

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Based on unprecedented access he received to the highly secretive "Googleplex," acclaimed New York Times columnist Randall Stross takes readers deep inside Google, the most important, most innovative, and most ambitious company of the Internet Age. His revelations demystify the strategy behind the company's recent flurry of bold moves, all driven by the pursuit of a business plan unlike any other: to become the indispensable gatekeeper of all the world's information, the one-stop destination for all our information needs. Will Google succeed? And what are the implications of a single company commanding so much information and knowing so much about us?

As ambitious as Google's goal is, with 68 percent of all Web searches (and growing), profits that are the envy of the business world, and a surplus of talent, the company is, Stross shows, well along the way to fulfilling its ambition, becoming as dominant a force on the Web as Microsoft became on the PC. Google isn't just a superior search service anymore. In recent years it has launched a dizzying array of new services and advanced into whole new businesses, from the introductions of its controversial Book Search and the irresistible Google Earth, to bidding for a slice of the wireless-phone spectrum and nonchalantly purchasing YouTube for $1.65 billion.

Google has also taken direct aim at Microsoft's core business, offering free e-mail and software from word processing to spreadsheets and calendars, pushing a transformative -- and highly disruptive -- concept known as "cloud computing." According to this plan, users will increasingly store all of their data on Google's massive servers -- a network of a million computers that amounts to the world's largest supercomputer, with unlimited capacity to house all the information Google seeks.

The more offerings Google adds, and the more ubiquitous a presence it becomes, the more dependent its users become on its services and the more information they contribute to its uniquely comprehensive collection of data. Will Google stay true to its famous "Don't Be Evil" mantra, using its power in its customers' best interests?

Stross's access to those who have spearheaded so many of Google's new initiatives, his penetrating research into the company's strategy, and his gift for lively storytelling produce an entertaining, deeply informed, and provocative examination of the company's audacious vision for the future and the consequences not only for the business world, but for our culture at large.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Starred Review.

In this spellbinding behind-the-scenes look at Google, New York Times columnist Stross (The Microsoft Way) provides an intimate portrait of the company's massively ambitious aim to "organize the world's information." Drawing on extensive interviews with top management and the author's astonishingly open access to the famed Googleplex, Stross leads readers through Google's evolution from its humble beginnings as the decidedly nonbusiness-oriented brainchild of Stanford Ph.D. students Sergey Brin and Larry Page, through the company's early growing pains and multiple acquisitions, on to its current position as global digital behemoth. Tech lovers will devour the pages of discussion about the Algorithm; business folk will enjoy the accounts of how company after company, including Microsoft and Yahoo, underestimated Google's technology, advertising model and ability to solve problems like scanning library collections; and general readers will find the sheer scale and scope of Google's progress in just a decade astounding. The unfolding narrative of Google's journey reads like a suspense novel. Brin, Page and CEO Eric Schmidt battle competitors and struggle to emerge victorious in their quest to index all the information in the world.

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal

Stross ("Digital Domain" columnist, New York Times; The Wizard of Menlo Park: How Thomas Alva Edison Invented the Modern World) here gives us an outstanding business history of Google from its humble beginnings through the dot-com era to current times. Although the term Google often elicits good vibes from individuals of all ages, genders, and lifestyles worldwide, Stross shows how Google's current goals are not entirely altruistic. In fact, Google is a formidable business enterprise that uses its vast advertising revenues to achieve market share and to attain advantage over competitors, such as Facebook, Yahoo!, and Microsoft. Google's underlying strength lies in the proprietary software algorithm behind its search engine that becomes smarter when users click to web page results. Google is venturing in many new directions to accomplish the founders' goal of organizing the planet's information, but its initiatives are usually hit or miss, and its current emphasis is on automated processes that are easily "scalable" rather than investments that rely on human capital. Stross explains all of this in a balanced portrait, including criticisms concerning copyright, privacy, and other ethical issues. Therefore, his book is recommended for all business collections, both public and academic.
—Caroline Geck

Kirkus Reviews
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 earlymistakes 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.
From the Publisher
"A computer enthusiast who wants to Google Google couldn't find a more dedicated guide than Stross....Stross's access to the company pays off nicely for both Google's fans and people who read books on paper." — Time

"[An] even-handed and highly readable history of the company." — Wall Street Journal

"Stross tells the epic info-opera of Google simply and swiftly. He provides elegant microhistories of familiar subjects...and sprinkles just about every page with unexpected tech facts." — New York magazine

"In this spellbinding behind-the-scenes look at Google, Stross provides an intimate portrait of the company's ambitious aim to 'organize the world's information.'...The narrative reads like a suspense novel." — Publishers Weekly

"A vigorous history/analysis/appraisal of the 21st century's most notable company." — Fortune

The Barnes & Noble Review
Given that you're reading this review online, chances are you've spent some time on Google. Since its 1998 founding, Google has enjoyed explosive growth, and its name is now a generic term, synonymous with searching the Web. And whether you buy the company's snuggly, anticorporate image or whether you think that image is cover for a sinister, Orwellian agenda -- heck, even if you've never given Google much thought at all -- you will likely find much of interest in Planet Google, a riveting account by New York Times "Digital Domain" columnist Randall Stross.

"If Google were content to prosper with Web search, and only Web search, its story would be compact," notes Stross, author of eBoys and The Wizard of Menlo Park. The company, however, is in pursuit of a much grander goal: to organize the world's information. All of it.

But in the beginning, there was Web search. Google's founders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin -- both born in 1973 -- met as computer science graduate students at Stanford University. The company grew out of an engineering problem. Knowing that the exponential growth of the Web would paralyze a search engine dependent on human curators -- as Yahoo's was -- they set about to create a fully automated system for sorting Web pages and judging their relevance to a given search term.

One of the book's most interesting chapters describes that system, known as the Algorithm, in fascinating detail and clear, accessible language, starting with the "spider," the software that "systematically 'crawled' the Web, collecting copies of Web pages that were then indexed and analyzed, in readiness for matching when a visitor to Google later submitted a search request." Stross explains that "when Google receives a search request, its search does not at that moment check the world's Web sites, but rather checks the copies of those sites that were collected earlier and stored on Google's servers." The more information the Algorithm devours, the smarter it becomes.

Their next step was figuring out how to make money, and they succeeded spectacularly, stumbling upon the plain-text advertisements -- far less obtrusive than banner and pop-up ads -- that appear alongside search results. The ads are matched to the search term, resulting in "highly individualized advertising to an audience of one at the best moment -- when a relevant topic was on the user's mind." The system allows advertisers to target users without knowing anything about them. Google is paid by advertisers only when users click on the ads, which, Stross reports, provide 99 percent of the company's revenue -- more than $16 billion in 2007 alone.

Some of the most entertaining passages of the book involve the human drama that accompanied Google's astonishing rise. Longtime employee Marissa Mayer recalls showing up for her second day of work and finding Page hiding in the office kitchen because the overwhelmed site had crashed. "The site is down. It's all gone horribly awry," he told her. Stross writes, "Mayer said that seeing [him] in such a state led to her estimate that Google had about a 2 percent chance of succeeding."

Of course Google surpassed Mayer's expectations, and it was the company's competitors who often found themselves in a state. According to Stross, when a top software developer at archrival Microsoft informed CEO Steve Ballmer that he was leaving for Google, "Ballmer threw a chair across the office and vowed to 'bury' [Google CEO] Eric Schmidt."

Others have expressed criticism of Google, if less passionately than Ballmer. Remember the spider that collects copies of Web pages for storage on Google's servers? The year of Google's founding, Stross notes, "The entire World Wide Web could be stored on hard drives that fit within a dorm room." As the Web has grown, so has Google's need for space to store its hardware. The company, remarkably open in many ways (the author seems to have been granted a reasonable amount of access), is secretive about its facilities, but Stross estimates that it owns one million computers, "harnessed together to create effectively a supercomputer, the world's largest." Google has recently begun to forgo leasing data centers in favor of building its own, closer to power sources. Aided by tax incentives despite creating very few jobs, it has stealthily constructed facilities in small towns across the country, upsetting many affected residents, who see it as "a sinister corporate octopus moving soundlessly, wrapping its tentacles around a small, defenseless community."

One of the company's most public missteps was its handling of Google Book Search, its wildly ambitious project to digitize every book in the world. Google, which seemed to think that the worthiness of the undertaking was self-evident, embarked on scanning books in print without the permission of copyright holders, resulting in a number of infringement lawsuits that have yet to be resolved. A copyright flap also greeted Google's 2006 acquisition of YouTube, which includes uploaded clips of protected content.

Two other ventures, Google Maps and its email service, Gmail, have made the company the focus of privacy concerns. Maps' Street View features cameras mounted at street level. Because of persistent complaints, Google was forced to blur faces and other identifying details online. Gmail raised red flags for the semantic analysis software that matches advertising to the contents of email messages, leading some users to feel that the company was reading their email.

Privacy issues will likely resurface as the company embarks on another ambitious endeavor, cloud computing, which aims to move all of a user's personal documents from an individual computer to a centralized server run by Google. As Stross details Google's far-flung enterprises, some of which have neither an obvious connection to the company's original information-gathering mission nor any obvious revenue potential, the underlying question is whether a company that's expanding up and out so dramatically can stay true to its famous corporate credo, "Don't be evil."

The author is ultimately circumspect on this point. He reports that Fortune magazine has twice named Google Best Company to Work For (think free meals and subsidized massages at the Mountain View, California, Googleplex) but also alludes to its "zealous pursuit" of information, its "hungry maw," the "queasiness" and "nagging worry" about its expansion. His misgivings, however, end up being somewhat abstract. What do they amount to?

Stross observes in his conclusion that "no computer company has ever been able to enjoy pre-eminence that spans two successive technological eras." As Microsoft struggles to maintain its dominance, Ballmer, its CEO, ridicules Google for being a "one-trick pony" that has yet to make money off of anything but those plain-text ads. As of this writing, Google had just unveiled the beta version of its new browser, Chrome, seen as the opening salvo in a browser war with Microsoft. Clearly, the end of this story has yet to be written, but this fascinating book will leave readers ready for whatever comes next. --Barbara Spindel

Barbara Spindel has covered books for Time Out New York,, Details, and Spin. She holds a Ph.D. in American Studies.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781433255335
  • Publisher: Blackstone Audio, Inc.
  • Publication date: 9/23/2008
  • Format: CD
  • Edition description: Unabridged, 6 CDs, 7 hrs 30 min
  • Pages: 6
  • Product dimensions: 13.62 (w) x 10.88 (h) x 0.75 (d)

Meet the Author

Randall Stross
is the author of the New York Times column "Digital Domain" and of several books, including The Microsoft Way and eBoys. He lives in Menlo Park, California.

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Table of Contents


1. Open and Closed
2. Unlimited Capacity
3. The Algorithm
4. Moon Shot
5. GooTube
6. Small World, After All
7. A Personal Matter
8. Algorithm, Meet Humanity

Conclusion Notes Acknowledgments Index

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 4 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 4 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted October 16, 2014

    I hate this book

    It suks

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted December 20, 2012

    Planet Google was a very interesting book about the rise of Go

    Planet Google was a very interesting book about the rise of Google as a search engine and as a company. Randall Stross did a great job writing this book. Even though at some points it was hard to understand I would definitely recommend it. The book contains all about how Google tries to organize everything we know.
    At some points the tone is very serious and business like but at other points it’s joking and laid back. I would say that the message of this book is that Google can be looked in a bad way but it is not a bad company and they don’t read your emails and look through your calendar. In other words Google is a good company that people misunderstand.
    The book had a definite impact on me. I found it captivating at some points and also very boring at other parts. The impact it had on me was that just because something stands in your way like Microsoft in this book or you don’t know how to do something like digitalize all the books in the world, you shouldn’t give up. If Google can do it so can I!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 10, 2009

    Planet Google

    Planet Google is an extremely-well written history of the internet giant Google. Randall Stross, the author, thoroughly used the 200 sources his credited in the back on his book and his personal contact inside Google to give the account of the company. And clearly gets out the message: Google wants to organize the entire world's information.
    Stross writes in a journalistic style which manages to keep the reader's attention. His transitions from paragraph to paragraph keep the reader's interest in the story at a maximum level. While he is long-versed for one who is not as familiar with computer and business, he helps to put the story in terms which the reader can relate to.
    The tone of the story clearly shows that Stross is very-versed in the world of computers and excellent source for this information. He gives his opinions on the well-known subject while also injecting the opinions of Google employees and employees of other companies. He is also knowledgeable in knowing what exactly was going on at each time period on the Google timeline. Planet Google is an excellent history for anyone wishing to know almost everything about Google without even logging on to the site.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 22, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

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