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Authors: Richard L. Brandt

The Google Guys

BOOK: The Google Guys
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Table of Contents
 
 
 
PORTFOLIO/PENGUIN
THE GOOGLE GUYS
Richard L. Brandt is an award-winning journalist who has written about Silicon Valley for two decades, including fourteen years as a technology correspondent for
BusinessWeek
. He is also a consultant to entrepreneurial companies. The author of the blog
Entrepreneur Watch
and the book
Capital Instincts
, he lives in San Francisco.
PORTFOLIO / PENGUIN
Published by the Penguin Group
Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, U.S.A. ● Penguin Group (Canada), 90 Eglinton Avenue East, Suite 700, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M4P 2Y3 (a division of Pearson Penguin Canada Inc.) ● Penguin Books Ltd, 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England ● Penguin Ireland, 25 St. Stephen's Green, Dublin 2, Ireland (a division of Penguin Books Ltd) ● Penguin Books Australia Ltd, 250 Camberwell Road, Camberwell, Victoria 3124, Australia (a division of Pearson Australia Group Pty Ltd) ● Penguin Books India Pvt Ltd, 11 Community Centre, Panchsheel Park, New Delhi–110 017, India ● Penguin Group (NZ), 67 Apollo Drive, Rosedale, Auckland 0632, New Zealand (a division of Pearson New Zealand Ltd) ● Penguin Books (South Africa) (Pty) Ltd, 24 Sturdee Avenue, Rosebank, Johannesburg 2196, South Africa
 
Penguin Books Ltd, Registered Offices:
80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England
 
First published in the United States of America as
Inside Larry and Sergey's Brain
by Portfolio, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc. 2009
This paperback edition with a new afterword published 2011
 
 
Copyright © Richard L. Brandt, 2009, 2011 All rights reserved
The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party Web sites or their content.
 
 
Brandt, Richard L.
Inside Larry and Sergey's brain / Richard L. Brandt.
p.cm.
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN : 978-1-101-53531-8
1. Google (Firm) 2. Page, Larry, 1973–3. Brin, Sergey, 1973–4. Internet industry—United States. I. Title.
HD9696.8.U64G6634 2009
338.7'6102504—dc22 2009012967
 
 
 
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Acknowledgments
Thanks to Kim and Leila Brandt for their patience and support over my preoccupation with this book, which took substantial time away from them. Also, Shel Israel for helping me get started; my agent, Al Zuckerman, who has supported me far beyond the level I had any right to expect; and my editor, Jeffrey Krames, for taking a chance on me and doing so much to support me. In addition, Mark Powelson provided me with substantial research, and Kim Girard and Andrea Orr helped out enormously with early original reporting in 2004, several years before this book came together in its current form. Finally, thanks to everyone at the Progressive Grounds Café in San Francisco, where most of this book was written, for keeping me supplied with great lattes.
Introduction
The World's Librarians
Good luck. I've been trying to do that for some years.
—Google CEO Eric Schmidt after being told the title of this book
 
 
T
he world's first great library was the Great Library of Alexandria. It was created by Ptolemy I, a childhood friend of Alexander the Great and a general in his army. Ptolemy inherited rule of Egypt—which the army had conquered—after Alexander's death in 323 B.C. Ptolemy made the small, backwater town at the mouth of the Nile, named after the great conqueror, his new capital. By creating the library, somewhere around 300 B.C., he turned his city into a thriving center of intellectual thought envied by the world. It reigned as the greatest library in the world for three hundred years.
Ptolemy's goal was to collect all the written works in the world and put them in one place. By the time the library was destroyed, it was said to contain more than five hundred thousand papyrus scrolls, collected over three hundred years. The library played a critical role in the Hellenistic Age, the period during which Greek culture spread into much of civilized Europe, Africa, and Asia. Probably no other library has had such influence on cultures and knowledge—until the great library of the Internet was created more than two thousand years later.
The Internet's librarians sit today in a tidy campuslike business complex in Mountain View, California, the epicenter of Silicon Valley. It's a campus of modern steel, concrete, and glass structures interlaced with trees, gardens, walkways, and artificial ponds and streams, where people travel by bicycle, by scooter, and on foot among—or inside—the buildings. These librarians are a universe away from the gray-haired ladies with glasses dangling from chains around their necks and an incredible knowledge of the Dewey decimal system of many childhood memories. This, after all, is the electronics age.
Google Inc., a thriving corporation teeming with youthful and smart computer scientists and an incredible knowledge of the Internet, has become the de facto head librarian of the world's information; the entity that guides us through the labyrinthine web of online information, philosophy, entertainment, opinion, debate, slander, pornography, art, and worthless blather that the geeks and executives of the Internet like to lump into the single category of “content.”
Larry Page and Sergey Brin did not create the Internet (although they now employ one of its key architects, Vint Cerf). But if anybody embodies the soul of the world's head librarian, it's the brainy pair of Larry and Sergey. They created the heart of Google's philosophy, its business tactics, and the ethos behind all major issues—from censorship to user privacy to entering new markets and trying to change the business tactics of existing corporations.
Google Is Ethical
They're unlikely business moguls. Larry is the more socially awkward of the pair. Heavily eyebrowed, thick-lipped, with a perpetual five o'clock shadow and conservatively cut black hair always in need of a comb, he rarely volunteers to answer questions unless specifically asked to address them. When he does, it's with a methodical intonation that sounds like a baritone version of Kermit the Frog. Sergey is also shy with outsiders, but more poised, with a piercing stare and curly brown hair piled on top of his head as though it's unable to settle down. They work together on all major company decisions, from ethical issues to product design, usually in meetings that can be brutally taxing. But Larry, as president of Products, is the primary thinker about the company's future direction, and weighs in heavily on key hiring decisions. Sergey, a mathematical wizard and president of Technology, is the arbiter of Google's technological approach and shows deep interest in the company's moral stance.
Facing questions from shareholders and the press at a recent corporate annual meeting, Larry sat stiffly in his chair, straight-backed in a blue dress shirt and brown slacks, his hands on his knees, one of them holding a microphone as if he didn't know quite what to do with it. Sergey was more relaxed in a brown T-shirt and faded jeans. He sat comfortably with his forearms resting on his legs, looking over the crowd with an air of intelligent and confident interest, more willing to address sensitive topics than one would expect from such an intensely private entrepreneur.
At this meeting, Amnesty International had presented two proposals, demanding that shareholders require the company to set up a human rights committee to examine its practices in China, with the aim of limiting censorship there. Management felt that this was already being done, and rejected the proposal. But in a show of solidarity with those who have concerns about the issue, Sergey decided to abstain from voting his shares, neither agreeing nor disagreeing with it. True, it was a largely empty gesture, since the board and management had plenty of votes to reject it, but he wanted to demonstrate an acknowledgment of the difficulty of the issue. Larry and CEO Eric Schmidt voted against the proposal.
I asked Sergey why he abstained, and he explained that he was sympathetic to the cause and agreed with the proposals in spirit. “Directionally, the two proposals are correct,” he said. “I think there is certainly room for us to have a group of independent people in Google who meet regularly to discuss these questions,” he said. But he also said he was proud of Google's actions in China, where he felt the company's record was better than that of its competitors.
Google Uses New Business Tactics
It's just one of many issues that have focused the spotlight on Google's ethical stance since the company was founded in late 1998 by these two Stanford University computer science graduate students. Google came out of a project that only a computer scientist could love: developing technology to search through large electronic databases of published research papers. Instead, they came upon a much greater solution—a better way to search through the giant morass of data that is the Internet—and ended up turning their technology into one of the biggest, most influential companies in technology today.
But technology alone does not make a successful company. Business tactics do. Larry and Sergey have created a unique company with a new kind of business model, employing tactics that fit the Internet Age like Alexandria's Great Library fit the Hellenistic Age. Google may not last three hundred years, but it still has a huge future in which its influence will continue to grow.
To say Larry and Sergey struck the right business chord would be the understatement of the twenty-first century. When they launched Google, they were entering a war that pundits were insisting they had already lost before they even got started. In mid-1998, it was Yahoo Inc. that sat on top of the World Wide Web. Yahoo had become one of the premiere Internet sites, the place where 75 percent of Web searches were begun. More than twenty-five million people visited Yahoo every month. In September 1998, it became one of the first pure Internet companies to claim a profit.
The previous March,
Fortune
magazine had summed up the prevalent view: “Yahoo! has won the search-engine wars and is poised for much bigger things,” its editors declared. Its stock was soaring past $100 per share, on its way to a peak of $230 at the end of 1999.
BOOK: The Google Guys
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