Chances are you use more than one Google product — search, mail, Docs, Maps, YouTube, Buzz — and that you love the company. These services, after all, are undeniably useful, reliable, almost safe and absolutely free. But, if you run a newspaper, a publishing house, an ad agency, a TV channel or a telecom company — or if your favourite book is Brave New World or 1984 — your attitude could be more ambivalent.
Is Google a force for good or bad? In Auletta’s narrative, the founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page, and by extension all those who work with them, come out as engineers obsessed with efficiency but lacking the wisdom to see that numbers can’t always be the answer, which is increasingly leading them into trouble.
Google has, undoubtedly, changed the way the way we learn, communicate, have fun. But it has also crossed swords with a range of industries and, increasingly, governments. Google insists that it’s all for good; others aren’t so sure. A recurring word in the book is ‘frenemy’ (a portmanteau of ‘friend’ and ‘enemy’), which describes how Google is viewed.
The book benefits from Auletta’s long experience covering media for The New Yorker. He seems to have interviewed every big name in the industry. The last two chapters take a look at the future, always a tough call, more so in the fast changing tech world. He treads cautiously — no sweeping pronouncements — and tries to answer the central question: Can businesses get users to pay for what they get online?
What of Google’s own future? It’s tempting to see it as a dominant unstoppable force. Again, Auletta’s views on this can be instructive, not just for Google but for everyone interested in business. If you have ever wondered about the impact Google had on your own life, this book is a must read.
The End of theWorld As We Know It
Virgin Books, 384 pages, Rs. 599
(This story appears in the 13 August, 2010 issue of Forbes India. You can buy our tablet version from Magzter.com. To visit our Archives, click here.)