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TECH TALK: Good Books: The Search

November 14th, 2005 · No Comments

The Search box has become part of our life. Those among us who spend a significant portion of our time online probably end up using Search multiple times a day to find anything and everything. Satisfying our innate desire to Search has given Google a market cap of over $100 billion. How did it happen? How did Search become such an integral part of our online life? How did Google come to be? This is what John Battelle answers in his book entitled The Search: How Google and Its Rivals Rewrote the Rules of Business and Transformed Our Culture.

Amazon.com’s review states:

This ambitious book comes with a strong pedigree. Author John Battelle was a founder of The Industry Standard and then one of the original editors of Wired, two magazines which helped shape our early perceptions of the wild world of the Internet. Battelle clearly drew from his experience and contacts in writing The Search. In addition to the sure-handed historical perspective and easy familiarity with such dot-com stalwarts as AltaVista, Lycos, and Excite, he speckles his narrative with conversational asides from a cast of fascinating characters, such Google’s founders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin; Yahoo’s, Jerry Yang and David Filo; key executives at Microsoft and different VC firms on the famed Sandhill road; and numerous other insiders, particularly at the company which currently sits atop the search world, Google.

The Search is not exactly the corporate history of Google. At the book’s outset, Battelle specifically indicates his desire to understand what he calls the cultural anthropology of search, and to analyze search engines’ current role as the “database of our intentions”–the repository of humanity’s curiosity, exploration, and expressed desires. Interesting though that beginning is, though, Battelle’s story really picks up speed when he starts dishing inside scoop on the darling business story of the decade, Google. To Battelle’s credit, though, he doesn’t stop just with historical retrospective: the final part of his book focuses on the potential future directions of Google and its products’ development. In what Battelle himself acknowledges might just be a “digital fantasy train”, he describes the possibility that Google will become the centralizing platform for our entire lives.

The most fascinating chapter in the book is the last one, where Battelle looks to the future. Here is an excerpt which Battelle posted on his blog from the chapter entitled Perfect Search:

In the near future, search will metastasize from its origins on the PC-centric Web and be let loose on all manner of devices. This has already begun with mobile phones and PDAs; expect it to continue, viruslike, until search is built into every digital device touching our lives. The telephone, the automobile, the television, the stereo, the lowliest object with a chip and the ability to connect – all will incorporate network-aware search.

This is no fantasy; this is simple logic. As more and more of our lives become connected, digitized, and computed, we will need navigation and context interfaces to cope. What is TiVo, after all, but a search interface for television? ITunes? Search for music. That box of photographs under your bed and the pile of CDs teetering next to your stereo? Analog artifacts, awaiting their digital rebirth. How might you find that photo of you and your lover on the beach in Greece from fifteen years ago? Either you scan it in, or you lose it to the moldering embrace of analog obscurity. But your children will have no such problems; their photographs are already entirely digital and searchable – complete with metadata tagged right in (date, time, and soon, context).

The Search game has just begun. With it, we have seen a new business model emerge contextual advertising with pay-per-click. The recent announcement by Microsoft about making its applications available over the Web as services, in part paid for by advertising, takes the revolution started by Google even further. The combination of broadband and mobile networks is creating a new world. While Battelle’s book may not answer questions about who will be tomorrow’s winners (other than Google), it does a great job in laying out the story of Search and a company which today threatens incumbents across many industries by making the right information available at the right time.

Tomorrow: The Google Legacy


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