Monday, August 20, 2012

In the plex: How Google thinks, works, and shapes our lives

In the plex: How Google thinks, works, and shapes our lives
By Steven Levy

Book review by Richard L. Weaver II

Just looking at this 387-page (of text) book, sixteen pages of notes, with only seven parts and meekly marked chapters within each part, with a heavy amount of verbiage on each page, no pictures, no special boxes, or any interferences of any kind, one can be easily intimidated.  Reading the book, however, will change this perspective quickly and directly.  Levy is a terrific writer; his stories are interesting and, indeed, engaging; and the narrative is well-organized, and meaningfully and purposefully driven.

For technophiles, and anyone else who might be interested in the etymology, history, maintenance, and continuing evolution of one of the most influential and indispensable aspects of daily life, this book is a “must buy.”

Because of Levy’s unprecedented access to Google, you not only get to look into its headquarters (the Googleplex), but you also see Google from the vantage point of its employees. Levy interviewed “hundreds of current and former Googlers and attended a variety of meetings in the company” (p. 6).

How does Levy know all the in’s and out’s of the workings of the company?  The meetings he was allowed to attend “included product development meetings, ‘interface reviews,’ search launch meetings, privacy council sessions, weekly TGIF all-hands gatherings, and the gatherings of the high command known as Google Product Strategy (GPS) meetings, where projects and initiatives are approved or rejected.  I also ate a lot of meals at Andale, the burrito joint in Google’s Building 43" (p. 6).

The inside information Levy obtains, the incredibly detailed operations, the decisions that had/have to be made, the thinking that takes/took place, the numerous and exacting quotations, and all the various and intricate movements of this company are told in a fascinating, even riveting, narrative that keeps your attention from beginning to end.

One personal story here merits comment.  In the sixth edition of my college textbook (written with Saundra Hybels), Communicating Effectively (2001), I introduced readers to the AltaVista search engine every time I discussed the use of the Internet as a research tool.  At that point, Google was not mentioned at all.  It was in my seventh edition (2004), that I made a complete switch from discussing AltaVista—which now had one mention (p. 421) —to Google, which, in my seventh had more than a dozen pages as listed in the index.  In the very next edition, my eighth (2007), AltaVista was not discussed (even as an alternative search engine), and Google became so predominant, obvious, and accepted that it was no longer even selected for special mention in the index—and it was a prominent fixture throughout the book. Communicating Effectively, now in its 10th edition  (McGraw-Hill, 2012) continues to discuss Google alone when it comes to Internet searches.  I have grown as a writer along with Google, and in the essays, books, and speeches I write, I depend on it (almost solely) as my immediate and invaluable research tool.

For me Levy’s book is outstanding for its comprehensiveness and depth.  I recommend it highly and without reservation.


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