Monday, October 03, 2005
Over the past few years I’ve made at least a dozen 90-minute treks from my forested perch at the north end of San Francisco Bay down to the Googleplex, which sits at the heart of Silicon Valley. The reason? I was writing a book, and Google was a major part of the story. I always enjoyed the drive, I’d go down to interview the founders, early product managers, recent hires and advisors, and I’d drive up with a full tape recorder and plenty to think about.
But last Friday I drove down for another reason. My book The Search: How Google and Its Rivals Rewrote the Rules of Business and Transformed Our Culture, has just come out, and much to my astonishment, Google invited me down to give a talk. While Google staffers were extremely generous with their time, the fact remained that the book told the story as I heard it from many different sources, inside and outside the company. And on my own Searchblog, where I cover search and its implications, I've been known to call Google out as often as I offer praise.
As I drove down, I fretted over any number of things. Who might show up for the talk (what if no one did?!). What mistakes might be pointed out - flaws in my reporting, my writing, or my conclusions? What if the famously combative Google culture turned on me?
I needn’t have worried. My host Karen Wickre, whom I’ve known since my days as a cub reporter at MacWeek, met me at the door, and before I could make my way to the lecture hall, a clutch of friendly folks had surrounded me. Once there I saw Louis Monier, founder of Alta Vista and the star of Chapter Three, who had recently left eBay to join Google. And Peter Norvig, Google’s director of search quality, who helped me understand Google’s core search service and even presented at my Web 2.0 conference last year. And many more, many of whom I had spoken to, but most of whom I had never met.
I began by explaining how I came to write the book, a three-year odyssey which started with a link, back in late 2001, to Google’s first Zeitgeist. I read how I came to the idea of the Database of Intentions, and I read some funny emails from webmasters who had encountered the early BackRub crawler. And because it was clear the audience wanted to ponder the future of the company they had joined, I read from the chapter entitled “Google Today, Google Tomorrow.”
The best part, by far, was the Q&A that followed. Googlers are some of the most sincere questioners I've ever encountered. The exchange felt very much like conversations I've had with graduate students when I was teaching at Berkeley - no agendas, just a desire to challenge and to learn. Afterward folks lined up to have me sign their books. As the line dwindled, I looked behind me and there was Eric Schmidt, who more than any other source went out of his way to lend me his time and insights. He shook my hand and thanked me for coming, and I have to say, I was honored by the gesture. I did my best to be fair in the book, but it's never easy to read about yourself, to be the subject of someone else's conclusions. The same could be said of the entire Google team who came to listen and to converse, and I'm truly grateful for the experience.