Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Search, by John Battelle

The Search: How Google and Its Rivals Rewrote the Rules of Business and Transformed Our Culture, by John Battelle

This book is an easy appraisal of the state of Internet search. As search is dominated by Google these days, Google stories dominate the book as well. In general I found this a fairly well-balanced book, discussing both the positive and negative aspects of the topic. When discussing Google, though, Battelle’s obvious admiration for the company (“Google has never known anything but success. The only thing Google has failed to do, so far, is fail.”) is pretty obvious. He tries to temper it here and there (he includes one of my favorite Jeff Bezos quotes, “Well, of course you shouldn’t be evil. But then again, you shouldn’t have to brag about it either.”) but the overall text fairly drips with praise. It was so positive that I was surprised that Battelle used Apple rather than Google when he wrote, “While others argued that the wheel or the internal combustion engine was civilization’s greatest tool, I’d stick to my guns and argue for the Mac.” I am as impressed as anyone with what Google has accomplished, but Google’s potential scares me more than Microsoft ever did! But I digress; back to the book.

Battelle clearly understands not only how search works, but that it will become the most important factor in our interaction with the Internet in the future. He uses excellent examples of how subtly search has creeped into our everyday life, and how in turn this has affected the business world. When discussing why sites that force registration to read or search (such as the Economist and the Wall Street Journal), he makes the astute observation that in preventing people from seeing content, they are reducing their status as an respected authority. “Sites that wall themselves off are becoming irrelevant, not because the writing or analysis is necessarily flawed, but because their business model is.” Battelle gives well thought out examples on what we can expect to see in the next few years; for instance the combination of localized search and mobile devices will level many playing fields: being able to compare the prices of wine on a store-by-store, local level will make it easy to draw conclusions such as, “Whole Foods is ripping you off.” Also briefly touching on the emerging fields of domain-specific research (citing the superb Austin-based Indeed as an authority on job hunting) this book gives an encompassing, informative, and interesting survey of the search business.

First Sentence:
By the fall of 2001, the Internet industry was in full retreat.

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