Books

The whole of last week was a holiday for Chinese New Year’s, and somehow it just flew by, even though the holiday was a bit quieter for me than previous ones. I was able to do a little reading and hiking so it wasn’t a complete waste.

I was able to finish In the Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives. Thanks to my company’s generous book subsidy program, my department bought several books in December, most of which I recommended, and In the Plex was the first one I borrowed. It’s about Google, and it gives a good rundown about how Google was formed, the personalities of the two creators, and how the company became the ubiquitous search and tech giant it is now. You get a good idea of many aspects about Google, from how tough it is to get hired to how nice it is to work there (free snacks, gourmet staff restaurants, easygoing work environments etc) and how much effort the company put into its operations- it builds and operates its own data centers, ensuring the Google search engine is always up and blazing fast. Google is also the world’s largest computer manufacturer because it builds it own servers, in essence it makes more computers than actual computer giants HP, Lenovo or Acer.  The most fascinating parts were about the company in China (a lot of people probably know how that ended) and about how Google created its products from Gmail to Android to Streetview. The Youtube purchase and integration is also covered. Of course, the core of the company is its AdWords and AdSense ads services which bring in the bulk of the company’s revenues. These services are covered in good detail, though it’s a bit dry. Not everything was a success for Google, as its struggle with social services attests. The end provides a decent overview of Google’s failures with Orkut, Wave and Buzz, and the competition of Facebook, and ends with the development of Google +1 and cofounder Larry Page’s replacement of Eric Schmidt as CEO.

One big lesson that I realize from Google’s success is that sometimes “sexy” isn’t what sells, despite conventional wisdom. Google has a long list of killer products- Gmail, Android, Googlemaps, Gchat, GoogleEarth etc. Yet the bulk of its revenues (well, just 94%) come from its ads services – AdWords which puts up ads alongside Google’s search results and AdSense, which runs those little ads that appear in square boxes at the sides of many websites. It’s not flashy or hightech services that bring in the bucks for Google, it’s the small, banal, even annoying stuff like its ads that rake in the billions and allow Google to make those flashy products. Another example is Google’s search engine website, which is relatively sparse and has no ads. There’s a lot of empty space and no clutter, unlike say, Yahoo, which incidentally I like a lot. Of course, Google search works well and is fast and efficient, so whether you have style or not, the substance is important.

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