|Genre||Non-fiction, Business and Economics|
|2008 (Hardcover), 2009 (Paperback)|
|ISBN||ISBN 978-1-4165-4691-7 (Hardcover)|
Planet Google is a business and management book by author Randall Stross, also author of eBoys. The book is an insight on Google, a multinational Public company cloud computing, Internet search, and advertising technologies corporation. It offers information about the secretive Googleplex, the Google office, and also the founding and history of the company.
Planet Google illustrates the idea behind the founding of the company, and how it became a massive corporation strong enough to take over the world. The book describes the challenges before the company just after its founding and how it overcame them. The book describes the technology behind Google's search engine, its servers and their algorithms.
In further chapters, Planet Google explains how Google acquired other companies like YouTube and helped in their publicity. There's an entire chapter dedicated to Google's software Google Earth and Google Street View. Randall Stross describes the controversies regarding Google Books and its other services.
Layout and Chapter Summaries
The book is divided into eight chapters. Each chapter is dedicated to a different phase of Google. They include GMail, YouTube, Google Earth, Google Books, and other things like open source, and the search algorithm. The chapter list is as follows:
Open and Closed
In this chapter, Stross outlines how Google needs the internet open and free for its business model to work effectively. Google’s business model relies on keywords and a system called PageRank to tailor their advertising to individual searches, resulting in 91% of their profits. Google has no access to sites and servers within the walled garden, meaning they do not profit and cannot search the contents of those pages.
Conversely, Microsoft and Facebook are philosophical rivals of Google, relying on closed information and a creation of accounts to sustain their business model. They have had mixed success, as Facebook created Beacon in 2007, a way for Facebook users to act as point-of-sale advertisers by letting their friends know they made a purchase. This led to backlash against the company when users felt misled into becoming isolated advertisers for Facebook.
Not to be outdone, Google tried to circumvent Facebook’s social network by creating one of its own, dubbed OpenSocial. Originally designed to be a one-stop social networking hub, connecting sites like LinkedIn, Orkut and MySpace, it failed to garner much attention or support, yet still exists as a public platform.
This chapter details how Google built its infrastructure to scale with the grown of the internet as a whole. Google wanted to build a scalable search model, which they accomplished by making their search algorithm based purely on mathematics. This allowed for the search model to operate unadulterated by human hands, assuring that the algorithm would scale without human interference.
Larry Page and Sergey Brin used $15,000 of their own money to build their first server that could store 1 terabyte of data, a trend of building in-house that continues throughout Google’s life as a business. The PageRank system that they employed at the company’s outset could take weeks to calculate properly, resulting in Google searches that would take up to 10 seconds to complete at the site’s outset.
To combat this, they began building data centers. Their first center was built in The Dalles, Oregon, which was mired in controversy because of Google’s choice to conduct business through private firms and private contractors, circumventing state channels. Google then built a second data center to create overlap with the Dalles center, known in the business as redundancy, allowing Google to effectively backup their first data center should it suffer from a power outage or loss of service.
This chapter explores Google’s algorithm. Google uses the PageRank algorithm that analyzes links that point to a webpage to discern the relative reputation of one page over another. No personal information is required from the user, making search anonymity Google’s core strength. In order to be able to scale with all of the world’s information, Page and Brin decided that the results produced by the algorithm should not be edited, adjusted or touched by any human editors. Google also developed an algorithm for choosing what ads should be displayed on its search results page for a given item. They give the top spots to the ads which are most likely to be clicked rather than who had the highest bid.
Google expanded its market share in new areas like YouTube and services similar to Microsoft’s Outlook, Word, and Excel. In September 2002, Google tried out a news service but it was never able to catch up with the quality of Yahoo’s news site, which had the advantage of human editors. In addition to these services Google also introduced language translation, which had done exceedingly well, placing first in an annual competition for machine-translation software run by the National Institute of Standards and Technology.
This chapter explores the book digitization project Google took on in 2001, originally called Google Print, and later referred to as Google Book Search. In 2001, the only information that was available was what was contain on websites, this did not include newspapers, magazines, television programs, etc. In 2002, Google took on the project of digitizing the 32 million books listed in WorldCat using a digital camera to capture the pages of each book. Google estimated that the book digitization project would cost $1.5 billion, to reduce this cost Google decided to digitize only a portion of extant books, those that would most likely be of value to users.
The digitization of books made the company vulnerable to lawsuits over its inclusion of books that were still under copyright. Google invited publishers to send in all their books for inclusion in its index and offer to place “buy this book” links to major online book retails with no fee. Google was also talking to major research libraries about digitizing portions of their collections. In September 2005, the Author’s Guild filed a lawsuit against Google for “massive copyright infringement,” and soon publishers McGraw-Hill, Pearson Education, Penguin, Simon & Schuster, and John Wiley & Sons followed suit.
In this chapter, Stross discusses the development of YouTube and Google’s failed attempt of Google Video. The algorithm that Google has become famous for was put on hold for their video software and Googlers were more open to learn about how YouTube became so successful so quick.
At first, Googlers had decided to stay loyal to its algorithm and that would be a decision that the company would later regret. Google’s management did not think video would require special attention, but Yahoo came up with the idea that for the videos to be easily accessible to people they would need to have to describe the video with information. This information, referred to as a tag, included information like title, actors, and file format; and could help the web crawlers search for videos. In late January 2005, 5 months after Yahoo’s video launch, Google launched Google Video. While Google, was struggling with their new Video program, there was a new video product developing. Jawed Karim, a 25-year old software engineer working for PayPal at the time was developing his own video website. Karim addressed a problem and that was he wanted to make “uploading and playing videos painless” or very easy. Karim’s idea, led to the creation of YouTube. This is a company that was co-founded by his two friends from PayPal, Chad Hurley and Steve Chen.
YouTube was founded in February 2005 and the site was launched in April 2005. YouTube launch came at the perfect timing. Fortunately for YouTube, there were three crucial technological developments that came about in the technology world at around the time of their launch. One, the rapid expansion of broadband connections; two, a significant drop in the cost of buying bandwidth (which was needed for streaming videos); and three, Adobe’s decision to include video-playing support with Flash. Eventually Karim would only become a small stakeholder because we went back to school at Stanford. At first, YouTube’s growth was very slow, and they were desperate for customers. YouTube’s growth did not have anything to do with algorithms, and it had everything to do with its users who uploaded the videos and sorted out the interesting ones. Many users would share videos through Facebook and MySpace. YouTube would allow users to upload “any kind of personal video, as long as it was short (up to 100 megabytes) and did not display any nudity.
Then after the slow start due to the three factors and new social media becoming popular, YouTube’s growth was enormous. On a growth graph it would display an angle of almost 90 degrees. The growth rate surpassed great websites like eBay, Wikipedia, MySpace, Facebook and any other previous website. In January 2006, Google launched Google Video Store. This became an absolute failure and only lasted about 18 months. YouTube was a very popular product but the company really struggled to make profits, especially when YouTube began having legal problems with the media company Viacom. YouTube was in trouble and didn’t have much money to win a case against Viacom. YouTube decided to approach two giant Web companies at the time, Yahoo and Google. The timing was perfect for both Google and YouTube. Google had a terrible video search system and YouTube needed legal help and protection for the company to still stay in business. When the transaction/merger was completed in October 2006, Google bought the company for $1.65 billion.
Google had not relied on so much on their algorithm and recognized YouTube’s model of building around entertainment and social networking. In April 2008, Eric Schmidt announced that YouTube’s profitability was the highest priority for the company that upcoming year. Google added new features and software tools. Google planned to put a large investment into YouTube, hoping it would pay off in the future.
Small World, After All
In 2004, Sergey Brin discovered a small company that could change things in a big way. In this chapter, Stross takes a look at Google’s acquisition of the company Keyhole, which will later become Google Earth.
As Google’s passion for possessing information continued, why not do it globally? This idea would lead to the release of a new product known as Google Earth. In the late 1990s, there was only one place to see a satellite view of the world, and that was the Pentagon. However, in a few years, this would change. Keyhole founded in 2000, was the small company that Google would eventually buyout, similar to the story of YouTube in Chapter 5. As a small company with a very unique product, Keyhole’s plan was to have a subscription-based online service, where consumers could virtually fly around the world, and see the world from a personal computer screen. Like YouTube and many other start-up companies in the Silicon Valley, it took a little while for Keyhole to be recognized as a successful and innovative company. In January 2001, Keyhole designed software that displayed one image while also fetching other satellite images could be displayed next. When Keyhole lost some of their funding from Excite@Home and Sony broadband, the company’s plan to offer a service to the consumer had to have a change of plans. Then in June 2001 in Dallas, Keyhole rented a booth at a trade show. From there, they got some immediate attention. This was one of the first opportunities where people outside the Pentagon and office of Keyhole got to experience this unique product. Keyhole’s software was called EarthViewer.
In 2004, Keyhole wanted to re-introduce their original plan of selling their software in a subscription-base way and allow customers to easily navigate around the globe. Google invited Keyhole (just six blocks away from Google) to pay a visit and make a presentation about their product. Keyhole, a bit shocked, took the opportunity. Those at Google were thinking big and outside the box when Google decided to buy Keyhole the next day. At the time, Google was forming a small group working on a product that would later be called Google Maps. Over the weekend, Keyhole moved into a Google building, across the hall from Google Maps from the other recent acquisition, Where2. Google’s plan was to put engineers with similar interests near each other and together they would figure out who would like to work with whom. Google Maps was released in February 2005. Keyhole software was not yet integrated with the Maps software. Keyhole would eventually provide the satellite images for Google Maps. Keyhole’s Earthviewer software was eventually renamed Google Earth. Google Maps, added mashups which were hybrid mixes of maps and date, as one of there features in the product.
In June 2005, Google Earth was released. As Google Earth became very popular, with this there became some controversy over privacy. However, Google Earth did help the Coast Guard rescue victims from Hurricane Katrina by comparing before and after flooding. It also exposed clear-cut logging in the Amazon rain forest in Brazil as well as many other cases.
Sky in Google Earth was introduced in 2007, this allows viewers to travel through the sky and beyond and travel through stars and galaxies. Fans began listing homes of famous celebrities such as Tom Cruise, Halle Barry, George Clooney and many others. The public began to feel uneasy about this situation and felt as if it was an invasion of privacy. John Hanke at first said there were never any eye-level shots and its nothing to worry about. Another example of taking pictures and made it easier to recognize places. With the tension of competition from Amazon’s A9 and Microsoft’s new launch of a “bird’s-eye-image” Google needed to act quickly to stay competitive. In May 2007, Google introduced street view; the combination of satellite street maps and street level photographs was now taking place. Google took a lot of heat from the public, however they stuck with the idea that public space is not private space, therefore they were not breaking any laws.
Immersive Media, which invented a ball-like structure video camera with 11 lenses, this product was called geoimmersive. After 10 days the product was launched, Google began to remove images, if an individual discovered his or her face on a street view image. Google Maps Street view started a very controversial topic among the public eye. What we learn from Google is that “Google’s most basic message, which is that users will find online, with Google’s assistance, whatever information they need.” Even if it involves one's privacy. Google claims that privacy is protected; however with Google retaining all of this information, we lose more of our privacy and control.
A Personal Matter
Google threatened Microsoft’s Windows and Office applications when they created or acquired online versions of similar software, i.e. Google Docs, Google Calendar, Google Apps, Google Checkout, Google Talk, Blogger, Orkut, and GrandCentral. The idea was Software as a Service, or cloud computing, using software running on a centralized server. With Google Docs, someone can work on documents without an Internet connection, when the connection is restored the work that was completed offline automatically would be sent to the “cloud.” The benefits included the ability to use Internet connected cell phones, no upgrades, no virus-infection, and lower costs.
The first step of this process was Gmail and the organization of e-mails, which Google felt was an unsolved search problem. The requirement of more hard drives to store the messages and attachments would be costly, so Paul Buchheit, Google employee number 23, suggested advertisements on Gmail. Using the internet, Buchheit was able to download semantic analysis software to analyze text, which would identify the grammatical function of each sentence. It then would figure out the meaning into keywords that were linked to the ad database Google used for the Web searches. This would automatically bring up ads based on the content of each e-mail message which seemed a little “creepy” at first, but actually turned out to be pretty useful. It was referred to as “contextual advertising” where site owners and Google split the proceeds when someone would click on the ad, this became the basis of the second most important advertising for Google, AdSense. On April 1, Google introduced a “search-based Webmail” with 1 gigabyte of storage allowing users to “hold their mail forever.” It didn’t even contain a delete button, but after multiple complaints, a delete button was added in January 2006. Brad Templeton, chairman of Electronic Frontier Foundation, found that the problem with e-mails centrally stored was that they were no longer a private conversation, but data in a database. Google users were granting a single organization control over too much of their data. Google users were not concerned that an employee at Google would look at their personal data, but that Google may not take good care of their data.
Algorithm, Meet Humanity
In 2002, Google releases Google Answers where customers can ask questions and receive answers from researchers or independent contractors. The service charged a fee determined by the customer, but it failed to attract customers. Similar to Google Answers was Yahoo Answers launched by Yahoo in 2005. This service was extremely successful because anyone could submit a question for free and anyone could answer that question with no compensation. Virtual online communities are important to online users.
In 2007, Google acquires YouTube and found that its software was good at analyzing text, but not very good for video. Videos needed a unique identifier or a video “fingerprint.” Without video fingerprints Google was unable to automate identification and removal of copyrighted videos uploaded to YouTube. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act requires videos be removed if copyright holders brought attention to copyright violations. Viacom hired a team of employees to watch YouTube videos in search of unauthorized clips, then send “takedown” requests to YouTube. YouTube would remove the material only to have it reappear. After submitting more than a hundred thousand takedown requests to YouTube, Viacom sued YouTube and Google in March 2007 for “at least” $1 billion in damages for copyright infringement. Google then released YouTube Identification Beta in October 2007.
There is also a 'Notes' section at the end of the book, before the index and acknowledgements, which cites references, web links and facts of the contents in the book, organized by chapters.
- Stross, R. (2009). Planet Google: One Company's Audacious Plan to Organize Everything We Know. Free Press. ISBN 9781416546962.
- "2013 Financial Tables – Investor Relations – Google". investor.google.com. Retrieved 16 January 2014.
- "What is OpenSocial? - A Word Definition From the Webopedia Computer Dictionary". webopedia.com. Retrieved 16 January 2014.
- "HowStuffWorks "Why is the Google algorithm so important?"". howstuffworks.com. Retrieved 16 January 2014.
- "Technology Overview". Google, Inc. Retrieved April 16, 2013.
- Markoff, John; Saul Hansell (June 14, 2006). "Hiding in Plain Sight, Google Seeks More Power". The New York Times.
- Macht, Joshua (September 30, 2002). "Automatic for the People". Time.
- "Language Tools". Google, Inc. Archived from the original on 2009-06-12. Retrieved April 16, 2013.
- Martin, China (November 26, 2007). "Google hit with second lawsuit over Library project". InfoWorld.
- Tyler, Nathan. "Google to Launch Video Marketplace." Google. January 6, 2006. Retrieved April 16, 2013.
- Graham, Jefferson (November 21, 2005). "Video websites pop up, invite postings". USA Today. Retrieved April 16, 2013.
- Cashmore, Pete (October 26, 2006). "YouTube Gets New Logo, Facelift and Trackbacks – Growing Fast!". Retrieved April 16, 2013.
- "Viacom will sue YouTube for $1bn". BBC News. April 16, 2013. Retrieved April 16, 2013.
- La Monica, Paul R. (October 9, 2006). "Google to buy YouTube for $1.65 billion". CNN Money. Retrieved April 16, 2013.
- "Google Acquires Keyhole Corp" (Press release). Google, Inc. October 27, 2004. Retrieved April 16, 2013.
- "Kalam Concerned Over Google Earth". Retrieved 2013-04-16.
- Privacy Lawsuit Against Google Earth, Spatial Law blog, 2013-04-16
- Frome, Andrea (April 16, 2013). "Google's LatLong Blog". Google-latlong.blogspot.com. Retrieved April 16, 2013.
- "List of mergers and acquisitions by Google - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia". en.wikipedia.org. Retrieved 16 January 2014.
- Sullivan, Danny. "Google Launches Gmail, Free Email Service". SearchEngineWatch.com. Retrieved 2013-04-16.
- "About Gmail: More on Gmail and privacy". Google. 2007-01-01. Retrieved 2013-04-16.
- http://www.copyright.gov/title17/92chap12.html#1201 17 U.S.C. 1201(a)(1)