What do the following have in common: YouTube; Blogger; GMail? That’s right — they’re all owned by Google and they’re all free. How did an online search engine — that gives virtually all of its services away for free — grow, in just 400 weeks, into a $20 billion turnover global corporation?
I’m reading Ken Auletta’s fascinating book Googled: The End of the World as We Know It. Auletta writes on media industry matters for the New Yorker and is one of the US’s most popular business writers. He also has a clean, fluent, efficient prose style that makes his work a pleasure to read. There’s a very interesting review of the book here by the Guardian’s John Lanchester.
Auletta makes the point that the internet is probably nowhere near as revolutionary and life-changing a phenomenon as the discovery of electricity or the invention of the telephone. What is genuinely remarkable about change in the digital age, however, is its velocity, he says. And nowhere is this velocity more evident than in the Google story.
Auletta has a very interesting article here on the Fortune website in which he explains ‘ten things that Google has taught us’.
I was interested to see that ‘focused passion’ is one of the critical factors he identifies. But “without vision,” he says, “even the most focused passion is a battery without a device.” ‘Don’t be evil’ [Google’s famous corporate slogan], Auletta says, “is a vague incantation” — but the founders’ commitment “to make ‘all the world’s information available and to first and foremost serve users’, is a vision,” he concludes.
Certainly the Google business model is applicable in only a relatively small number of quite narrow contexts — devising an algorithm that enables your company to become the gateway to the world’s information while having to create none of it is a business strategy open to only a few. But the broader lessons Auletta identifies — about change, about putting the customer/user first, and the paramount importance of ‘focused passion’ do have wider applicability.
One thing I can guarantee: read Auletta’s book and you will never open a Google home-page again without remembering that a real, live flesh and blood business, employer of 20,100 people around the world, lies behind that familiar, even comforting (it was intended to be), six-letter brand name on your PC screen.