Google then and now

The National Interest is running my review of Douglas Edwards’s new memoir, I’m Feeling Lucky: The Confessions of Google Employee Number 59. Here’s how the review begins:

In December 2001, an upstart Silicon Valley company named Google posted its corporate philosophy, in the form of a list of “Ten Things We’ve Found to be True,” on its website. At once charmingly idealistic and off-puttingly smug, the list set the tone for Google’s future public pronouncements. “You can be serious without a suit,” read one of the tenets. “You can make money without doing evil,” read another. But it was the most innocuous sounding of the ten principles—“It’s best to do one thing really, really well”—that would prove to be most fateful for the company. No sooner had it pledged to remain a specialist than it began to break its promise by branching into new markets, with far-reaching consequences not only for its own business but also for the Internet as a whole.

Google issued its philosophy at a decisive moment in its history. Although it had incorporated just three years earlier, in late 1998, its eponymous search engine was already widely viewed as the best tool available for navigating the net. But the company was struggling to make money. To succeed financially, its young founders, Stanford grad-school buddies Larry Page and Sergey Brin, knew they would have to supply not only search results but also advertisements tied to those results. At the time, the market for search-linked ads was dominated by another Internet start-up, Overture, which had forged partnerships with major web portals like Yahoo, America Online, Ask Jeeves and Earthlink. Google’s own advertising system, AdWords, was more sophisticated than Overture’s, but big websites feared that the company, which operated its own site at, might end up competing with them for online traffic. Google’s high-toned philosophy, with its promise to stick to doing “one thing”—i.e., web search—“really, really well,” was meant to reassure would-be partners that it wouldn’t expand into their markets. The subtext was clear: “You can trust us; we’re pure.” …

Here’s the rest.

3 thoughts on “Google then and now


    Nick Carr wrote,

    In Ireland, which is struggling to emerge from a profound economic slump, Google bought a large Dublin office building from a government agency charged with cleaning up bad real-estate loans.

    Tell me about it. Our company built most everything down there. I was busy doing design work for new offices, when we got wiped out by the property crash. Same as always. Construction is the first to bite the dust. I would like to the newspaper article I got published about this. But guess what Nick? The Irish Sunday Tribune, and it’s web site which contained the article, bit the dust also. After being in existence for for as long as I’m alive.

    Good article. Enjoyed reading it.

  2. Pkmaguire

    Excellent review, Nick!  It seems that Google’s engineering-heavy culture has alienated some talent, even causing certain individuals to “defect” to other companies. Not sure of Mr Edward’s reasoning. Still, I think Google set the bar high not just with it’s seductive tenets, but with a workplace culture that–at least in the beginning–didn’t compromise living standards to be “Taylorist”.


    Re-reading my above comment, incentive-ised me to go and dig up some historical material on the Irish Sunday Tribune. My search brought me to one 2003 article by former editor (1983-1994), Vincent Browne. He wrote something which I found surprisingly deep, for such an otherwise pithy individual. It evokes a sort of resonance with Nicholas Carr’s ideas of today.

    The media does not just set the political and social agenda, it sets the parameters of “common sense” – the way we think about issues and the criteria we apply.

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