I will poke my head up ever so briefly from my labors to note that I have a book review up at Salon today of Randall Stross’s new “Planet Google.”
Here’s a couple passages:
“Planet Google” further reinforces the picture we now have of Google as the Mr. Spock of Internet companies: intellectually supreme, agile and engaged with the world, but prone to respond to the unpredictable behavior of its customers by cocking an eyebrow and exclaiming, “Highly irrational!”
Is there a Bones McCoy anywhere in the company who can provide a humanist counterweight to all that calculation? Maybe — but you’re not likely to learn who it is from Stross’ research. “Planet Google” is solid and informative, and Stross, refreshingly, avoids the frothier sort of Google hype sometimes heard from the tech-punditry choir. But the book is hardly the insider’s-eye view of Google that it has been painted to be.
If Google is going to falter over the coming decade, it is likely to be the result of avidly pursuing its “organize the world’s information” goal even as the evidence mounts that its Spock-like principles and engineering-first culture may not get the company to its destination. Stross’ account provides several case studies — including accounts of the oddly neglected Orkut social networking site and the ill-fated Google Answers service — in which innovative Google ventures foundered because of the company’s clumsiness at managing human interaction.
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I am still waiting for the humanist face of Google to emerge. At their best Google’s technologies are magical. But even as a quasi-geek I find the lack of warmth in their products off-putting. Just imagine how dominant they could become if they were to imbue their toys with personality….