It is going to be hard for me to write something unbiased about Google.
I spent this past summer working as a business analyst intern for the AdSense team at Google European Headquarters in Dublin. After 10 weeks spent doing extremely interesting work, but also improving my foosball skills (it’s impressive how good the more senior guys are!), eating delicious sushi every day and receiving professional massages, I really cannot speak badly of this company.
To be fair, even before my internship, my opinion of Google had always been extremely positive.
There is something that deeply fascinates me about the Google story and which immediately emerges in Ken Auletta’s “Googled”: Sergey and Larry, the two founders, never gave up on their project despite the fact that many detractors were trying to persuade them that their company would have never being profitable or historically relevant.
In my mind, by Bernard Shaw’s terms, they behaved like “unreasonable men”. There’s no doubt that technological progress and innovation in these past few years owe a lot to Google and its founders.
Again, the lesson seems to be, to quote Terry Winograd, one of their mentors at Stanford, “don’t assume that things are done the right way because they were always done that way”.
Reading “Googled”, I could not avoid feeling the same way one feels when watching one of those (mainly American) movies whose ending is already known since the beginning.
The plot is simple: everyone is making fun of the main character and nothing seems to go in the right direction. But you already know he is going to “win” (Hey, otherwise they wouldn’t have shown the movie in prime time!) so you sit back with a smile on your face and look forward to the moment he is going to get what he deserves (typically success, money, the girl he loves, etc…).
But “Googled” isn’t just a book for those who want to know more anecdotes about the protagonists of Google’s development.
Auletta makes every effort to explain how Google makes money, a question that many people still ask me when they found out I interned there.
Behind Google’s more than $ 23 billion of revenues (in 2009) are AdWords and AdSense, its advertising products. Amongst the main success factors of these two products is the fact that they target users extremely well, without being particularly annoying, and they offer advertisers the possibility of paying on a CPC (Cost-per-click) basis, as opposed to a CPM (Cost per thousand impressions) basis, basically guaranteeing that money is not wasted on uninterested users.
AdWords is the tool companies and individuals use to advertise their products, services, etc…
AdSense, as defined by Google, is “a free program that enables website publishers of all sizes to display relevant Google ads and earn”.
What I really like about AdSense is how much it helped the long tail of publishers.
Before AdSense, Bloggers and other minor publishers could hardly negotiate deals with advertisers so they typically had no ads and no money, which often implied a short life. AdSense, simple as it is, helped (at least partially) in solving this problem.
For the “big guys”, such as the New York Times, AdSense is more of a secondary product. On the first page of the online version of the New York Times, you usually will find very few ads by Google (and if so, they will probably be at the bottom of the page) because major publications can still negotiate good terms with advertisers who are interested in “branding” themselves.
But if you open one of the articles, you most probably will find mainly ads by Google.
This is because an ad on a first page of a popular newspaper works much like an ad on television. The advertiser doesn’t know much about who is going to look at the ad. Therefore it pays on a per-impression basis and hopefully achieves its branding objective.
On the other hand, an article has more specific content and, if someone opens it, it can be assumed that she is interested in the specific topic of the piece.
Here Google can offer targeted ads, which are more likely to be clicked on and therefore generate more revenues for the publisher.
The impressive revenues generated from advertising have allowed Google to innovate on a global scale.
While Google has surely made some mistakes in the past and will most surely make other mistakes in the future, I believe it has done a lot for society. On top of AdSense promotion of blogging, I am thinking for example about how it increased people’s ability to access information (a crucial positive effect of the internet in general, as I mentioned in my previous post) or about the possibility it gave to small businesses to finally target a larger audience at low price, helping decrease the dominance of the biggest companies.
You can hate it or love it, but you definitely cannot ignore Google. It’s going to be interesting to see what it has in the pipeline the next few years.