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In The Plex: How Google Thinks, Works and Shapes Our Lives [Hardcover]

Steven Levy
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
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Book Description

12 May 2011
It is best known for its search engine, but as Steven Levy explains, Google's ambitions go far beyond internet searching. It has moved into mobile phones, computer operating systems, television, and is the most powerful company in the advertising business. Its advertising business produces revenues so substantial that the company has no difficulty funding all its other projects. The company has an unusual corporate culture, which Levy describes. The founders are often seen on Rollerblades, there are exercise breaks for employees and certain foods are either free or minimally priced. There is simultaneously an atmosphere of seriousness and playfulness. What role this corporate culture plays in the company's success is one question that In the Plex will address. For example, every Googler has 20% time -- employees are allowed to spend 20% of their time on projects of their own devising. No manager can prevent this. Some successful corporate businesses have come from 20% time. Levy provides the background on Google's decision to enter the Chinese market, a decision that was controversial within the company at the time and which has recently made news as Google threatens to withdraw from China. He explains how "cloud computing" is the next frontier for Google, and he takes the reader into product development, including products that should be reaching market around the time the book is published. He explains what Google is doing to counter the rise of social networks such as Facebook (Google has its own social network), real-time competitors such as Twitter, and the looming risk of government regulation because of its dominance of the internet.

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In The Plex: How Google Thinks, Works and Shapes Our Lives + The Google Story + The Facebook Effect: The Real Inside Story of Mark Zuckerberg and the World's Fastest Growing Company
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Product details

  • Hardcover: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster (12 May 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1416596585
  • ISBN-13: 978-1416596585
  • Product Dimensions: 15.3 x 3.5 x 23.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 51,927 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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`Levy has outdone them all. He has produced the most interesting book ever written about Google. He makes the biggest intellectual challenges of computer science seem endlessly fun and fascinating' --Guardian, 1 July 2011

Inside This Book (Learn More)
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

4.5 out of 5 stars
4.5 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
37 of 37 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Major Insight Into Google 14 April 2011
By Dr. Bojan Tunguz TOP 500 REVIEWER
Ever since its inception, and in many cases even before it became incorporated, Google has been referred to mainly in the superlatives. The briskness with which it became the dominant player in online search, the sheer size of its operations and the infrastructure, the incredibly short time within which it became one of the largest companies in terms of market capitalization - all of these are the stuff of legends. It is unsurprising then that Google would attract a high level of media attention, and there are literally hundreds of articles written about it every day. (I know this because I just did a quick search for Google in Google News.) Over the years there has also been no shortage of books on Google. However, in terms of the depth and breadth of its research, as well as the amount of first-hand information that it provides, Steven Levy's "In The Plex" stands in a category of its own.

In the minds of its founders and most of the early employees, Google is first and foremost a technology company. The business model of online advertising came about almost as an afterthought, and one continuously gets the sense that its purpose is to pay the bills so that Google geeks can have a free reign in pursuing their latest techie interest. This attitude is an integral part of Google's DNA, and any book that aims to provide the reader with a better sense of what Google is all about needs to get this point across. Unfortunately, there have been several books in recent years that were more concerned with all the intangible aspects of life in the age of Google and had almost completely missed this point. "In The Plex," I am happy to say, did not fall in that trap.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
By Mr. G. Carroll VINE VOICE
I bought this book automatically because I had previously read and enjoyed Levy's previous works: Insanely Great, Hackers and Chaos. Given his heritage covering technology companies and personalities as both an author and a journalist, I was curious what he would make of Google.

The book is expansive and provides a lot of additional colour around Google, some of which I found of interest as I had worked at Yahoo! competing against Google and working with some of the early darlings of the web 2.0 movement - Flickr and Delicious. There were a couple of things that surprised me such as Google's use of machine learning on areas like translation explained why grammar is still so bad in this area as it needs heuristics that lexicographers could provide similar to that offered by Crystal Semantics.

Overall it was interesting to see that as with most large organisations Google is not only fallible but run through with realpolitik and a fair bit of serendipity. This contrasts with the external perception of Google as the technological Übermensch. A classic example of this is the series of missteps Google made whilst competing in China, which are documented in the book. From staffing practices, promotional tactics and legal to technology; Google blew it's chances and Baidu did a better job.

As an aside it was interesting to note that Google used queries on rival search engines to try and work out how to comply with Chinese government regulations, which is eerily like bad practices that Google accused Bing of last February in `hiybbprqag'-gate.
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This book was, like most books I have read about this giant company, a fascinating read. Describing the journey of the company from an idealistic start-up to one of the largest companies in the world it is hard not to be impressed with this chronicle of Google.

For the most part the book was very well written and obviously it has been incredibly well researched. From the personal details about the people who work at Google through to the technical workings of some of Google's products and thought processes, it was obviously painstakingly put together from a massive amount of information.

This made it the most complete chronicle of Google that I have read to date. Whilst this is a good thing, it also meant that the book was quite long and as such began to suffer from pacing issues. The early years which cover the first half of the book was exciting and fast paced. However as the company becomes more established and they start entering the realms of big business along with big business problems the pace of the writing slowed.

Other than this slight reduction in the pace of the story though, it is a very easy and enjoyable read. My only other criticism however is the reason why this book has lost a star in my rating; the voice of the author is quite biased in tone.

Because of Google's unofficial motto, 'Do no evil', I kept getting the impression that when describing every situation in the book the author was siding with Google as though their ideas were automatically right. He does actually commit to this bias in anything other than tone but I was definitely picking this up throughout the book.

The trouble with this is that evil is a subjective term.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Essential reading for anyone in online marketing
Very good book about the culture of Google and will help you understand the way they work. Essential reading for anyone in online marketing if they want to understand Google. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Jon789
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb. Very detailed.
Very good audio. You need this in your collection to really understand Google. It is about 20 hours long and very well read.
Published 10 months ago by Mr. Stephen Pitcher
5.0 out of 5 stars Great history of Google
What could have been a dry but informative read is a well structured narrative covering the details of technology we use every day and the people behind it.
Published 10 months ago by Mr Matthew A Webster
5.0 out of 5 stars All good
Arrived quite promptly, well-wrapped and in a good condition. The book itself really eye-opening and interesting, a good read for anyone.
Published 13 months ago by Olga
1.0 out of 5 stars Shocked & disappointed
Having read the first half of the book which I found informative if not very repetitive I was shocked and appalled to read the following, "Matt Harding began posting videos of... Read more
Published 13 months ago by Ross
5.0 out of 5 stars Great book on the Google story
Provides a great in depth look on how Google is - what happened to make it so and some of the war stories from the early days.
Published 19 months ago by Joel Haasnoot
5.0 out of 5 stars Interesting book
Didn't know much about Google and how it worked. Now I do. Well written and detailed. Personal analysis of the key players was not too sycophantic. Good read.
Published 22 months ago by Bill
4.0 out of 5 stars optimistic, entertaining and informative read
Very interesting and entertaining book about one of the world's most recognisable brands: Google.

Main points from the book:

- do first, sort out the problems... Read more
Published on 19 May 2012 by C. R. Semmens
4.0 out of 5 stars In the Plex
Journalist Steven Levy's previous books about Macintosh computers and about hackers make him the perfect insider-outsider, with the knowledge to write a detailed history of... Read more
Published on 24 April 2012 by Rolf Dobelli
5.0 out of 5 stars An exciting insight into the world's best-known company
This book gives an amazing insight into one of the world's most innovative companies. The level of access that the author had to many of the movers and shakers in the Google story... Read more
Published on 16 Mar 2012 by freedo50
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