I admit immediately that my desire to read this book had more to do with my curiosity about Google itself—the Mecca of technology companies, usurping the Nerdvana title that Microsoft held for so long in the late 80s and early 90s, when it made millionaires. I realize that I could have just as easily fulfilled this voyeuristic desire by using (ironically) Google, but I thought that Mr. Battelle (whose credentials are impressive) might have a more interesting take on it.
As I might have gleaned from the subtitle—had I bothered to read it—this wasn’t a tabloid-style exposé about the young search colossus, or even a dry memoir about its inception, but rather a broader look at how search has changed the very nature of the web and of our culture.
Battelle waxes grandiose in the first chapter, describing what he calls the “Database of Intentions,” or rather what people are looking to find when they search, hinting that the rest of the book will illumine how the successful leverage of this “database” will be crucial not only to the future of the internet, but of marketing and sales in general. Pretty heady stuff. Then the next half of the book is a half-dry, half-tabloid history of search, beginning with the young technologies (that which would become the first iteration of AltaVista, for instance) and finally getting to Google, which serves as the centerpiece and shining example of Search. I must note that Battelle can’t help but delve briefly into “he said, she said” sorts of stories about Google in an attempt at exposition; but then, he does edit Wired, so we can’t begrudge him a bit of editorial sass.
He does make some very good points about search that I really hadn’t considered (which isn’t to say that they wouldn’t be obvious to anyone who had given it some thought): for instance, the difference between a content-based and intent-based from of paid search; the power of clickstreams in divining relevant search results (commercial or organic). At times, he got a bit fantastic with his “search in the year 2050” sorts of examples, but overall I found his writing relevant and easy to follow; his job as cofounding editor of Wired shows in his ability to make a heady but easily-digested book.