||If you pick your books by their popularity--how many and which other people are reading them--then know this about The Search: it's probably on Bill Gates' reading list, and that of almost every venture capitalist and startup-hungry entrepreneur in Silicon Valley. In its sweeping survey of the history of Internet search technologies, its gossip about and analysis of Google, and its speculation on the larger cultural implications of a Web-connected world, it will likely receive attention from a variety of businesspeople, technology futurists, journalists, and interested observers of mid-2000s zeitgeist.
This ambitious book comes with a strong pedigree. Author John Battelle was a founder of The Industry Standard and then one of the original editors of Wired, two magazines which helped shape our early perceptions of the wild world of the Internet. Battelle clearly drew from his experience and contacts in writing The Search. In addition to the sure-handed historical perspective and easy familiarity with such dot-com stalwarts as AltaVista, Lycos, and Excite, he speckles his narrative with conversational asides from a cast of fascinating characters, such Google's founders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin; Yahoo's, Jerry Yang and David Filo; key executives at Microsoft and different VC firms on the famed Sandhill road; and numerous other insiders, particularly at the company which currently sits atop the search world, Google.
The Search is not exactly the corporate history of Google. At the book's outset, Battelle specifically indicates his desire to understand what he calls the cultural anthropology of search, and to analyze search engines' current role as the "database of our intentions"--the repository of humanity's curiosity, exploration, and expressed desires. Interesting though that beginning is, though, Battelle's story really picks up speed when he starts dishing inside scoop on the darling business story of the decade, Google. To Battelle's credit, though, he doesn't stop just with historical retrospective: the final part of his book focuses on the potential future directions of Google and its products' development. In what Battelle himself acknowledges might just be a "digital fantasy train", he describes the possibility that Google will become the centralizing platform for our entire lives and quotes one early employee on the weightiness of Google's potential impact: "Sometimes I feel like I am on a bridge, twenty thousand feet up in the air. If I look down I'm afraid I'll fall. I don't feel like I can think about all the implications."
Some will shrug at such words; after all, similar hype has accompanied other technologies and other companies before. Many others, though, will search Battelle's story for meaning--and fast. --Peter Han