How Google Works: Book Review

How Google Works, by Eric Schmidt and Jonathan Rosenberg, is now available on Because it is written by senior Google excecutives, this book is a “must read” for anyone who depends on Google. Here’s my book review:

A ‘Must Read’ Book on Google

For anyone who watches Google, this is a “must read.” The book tells you some things you already know (Google hires smart people, Google doesn’t believe much in organizational hierarchy) and some fun insights (Sergey Brin pinned a note about how ‘AdWords Stinks’ (he didn’t use that word). It’s worth reading for the tidbits… but if you want to know how Google really works… you’ll be left with as many questions as answers.

(I’ll leave aside summaries of the book, as those are handled pretty well by other reviewers). Let me focus on some questions I wish were addressed in the book – questions I think many of us have about how Google really works.

As Many Questions as Answers

For example –

How Google Works#1 – How does Google really devise (and kill) products? For example, Google Places (Google’s local business directory service) is incredibly important, but little attempt is being made to grow a “user community” a la Yelp… thereby missing a tremendous business opportunity. At the same time, Google Glass is clearly a priority project for the company yet generates little revenue, and seems to have no link to social media (a la Google+). How is it possible that the “smart creatives” don’t see the incredible potential in Google Places (now called Google My Business) as a foundation on which to build Google+? How is it possible that a company that lives by numbers and revenue… can have this strange juxtaposition of Google Places (lots of revenue, lots of interest, incredible opportunities as a social network) vs. Google Glass (pie in the sky, perhaps the future… but clearly not a money-maker)?

#2 – Google+. Google clearly made a huge commitment to social media with the launch of Google+, but recent moves indicate it might kill Google+ or let it die. What is Google’s social media strategy? How was Google+ created, and how is it being evaluated by today’s “smart creatives?” Google is clearly an “also ran” in Social Media… so my goodness, there must be interesting insights and anecdotes about G+ that could help us all understand how Google operates on an important project for which it is clearly NOT the market leader. We learn a little about its launch, but nothing about its struggle today, not to mention about the people who are desperately trying to make Google+ a success. Understanding the people behind Google+ and its vision… Wow. That would have be an interesting read!

#3 – The Google algorithm. The book says Google is open… yet its most important secret (the search algorithm) is anything but. With Google in hot water in Europe, you’d think the book would address why the algorithm must remain secret and why Google (unlike say the US Federal Reserve) can’t become more open about how this all works. So many of us depend on Google, that to ignore this is to ignore the proverbial elephant in the room: how are decisions about the algorithm really made? If the Federal Reserve can become “more open,” why can’t Google? Or is it, and we just don’t get it? Who are the people behind the algorithm and how does that process work? To share nothing about the people and processes behind the algorithm… that’s like McDonald’s not sharing any details about the special sauce that made the Big Mac the Big Mac!

#4 – Organizational structure. Hire smart people, check. Hire lots of smart engineers, check. Let them do what they want, check. OK, I get that Google is not IBM circa 1965, but how does this all really work? A company of this size and importance can’t literally be run like a small Silicon Valley startup… so what is the real road map? Or, if it really does work that way… examples of how a product is launched (e.g., Gmail, AdSense, etc), and brought to scale? All of us want to learn from Google about how to be better at business, but beyond hiring smart people… what are the insights?

To be Fair

Now, to be fair, this book is more about how it “feels” to work at Google and what Google’s “philosophy” is a a business, not a hard, data-oriented non-fiction treatise. But where are the people? We get a few glimpses into people (especially Sergey Brin)… but not nearly enough insight into the (undeniably brilliant) people at Google. I’d love to be a “fly on the wall” and listen in on the discussions about Google+ or about Google’s travails with privacy and Europe… seeing and hearing the important Googlers (and knowing their names), and learning how a great corporation struggles with these important issues…

In sum, as someone who loves, lives and watches Google… I highly recommend you buy this book, reading it for the tidbits and insights into Google. But I think we’re all really waiting for a true “inside look” at how Google works – perhaps to come someday by an ex-employee, telling us how Google really works. I, for one, am hungry for book #2… the book on how Google REALLY works.

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About Jason McDonald

Jason McDonald is a top-rated San Francisco SEO Consultant. His consulting services include search engine optimization consulting, social media marketing consulting, and Google AdWords consulting. Jason's motto as a consultant is that he doesn't do SEO 'for you' but rather he does SEO 'with you.' That goes as well for his social media marketing consultant activities and Google AdWords consultant services. Besides serving clients in the San Francisco Bay Area, Jason consults with clients in Silicon Valley (San Jose), Oakland and other cities throughout the Bay Area. Beyond the Bay Area, Jason is available as an SEO consultant, Social Media Consultant, and as an expert witness in litigation involving social media marketing, search engine optimization and pay-per-click advertising.