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In the Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives

Steven Levy · 12 HN points · 4 HN comments
HN Books has aggregated all Hacker News stories and comments that mention "In the Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives" by Steven Levy.
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Amazon Summary
Written with full cooperation from top management, including cofounders Sergey Brin and Larry Page, this is the inside story behind Google, the most successful and most admired technology company of our time, told by one of our best technology writers. Few companies in history have ever been as successful and as admired as Google, the company that has transformed the Internet and become an indispensable part of our lives. How has Google done it? Veteran technology reporter Steven Levy was granted unprecedented access to the company, and in this revelatory book he takes readers inside Google headquarters—the Googleplex—to show how Google works. While they were still students at Stanford, Google cofounders Larry Page and Sergey Brin revolutionized Internet search. They followed this brilliant innovation with another, as two of Google’s earliest employees found a way to do what no one else had: make billions of dollars from Internet advertising. With this cash cow, Google was able to expand dramatically and take on other transformative projects: more efficient data centers, open-source cell phones, free Internet video (YouTube), cloud computing, digitizing books, and much more. The key to Google’s success in all these businesses, Levy reveals, is its engineering mind-set and adoption of such Internet values as speed, openness, experimentation, and risk taking. After its unapologetically elitist approach to hiring, Google pampers its engineers—free food and dry cleaning, on-site doctors and masseuses—and gives them all the resources they need to succeed. Even today, with a workforce of more than 23,000, Larry Page signs off on every hire. But has Google lost its innovative edge? With its newest initiative, social networking, Google is chasing a successful competitor for the first time. Some employees are leaving the company for smaller, nimbler start-ups. Can the company that famously decided not to be evil still compete? No other book has ever turned Google inside out as Levy does with In the Plex.
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Hacker News Stories and Comments

All the comments and stories posted to Hacker News that reference this book.
I'd like to take this opportunity to share some relevant exercepts from In The Plex[^1] about Eric Schmidt, then-CEO of Google.

> One day Denise Griffin got a call from Eric Schmidt’s assistant. “There’s this information about Eric in the indexes,” she told Griffin. “And we want it out.” In Griffin’s recollection, it dealt with donor information from a political campaign, exactly the type of public information that Google dedicated itself to making accessible. Griffin explained that it wasn’t Google policy to take things like that out of the index just because people didn’t want it there. Principles always make sense until it’s personal,” she says.

> Then in July 2005, a CNET reporter used Schmidt as an example of how much personal information Google search could expose. Though she used only information that anyone would see if they typed Schmidt’s name into his company’s search box, Schmidt was so furious that he blackballed the news organization for a year.

> “My personal view is that private information that is really private, you should be able to delete from history,” Schmidt once said. But that wasn’t Google’s policy...

I guess they've since changed the policy a bit?

[^1]: https://www.amazon.com/Plex-Google-Thinks-Works-Shapes/dp/14...

tobyjsullivan
I don't know anything about Eric Schmidt so I can't say how closely his values aligned with corporate policies or if he was willing to undermine them when he was personally impacted.

With that said, I have to point out that this entire narrative depends on this one shaky line:

> In Griffin’s recollection, it dealt with donor information from a political campaign, exactly the type of public information that Google dedicated itself to making accessible.

In his recollection? Why the qualifier? How confident is Griffin that it was this and not something else? Is he sure it wasn't leaked bank account records related to some donation?

Because if this instead said something like "it was his SSN" then the entire narrative changes.

For example, if a hacker leaks a pile of PII or health records and posts them on the website, then Google is definitely not dedicated to making that accessible. Schmidt's (totally unrelated) comment makes sense in this sort of context.

> “My personal view is that private information that is really private, you should be able to delete from history”

nova22033
Did they remove Schmidt's information?
jhncls
Is this the same Eric Schmidt as in "If You Have Something You Don’t Want Anyone To Know, Maybe You Shouldn’t Be Doing It"?

[0] https://www.huffpost.com/entry/google-ceo-on-privacy-if_n_38...

goatse_aas
Eric Schmidt is the reason we need assassination marketplaces.
moultano
The context of that quote was him explaining that Google has to comply with legal government requests for information.
perryizgr8
Which doesn't really change the meaning in any way.
> Google operated in China several years ago, but it withdrew from the market because of the censorship requirements from the government

Google hesitated to enter China because of the censorship requirements (1) but eventually entered anyway, led by a researcher they hired away from Microsoft, Kai-Fu Lee (1, 2). They exited because they caught the Chinese associates stealing source code, and only after their first "war room" effort to nail down exactly what was going on (1, 3).

(1) https://www.amazon.com/Plex-Google-Thinks-Works-Shapes/dp/14...

(2) https://www.cio.com/article/2425034/head-of-google-china-lea...

(3) https://techcrunch.com/2010/01/12/google-china-attacks/

joel_liu
Thanks for bringing these references up. However, I think the major reason is still censorship or too much censorship & political dissent. The aim of stealing source code is probably to hack the account of political dissents as Google pointed out. The action was more about "the political motivation related to dissent" than "against US economy". That's my main point.

https://www.spiegel.de/international/business/google-co-foun...

Brin: I don't think it's a question of taking on China. In fact, I am a great admirer of both China and the Chinese government for the progress they have made. It is really opposing censorship and speaking out for the freedom of political dissent, and that's the key issue from our side.

SPIEGEL: Four years ago, you allowed your service to be censored. Why have you changed your mind now?

Brin: The hacking attacks were the straw that broke the camel's back. There were several aspects there: the attack directly on Google, which we believe was an attempt to gain access to Gmail accounts of Chinese human rights activists. But there is also a broader pattern we then discovered of simply the surveillance of human rights activists.

"Second, we have evidence to suggest that a primary goal of the attackers was accessing the Gmail accounts of Chinese human rights activists. "

Google wanted to lose that bid - that was a gamble to get free whitespace access and have verizon pay enough money for it. You can read more of the details in this book:http://www.amazon.com/In-The-Plex-Google-Thinks/dp/141659658...

Additionally Google did try to disrupt the cellular companies a little by selling their phones unlocked through their own webstore, but the American market didn't buy them. Yes there really is only one network that gave you a deal if you did this (T-Mobile), but Americans seem to prefer subsidized phones with absurd monthly plans rather than paying for the phone up front and being free to choose the network.

raldi
"Prefer" is a stretch. It's not like consumers were presented with a choice between two carriers that were similar in every way except that one went with the subsidized model and the other did not.

The choice consumers had was either a crappy carrier, or one which forced you to go with absurd monthly plans.

Jul 16, 2011 · markerdmann on Google: The Beginning
If you like this article, you would probably enjoy Stephen Levy's book In The Plex:

http://www.amazon.com/Plex-Google-Thinks-Works-Shapes/dp/141...

nikcub
'In the Plex' is amazing, a must read for anybody in the industry
ladon86
You'd probably enjoy the forthcoming book which this article is promoting - it's pretty much an extract from it.
e1ven
I've read both, and I greatly preferred "In the Plex". It seemed like a book that really had a thoughtful (if sympathetic) view into Google's inner workings. Levy's book drew from numerous interviews, and wove them together into a narrative that had structure, meaning, and was a great read.

"I'm Feeling Lucky" is a more personal book; It gets a LOT more into the nitty-gritty of personal politics, which can be interesting in a ValleyWag way, but didn't necessarily make me feel like I understood Google in a more meaningful way.

I got a lot of insight into Edwards' family, his mindset, and a much lower-level view into the Google offices.. But if you're only going to read one, read the Levy book.

skarayan
"It gets a LOT more into the nitty-gritty of personal politics"

That's the feeling I get from the author's last few posts that have made it to the top of HN.

It seems very superficial and focused on how he felt versus something substantial.

Apr 16, 2011 · 3 points, 3 comments · submitted by tszming
lylejohnson
When I clicked through, the hardcover edition was priced at $13.98 while the Kindle edition was a dollar less ($12.99). I think that Amazon's prices change pretty frequently, which might explain why you saw a different price at the time you checked.
nextparadigms
Hardcover is $13.98, Kindle Edition is $16.77
tszming
For me:

Hardcover: 13.98, Kindle: 14.58

The price is the same during the past few days, I just wonder if Amazon display different price to different users based on their location.

Apr 06, 2011 · 9 points, 1 comments · submitted by gourneau
credo
http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/01/business/01author.html is an interesting article that talks about what the book has to say on Google's experience in China.
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