Google is worth billions because it delivers readers to advertisers better than any other media outlet—despite not always being the best search engineby Andrew Brown / December 17, 2005 / Leave a comment
The Search by John Battelle (Nicholas Brealey, £25)
If Google were to disappear tomorrow, how much difference would it make to the world? Google does things that are indispensable to anyone using a computer in the modern world. Until you sit down and enumerate them, it isn’t obvious just how vast the company’s reach could be.
Here is my own shortlist: as well as the obvious internet searching, which I do maybe 30 or 40 times a day, Google supplies the maps and directions when I want to take a journey; it organises the pictures on my hard disk and does most of the editing they will ever get. The Google Talk program lets me talk—literally—to my sister, and to chat onscreen with my children, even when one of them is in the same house. There are some Google services I don’t use much: Gmail, which would keep all my email online, permanently searchable, and available from any computer on the net; Google News, which keeps an eye on the papers for me; and Google Reader, which could watch all the blogs and many of the websites I read in the same way. Blogger, which Google owns, could publish my blog; and coming off the net altogether, I could use the Google desktop search to rummage through everything on my hard disk and to keep all my files and emails indexed and searchable.
The speed with which Google reached this eminence is astonishing, even in internet time. The founders got their first cheque from a backer—for $100,000—in August 1998. When they went public in August 2004, they had $3bn in cash in the bank and the company was worth roughly $50bn. Typing this in November 2005, I find this worth has more than doubled to $108bn, give or take a few million. What’s really astonishing about that figure is that I didn’t find it from Google. It happens that Yahoo has a better financial site. In fact, there are alternatives to all the services that Google offers, some of which are clearly better. Between them, Yahoo, Microsoft and Amazon can duplicate everything that Google has to offer, and in many cases, Yahoo’s product has the edge.
Even the most glorious of all Google’s projects—the idea of digitising and indexing thousands of books in five leading libraries, including Harvard, Oxford and the New York public library—is being imitated by Microsoft,…