Reading "Googled," it's hard to know whom to root for. Executives like Karmazin come across as quaint P.T. Barnum-style hucksters whining about having their toys and easy profit margins taken away. But even though Auletta presents Google as the fearless young turk pulling the rug from under the bloated fat cats, Brin and Page come across as oddball cold fishes taking a geeky delight in dismantling existing structures because they think they can do it all better. There are occasional hints that Auletta doesn't like them much either: In the acknowledgments, he snipes, "Google's founders and many of its executives share a zeal to digitize books, but don't have much interest in reading them," noting that Brin and Page initially thought that participating in his book "would be an 'inefficient' use of their time."
Auletta suggests that the company runs into trouble because it is so wrapped up in the idea of itself as virtuous that it can't understand others' concerns about privacy or monopoly issues. There is, however, a strong idealistic component to Google: It provides quality services to the consumer that don't cost a dime. "You can't beat free" is a constant refrain here. And yet, for all that consumers love Google, workers -- especially those employed in the industries they've outmoded -- could be forgiven for being wary.
"Googled" functions as a fine primer for anyone looking to get a grip on the company's history and its repercussions on the current media landscape. The prose is workmanlike, and Auletta doesn't have a polemical take, let alone any prophesies. Mostly he asks questions: Will consumers happily give up their privacy for free services? Will we still be reading books in 20 years, or going to movie theaters? Can advertising work on social networks? Will the government intervene and rein in the Internet? He doesn't have answers but maybe no one does right now. As Clay Shirky has eloquently noted, "The old stuff gets broken faster than the new stuff is put in its place." And when someone seeks reassurance that the good old media ways will continue, "they are really demanding to be told that we are not living through a revolution."
Press is writer in New York who has worked in both old and new media.