Check It Out: Exploring the Google phenomenon

Users of Google, the Web search engine, may have noticed the image of a birthday cake on its home page last week in place of the usual company logo. The pixilated cake was created by Pop Art icon Wayne Thiebaud, in recognition of the Internet giant's 12th birthday.

The cake is one of more than 300 decorative images, known as doodles, employed by a team of designers at Google to celebrate holidays, anniversaries, and the lives of notable artists and scientists. Such displays of whimsy illustrate the playful, creative side of what has become, in little more than a decade, a $40 billion company.

Google's ambitions are anything but whimsical, however. From the outset, its stated goal was to organize and make accessible all of the world's information. Since then, the company has used its enormous revenues, generated primarily by use of targeted advertising, to expand into areas beyond its core search engine, including the digitizing of entire libraries, online video, desktop applications, mobile phones and data storage.

All the while, Google has tried to remain true to its unofficial slogan of "Don't be evil." Critics contend, though, that the quest for dominance has caused the company to fall short of this goal, particularly with respect to issues such as privacy, copyright and censorship.

Many books have been written about the Google phenomenon. A few of these have been highlighted below. All are available to cardholders of the Newport Beach Public Library.

In "Planet Google," Randall Stross takes readers deep inside the Googleplex, the sprawling Mountain View campus where the company is headquartered. Stross chronicles Google's evolution from its origins as the research project of Stanford graduate students Sergei Brin and Larry Page, through the formulation of the search algorithm that is the basis of the company's success, to its status today as Internet colossus. The result is an informative, highly entertaining narrative.

Ken Auletta, veteran media critic for New Yorker, surveys the impact of the digital revolution on the traditional media landscape in "Googled: The End of the World As We Know It." He praises Google for its business acumen while noting the contradictions between its ambitions for growth and its socially-responsible, corporate philosophy. Ultimately, the author ponders what lies ahead for Google, as he considers both external and internal threats to the company, which include business rivals, government regulators, excessive growth, and hubris.

In "What Would Google Do?" Jeff Jarvis reverse-engineers the fastest growing company in history to discover 40 rules for survival in the Internet age. Jarvis gleans insights from Google's phenomenal success and offers a blueprint for savvy individuals and businesses to follow. He emphasizes ideas and technologies that take advantage of social networking, open platforms, and customer-driven practices. Jarvis illuminates how the creative destruction of the digital revolution is forcing change, but also creating vast new opportunities.

Robert Darnton, director of the Harvard University Library, places Google in historical context among other challenges faced by the printed word over the centuries. In "The Case for Books," Darnton fears not for the future of the book. Instead, he searches for common ground between print and electronic modes of communication. Darnton summarizes the debate over Google's efforts to digitize the world's libraries, and he offers his own hopeful insights on the role of books in an increasingly digital environment.

CHECK IT OUT is written by the staff of the Newport Beach Public Library. All titles may be reserved from home or office computers by accessing the catalog at For more information on the Central Library or any of the branches, please contact the Newport Beach Public Library at (949) 717-3800, option 2.

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