Google like it’s 1999

Paul Scheer and Douglas Edwards

Paul Scheer (not related) and Douglas Edwards.

Remember Hotbot, or Alta Vista? Lycos? Boy, those were the days. And by “days,” I mean “godforsaken age when we were left to wander the online information desert.” It’s hard to remember when those times came to an end… But it’s easy to recall why. If you don’t, just (cough) Google it.

To learn how startup-duckling Google transformed into a technological-and-entrepreneurial-swan Google, I’d highly recommend picking up I’m Feeling Lucky: The Confessions of Google Employee Number 59. Written by Douglas Edwards, Google’s 59th-ish employee and “words guy” from 1999-2005, the book is a journalistic memoir chronicling the company’s ups and downs on its road to spectacular success.

Part of the I’m Feeling Lucky‘s appeal is its author’s admitted ignorance: While Edwards started early, his newspaper background and limited tech knowhow made him something of an outsider in this group of young, Stanford-educated software engineers. Yet the book doesn’t shy away from discussing technical challenges Google faced in the early days. He spends a few chapters talking about server capacity and Google’s ongoing struggle to keep up with its own growth. Other plot highlights include: Edwards coining the term “adWords” (inspired by his own name); Google’s partnership with Yahoo!; slaying a beast (Overture); slaying another beast (Inktomi); AOL negotiations; and bringing Gmail to life.

Really, my only gripe with the narrative is the book’s classiness: Edwards writes little about becoming rich during Google’s IPO in 2004. No diving into piles of gold, a la Scrooge McDuck? Not even a little?

The book’s best moments describe the gratification of working with a group of talented, intelligent people motivated to get stuff done. The quintessence of this being, of course, founders Larry and Sergey:

I’ve been asked if Larry and Sergey are truly brilliant. I can’t speak to their IQs, but I saw with my own eyes that their vision burned so brightly it scorched everything that stood in its way. The truth was so obvious that they felt no need for the niceties of polite society when bringing their ideas to life. Why slow down to explain when the value of what they were doing was so self-evident that people would eventually see it for themselves?”

You may not learn how or why Google Buzz exactly happened, but I’m Feeling Lucky is a terrific look at the human side of innovation.

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