I spent far too much time in airports the past few days, enduring the joy of late summer thunderstorms in the northeast. On the upside, I was able to knock out two books that I would recommend you pick up when you have a chance.
John Battelle’s The Search offers a superb look at the past, present and future of Internet search. It reaches back to the pre-graphical web days, explores Yahoo before it was Yahoo (it was originally known as Akebono), and spends a lot of time describing the technical and business evolution of Google. In some ways, it feels like a story told through the Wayback Machine. For example, most people today would say that Google invented keyword advertising, when in fact it was actually the Bill Gross/IdeaLab company GoTo.com. (Ironically, Google snagged GoTo.com’s contract with AOL which helped Sergey Brin and Larry Page make a name for themselves – and now Microsoft is trying to steal that business away through its own deal with AOL.)
But perhaps the most interesting part of Battelle’s book is where the author (a co-founder of Wired and founder of boom-era magazine The Industry Standard – a publication I still miss) explores the future of search based on his conversations with most of the major players in the industry. It’s a fascinating ride and a great way to get the creative juices flowing. It has fed my curiosity and helped refine some of my thinking about the future of news search and online content monitoring, in particular.
The second book I would suggest is Freakonomics. Many of you may have already read it since it has been on the bestseller lists for a while, but I never managed to pick it up until my 4th hour at LaGuardia last night. Many of the conclusions are certainly controversial, but the authors do a tremendous job of using hard numbers to answer interesting questions. For example, it concludes that crime has dropped sharply in the past decade largely due to Roe v. Wade (I told you it was controversial) and that flying isn’t safer than driving a car (they’re actually the same when you control for the amount of time spent doing each). And there’s a very interesting section on children’s names that at times had me laughing out loud.