The Google Story

David Vise
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 15, 2005; 12:00 PM

Washington Post staff writer David Vise was online at Noon ET Nov. 16 to discuss his new book, "The Google Story," which goes on sale today.

Vise, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, wrote about Google in Sunday's Outlook section -- " What Lurks in Its Soul? ."

An excerpt from the book, Chapter 26 -- Googling Your Genes , is also available online.

A transcript follows.


Mountain View, Ca.: Congrats on the book, David. (And no, I don't work for Google.) Have you and/or Random House allowed your book to be put into the Google Library? And what's your take on the company arrogantly claiming that copyright law doesn't apply to them?

David Vise: Hi everybody. Great to see so many questions. Keep 'em coming.

The Google Story has not been scanned for Google's Library Project. The book is new, and therefore it is not in the five library collections being digitized by Google.

The important copyright issues raised by Google's initiative to put millions of library books online has encountered substantial opposition from publishers and authors who have sued to block the effort. Lawyers tell me the novel issues raised will eventually go to the Supreme Court. This breaks new legal ground. The copyright laws did not contemplate cyberspace.


North Potomac, Md.: Your article forgot to mention one important point about Google -- it is failing its users! When I first discovered Google it was so much better then its competitors. It was fast and was more likely to provide me what I was looking for, but as Google accepted more and more paid placements the relevance of the findings has deminished. Especially bad is if you are searching for the website of a particular business. It is more likely to give you names of all those who SELL the products of the company rather than the company.

A company that becomes irrelevant to its customer base will certainly fail. It's only a matter of time if they don't refind their soul. What Lurks in Its Soul?

David Vise: Thanks for sharing your views.


Glenside, Pa.: Is it true that a mathematician picked up the word "google" from his grandson infant when seeking a word to indicate 10 to a large power?

David Vise: Good question. The correct spelling for Google is really Googol, which is a very large number. It is the number one followed by 100 zeros. Even Google's soaring stock price and $110 billion stock market value are not that big-:)


Brooksville, Fla.: David,

It occurred to me that as a Google stockholder, if I want to enhance the Google profit picture for the quarter, I should click on the advertisers each time I do a Google search. What is to prevent each shareholder from doing the same?


David Vise: Your question is excellent. Clicking on ads without the intention to buy or learn more is a serious problem for advertisers known as click fraud. And yes, clicking away on ads would drive up Google's revenue. Google says it is taking steps to fight click fraud, but many advertisers say the company is not doing enough. Marketers are resigned to click fraud as part of the cost of doing business when advertising on Google.


McLean, Va.: I clearly remember using an early version of Google in the Fall of 1997 and finding that it returned much better results than other search engines. I don't remember how I came across it, and it was not yet a household name, but it made a lasting impression. Your account and others have clearly stated that Google did not debut until 1998, but I wonder if there's part of the story that's been forgotten. My memory could be wrong, but like I said, it made a lasting impression ...

In any case, somewhere between being cute and being nefarious, I find Google to be an extremely useful tool for both professional and personal interests. This is also one time when I actually want to see the ads that are presented to me. I have to agree that Google may be overreaching in some of its endeavors, but I am very grateful for the basic search service. The company deserves to do well with it.

David Vise: Your memory is correct. Google was online prior to 1998 when Sergey Brin and Larry Page launched the company. It was a school project. Google beta was used primarily by Stanford professors, students and other tech insiders and a handful of other people who knew about it. You must have been one of them.


Annapolis, Md.: How does Google earn revenue? Does it receive payments from ISPs?

David Vise: Google earns all of its revenue from advertising. To the right of the free search results are small square boxes which are ads. Each time someone clicks on one of those ads, Google's coffers grow.


Washington, D.C.: Google Story? "Google means never having to search you're sorry"

David Vise: In one of my faovrite books and movies, "Love Story," the greatest line is "Love means never having to say you're sorry." If you're right,and this applies to Google, then Google has organically taken on the most precious human quality of all, love.


Brooklyn, N.Y.: I recently bought two books after finding them on Google Print. I bought the books on Amazon. How does Google plan to make money from this? Why are publishers and authors opposing Google Print when it makes them money?

David Vise: Many publishers and authors are not opposing Google Print, and are participating since they believe it will lead to more book sales. But publishers and authors have opposed the Google Library Project, one part of Google Print, since it involves making digital copies that can be searched online of millions of books, including those protected by copyright. They also oppose this because Google has promised to give Harvard, Stanford, Univ. of Michigan, Oxford and the New York Public Library a digital version of all of their library books for their own use. The publishers and authors allege in a lawsuit that this is copyright infringement.


Irvine, Ca.: Hi, what do you think of Desktop 2? Would you recomend Desktop 2? Please answer. Thank you, Charlie

David Vise: I like to use Google's Desktop Search tool. I am not great about remembering how and where I file things, and what I name them. So having Google Desktop Search available to find things in an instant on my computer's hard drive saves me enormous amounts of time.


Fairfax, Va.: David,

I'm very eager to buy your book and read it today. Is part of Google's master plan to provide free Internet access to the entire country or selected cities, as it wants to do in San Francisco? Is that possible? How do companies like Verizon and Cox respond? Should I be excited about this possibility? Should the government support/oppose such a plan in order to bridge the so called digital divide?

David Vise: Google's mission is to organize the world's information and make it accessible. Offering free Wifi makes it more accessible. Call it GoogleNet, the name registered by the company. More Internet users leads to more Google searches. Google also can target local online advertising through free wifi because it knows where you are when you search. This has major revenue potential. Google is considering wifi in areas in the U.S. where people now pay for Internet access, as well as free wifi around the world in areas with no Web access. GoogleNet may become the Internet for some.


Austin, Tex.: David, great excerpt, can't wait to read the whole book. You wrote the inside story of FBI agent and Russian spy Robert Hanssen (along with a couple pretty solid research assistants if I remember). What do you think Hanssen, who was fascinated by technology almost as much as his own spycraft, would have thought about the rise of Google?

Remember, things are not always the way they seem!

David Vise: Convicted spy Robert Hanssen would have loved Google and being locked away from technoogy is painful for him. However, the terms of his plea bargain do not permit unsupervised use of computers. If the past is prologue, he would have stayed up late into the night online and used Google to search for x-rated material.


Washington, D.C.: I see a lot of parallels between what Google wants to become and what Lexis-Nexis wanted to be. What makes Google different, and how will potential security and privacy issues be handled? Additionally, will there be as much public interest/contempt in what Google is undertaking?

David Vise: Google's ambition is bolder and grander than Lexis-Nexis or any other private enterprise I have encountered. There is a passion to organize everything and make it searchable online, including the many things in the world that are not on the Internet in any form. There is also the will to carry out the other part of its mission---to make information freely and universally accessible, and then profit from ads. Google also has a unique culture of innovation.


Bethesda, Md.: Can you talk about the process of writing and researching your book. I realize you've covered them on your beat for several years, but how much time did you spend at their facility? Did you have a chance to interview Sergey Brin and Larry Page, or is the book mostly andecdotes? And did anything completely take you by surprise in researching the company?

David Vise: The most surprising thing to me was discovering that Google is working at the intersection of biology, genetics, and technology so that someday we may be able to each google our genes. Sergey Brin is passionate about this area and recognizes that search engines and the human genome are a great match. I covered Google for several years as a beat reporter for The Washington Post. Then I spent one year working on the book. That included trips to the Googleplex and opportunities to spend time meeting many Google employees, including its founders, Sergey Brin and Larry Page, and its CEO, Eric Schmidt.


Washington, D.C.: "There is a passion to organize everything and make it searchable online, including the many things in the world that are not on the Internet in any form."

For instance...?

David Vise: Google wants to make television progams, phone calls, millions of books, and dozens and dozens of other things that pre-date the Internet revolution searchable online. One current limitation of the Internet is that it is lacking hundreds of years of history because of its relative infancy.


Virginia: There was a helpdesk forum in which the questioner complained he cannot remove the google desktop bar from X/P. How intertwined are Google and Microsoft?

David Vise: Google and Microsoft are fierce competitors.


Arlington, Va.: Can you expand on your comment that "Google has a unique culture of innovation."? And give more insight into what the Google culture is all about? It seems like a fascinating place to work.

David Vise: Google employees are given one day a week to work on anything they want to explore, known as 20 percent time. Technology mavens work in small teams of three to five on projects, no matter how large or ambitious. They are fed three free meals a day. And they are given access to more computing power than they could find anywhere else. The environment also encourages innovation because software engineers share office space with others, rather than being isolated.


Virginia: Any differences between your AOL and Google books?

David Vise: I did not write a book about AOL. You may be thinking of my colleague Alec Klein. To answer your question, the books are radically different. The Google Story is the first biography of this company, from 1995-present. It is a behind-the-scenes look at what may be the most successful new enterprise on the pant. Alec's AOL book was about how the Dulles-based firm ran into mega problems.


Tysons Corner, Va.: Has Google hit its prime yet? Or will they ever? The gene project you mention in your new book sounds interesting, but how far do their aspirations really go? Is Google poised to hang on to all this momentum?

David Vise: Sergey Brin says Google, at the age of seven, just finished first grade. It has a long way to go and is just getting started, according to Larry Page. Page also is not happy with the quality of search results and believes substantial improvements can be made.

As for "Googling Your Genes," this company is very seriously tackling a totally new way to approach personalized medicine by understanding our biological predisposition for various illnesses, or potential allegies to medications and all of this could lead, I'm told by experts from NIH, to cures for diseases and other discoveries.


Washington, D.C.: I was most impressed with your article and blown away by "out of the box" thinking of Brin and Page. Like them, I am extremely passionate about my work which is globilizing wisdom just like we globilize potato chips and soft drinks. I work for the Art of Living Foundation, the largest volunteer based organization in the world. We are UN affiliated and have been around for 25 years (we'll be celebrating our Silver Jubilee in 2006). Can you give me some guidance about how I can meet with them to discuss couple of project we have in mind? Since they have the good sense to give 20 percent time to their employees to encourage innovative thinking, perhaps they can give 20 minutes of their time to a stranger to see what innovative projects may come out of it. Thank you, Filiz

David Vise: You could contact David Krane at Google, head of corporate communications at the Googleplex. His email address is Good luck.


Arlington, Va.: Hi David,

I teach Rhetoric and Composition at the Univeristy of the District of Columbia. Of course a lot of my students (and colleagues) use Google with varying degrees of success when starting their research. Eventually most of my students do turn to databases like JStor or ProQuest. Does Google have plans to operate similar databases or "compete" in some way in addtion to their digitizing project? Also, do they have any outreach initiatives aimed at urban education environments? Thanks for fieldling this and keep up the engaging work!

David Vise: is new arm of the company aimed at tackling social issues. Google also has plans to put one percent of its profits and equity into and a charitable foundation. The company also believes offering free Wifi access will help to close the digital divide.


Arlington, Va.: But you cover AOL now right? So is Google buying AOL?

David Vise: Google is in talks with AOL's parent, Time Warner, about a variety of possibilities that range from buying a minority stake in America Online to expanding the partnership that already exists. The goal would be to create more revenue by working more closely together, in one form or another. Microsoft wants to replace Google as the search engine of choice on AOL with its MSN Search. Those talks are less likely, I'm told, to lead to a deal because of a variety of complexities.


Washington, D.C.: Hi David,

Thanks for taking on this interesting and relevant topic. We've already seen that Google's goal of organizing the world's information has run into staunch opposition by a number of groups concerned about privacy issues--e.g. gmail's ability to place advertisements based on keywords in emails. It seems that as Google becomes more efficient, these concerns are only going to grow louder and become more important. Is there a middle ground that will allow us to get information quicker, faster and more efficiently while satisfying privacy concerns? If yes, do you think Google is on that track?

David Vise: Privacy advocates suggest that you would be wise to do Internet searches in one place, say Google, and have your email acounts someplace else. This is to safeguard privacy since having Google searches and a Gmail account would put a lot of information about you in one database. Google, as a for-profit enterprise that is very data-driven, knows a lot more about you then you know about Google.


Munich, Germany: About 5 years ago, before the overwhelming onslaught of Spam, I could do a search on a person using, or and get information on a person, including email addresses.

Although Google has a lot more resources and power than those other search engines, I often don't get as much information on a person as I used to.

Do you think that the wired world and society in general is adapting to the Internet by trying to keep private things private?

David Vise: No.


Fairfax, Va.: Is Google Earth the greatest Freeware ever? Amazing program. Also I heard the company that Google bought the software from was from Reston/Ashburn. Is this true?

David Vise: GoogleEarth has an amazing "WOW" factor. Most people who use it are blown away the first time they travel around the earth and find their home or office or some other site. And it has been interesting to see other appliations built on top of it by businesses and other organizations. I'm not sure of any Northern Virginia connection to GoogleEarth's development, but I do know that you can find any store in Tysons Corner by using it-:)


David Vise: Thanks for your outstanding questions. I look forward to future chats about Google. And feel free to email me,, if you have other questions or ideas.


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