The ECONOMIST re: Google
Jun 30th 2005 SAN FRANCISCO From The Economist print edition
Psst, there is news about Google, but don't tell
IT IS hard to know whether to be impressed, suspicious or amused. This week shares in Google, the world's most popular search engine, rose above $300 each, having defied most predictions by more than tripling in the ten months since the firm made its stockmarket debut at $85 a share. Now valued at more than $80 billion, Google has left in the dust the other three internet Wunderkinder—Yahoo!, eBay and Amazon—and even passed media stalwarts such as Time Warner. How does Google do it?
At least in part by shrewdly manufacturing a winning mystique. No outsider today can prove definitively that Google is not an office park full of geniuses who could at any moment announce, simultaneously, world peace and a cure for the common cold. That is because no outsider today can say anything definitive about Google at all. This is intentional. Google makes itself totally opaque by camouflaging itself with lots of what journalists call “colour”.
Thus, at a recent “factory tour”, the press learned that Google's engineers, in an average month, consume 2,300 lbs (1,043 kg) of chicken, 1,600 lbs of coffee beans, 500 lbs of pasta, and 112 lbs of wheatgrass. They also heard about the sock collections of certain executives. At an event for equity analysts in February, Google did roll out the “CFO”, but he was the chief food officer (ie, chef), Charlie Ayers, who talked about his grilled pork tenderloin. The chief financial officer was there somewhere, but did not actually give a presentation.
Add to this a (slightly more relevant) steady drip of product announcements—typically through the grapevine and still in beta (ie, the test stage). This week, it was “Google Earth”, a bit of software that can be downloaded for free and that allows users to fly around a three-dimensional globe through well-rendered valleys and streets. A day earlier, Google hinted at a new media player for internet browsers that will allow users to search certain types of video. The week before, Google confirmed that it plans an online payment service. And so forth.
Combine such evidence of frenzied activity with mysterious secretiveness, and the imagination is liberated. A Google web browser? A Google operating system? All the world's information? World domination? Buy, clearly.