New Book on Google Offers Insights and Inspirations

April 26, 2011 Updated: October 1, 2015
The book 'In The Plex: How In The Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives,' by Steven Levy. (Courtesy of Steven Levy)
The book 'In The Plex: How In The Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives,' by Steven Levy. (Courtesy of Steven Levy)

As Steven Levy’s new book In The Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives, is arriving in stores, the Mountain View-based search engine giant could expect to see an increase of Google brand’s market share in global Internet user’s minds—if there is a technology that can read people’s minds. If a brand holds a sweet spot near and dear to people’s hearts and minds, it will be translated into market leadership, even in China—soon or later.

The book, three years in the making, is not a fiction. Given unprecedented access to company headquarters GooglePlex, the author spent hundreds of hours interviewing Google’s executives, rank and file, and other close sources. An acclaimed technology writer, Levy has covered Google for more than a decade.

The book reviews both the invincible strengths and the human flaws about this teenaged company, which has emerged as the single most disruptive force to change and empower the way we look at the world.

Like any teen, the young Internet search giant demands our attention, not only to its speed and spectacular results, but also to its dilemmas and faltering moments. The chapter about China is definitely associated with the latter. The book is true to Google’s unusual characteristic—unprecedented, open, brainy, and not evil. The book candidly and openly reports both positive and negative findings—unfiltered, just like its search engines, except the one pulled out from China.

The Chinese regime may never want people to know some of the stories told in this book. Levy told The Epoch Times he may not be able to go to China again because of this book. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) may not approve his visa.

The book’s simplified Chinese rights were sold in China and traditional Chinese rights sold in Taiwan, the publisher told Epoch Times. Whether the mainland regime likes it or not, global Chinese Internet users will read Google’s story in China. It was a short-lived adventure that began in 2004 and ended in 2010.

According to the book, Google’s entry to China was greatly influenced by two factors that have prevailed upon Western companies for decades.

The first is the common notion that if you don’t go to China and be part of the “China Boom” you are obsolete and have no place in the 21st century.

The second is the lack of understanding about how the CCP thinks, works, and tries to shape our lives. There is a book about this, Nine Commentaries on Communist Party , one of the most restricted topics singled out for Internet suppression by the Chinese regime.

China welcomes Western companies to do business in China. Google’s delegation to China in the spring of 2004 was well received by Hu Qiheng, chairperson of China Internet Network Information Center (CNNIC).

“CNNIC takes orders from the Ministry of Information Industry to conduct daily business” according to its website. The Ministry of Information Industry is the body that later gave daily edicts to Google’s Beijing office to censor the Internet.

“We’d get these edicts from the Ministry of Information every day about what thing we had to remove every day,” recalled one Google employee, quoted in Levy’s book.

According to the book, Hu was excited about Google’s entry into China and welcomed Google as a positive force for China. A positive force for good or for evil? She didn’t specify.

Google’s executives were aware of the risk. They debated whether Google should be there or not. Do no harm by staying out or try to do some good by being there? The company’s motto is Do No Evil.

“We actually did an ‘evil scale’ and decided not to serve at all was worse evil,” said Google’s CEO Eric Schmidt. Google’s two co-founders agreed. The Chinese authorities proved them wrong.

Google was forced to censor search results on Google.cn. But this didn’t satisfy the communist heads in Beijing. During the 2008 Beijing Olympic year, Google was asked to filter search results in Chinese on Google.com. That meant people living outside of China who used Chinese to search on Google.com would also get censored results. By meeting the Chinese regime’s demand, Google would become a tool for the Chinese regime to extend Internet censorship from mainland China to other parts of the world, including the United States.

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