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How Google Works (howgoogleworks.net)
148 points by panarky on Aug 27, 2014 | hide | past | favorite | 55 comments

I'm not sure how helpful this will be to a lot of new and aspiring business-owners. In my work, I've had to spend a lot of time reminding both engineers and business-types that You Are Not Google.

Engineers are particularly bad on this front. I've seen teams blow huge amounts of time building massive, distributed, fail-over systems, because that's what Google does. Even though the load could be handled by a couple of dedicated boxes, and existing customers are screaming for crucial functionality.

Scaling is a problem you deal with when your growth rate says you have to -- not when your servers are sitting idle, waiting for a sudden rush of customers will come any day now.

There's nothing wrong trying to learn as much as you can from a bunch of smart people, but that's not the same as copying the things that they've done because "it worked for them and they're successful now".

Statistically speaking, your company is probably a lot smaller than Google, and you have very different problems than Google does.

Don't forget the other major class of engineer problems: trying to automate the Human Interaction.

A lot of engineers (myself formerly included) think that Google emerged as a multi-billion dollar company directly from the head of Jeff Dean...ignoring the critical role that things like biz dev (getting that first yahoo deal!) played in their massive success.

One of the hardest lessons I've had to learn in life is that success has very little to do with engineering. The technical side needs to be just good enough to work. The rest comes down to marketing and networking.

> One of the hardest lessons I've had to learn in life is that success has very little to do with engineering. The technical side needs to be just good enough to work. The rest comes down to marketing and networking.

My understanding is that Google started getting traction because the technology savvy crowd embraced the search engine early on. This was because the search engine was built on a technology foundation that was solid and delivered great results. I think all pieces must come together to achieve success (luck being a piece) but saying engineer had little to do with Google's success doesn't seem correct to me.

I disagree.

Read Steven Levy's book ("Inside the Plex"). It provides an alternative narrative to the one most engineers believe. In particular, it says that Google had good early traction from technology people, but the Yahoo deal is what made them mainstream.

For those not old enough to remember, (I believe) this is the Google-Yahoo deal referenced: http://searchenginewatch.com/article/2066171/Yahoo-Partners-...

You are definitely right, however the way Google became Google and stays ahead of the others is a clear exception of this.

Technology matters, it matters too much that Microsoft with millions of dollars cannot build a better search engine. Microsoft would spend a billion if they knew they can do as good as Google.

There are small companies as well that solely focus technical excellence.

If you are going to rely on technology only then your technology shouldn't be just slightly better it should be way better than the others.

There have been blind user studies that show that users like Bing's results as much as Google's when the logo is removed (if not more).

You don't realize it, but you're making an argument for the strength of their branding, which is at least partially (if not entirely) due to the amount Google spends to be the default search engine in just about everything. Yes, they have to have good search results, but that's far from the whole story.

I wonder what was the audience of those studies, to me it sounds insane that Bing is as good as Google, but maybe you are right, I'm brain-washed by the Google brand.

These sorts of mistakes get made even at google. Not every product is websearch.

Especially at Google. Everything has to be ready for a billion customers on day one. While this works great for a lot of products, I contend this is one of the big reasons why they have a lot of problems with social.

The great social networks find a band of early adopters who get to know each other on that system, and they all figure out what this thing is, while the dev team responds to what they do, just as fast. At least at the start, it's like a little coffeehouse that a clique discovers and makes their own, and starts holding events there.

When Google launches a social product it's like going to the opening of a mall. The place is glitzy, but you're lost in the crowds.

Out of pure curiosity, why couldn't Google just invite a few thousand people as a kernel to try things out? Wouldn't be that hard to find a couple of social supernodes and their friends, beween GMail and AdWords...

My information is way out of date, but I believe most Google products are still tested that way. There's a long Googler-only incubation period for everything. And Robert Scoble was probably on Google+ months before you knew about it.

The people at Google aren't stupid. They know they need to iterate with customers. But they're iterating towards a very specific event, the day when they turn it on for a billion people in 10 languages.

I'm saying that very wide launch makes it kind of sterile. And the drive towards scalability-first probably prevents them from exploring quirkier ideas.

This is exactly what they did with Wave and is one of the reasons why it failed; you always end up with some group of 8 people that can use the system and 2 people that can't making the entire product useless for collaboration.

True. I think the problem is that, when blinded by the "we're going to be huuuuuuuge" mindset, it's easy to forget that shit needs to work at the small scale first.

And that taking an extra six months to get it done, or doing it 5% less well, can be a big barrier to getting huge.

It's particularly silly to start off that way, because Google didn't. Google was held together by spit and duct tape in the early years, and gradually evolved into what it is today.

> Google was held together by spit and duct tape in the early years

Indeed. Here's a pic:


Based on the quotes at the bottom of the page (as there isn't any sample chapters or anything of that nature), it'll be witty businessisms and quips, much akin to the manifesto style of "Re:work" by 37 Sig... I mean basecamp. It'll probably be low on concrete advise but instead focus on a mindset.

Yeah, it's a bit like trying to explain Valve's success in terms of its dysfunctional structure(subjective, I know). If you look at stuff like Google+ and numerous misteps with gmail/hangouts you would be forgiven for mistaking Google for any other large company with enough prior successes and resources to have reached a certain "critical mass". Not sure these companies hold the secrets to repeatable success.

HN opinion clearly isn't with you, but I think there's a lot of truth in your comment. I can think of a couple of reasons.

First because all successful businesses have something that is generating a lot cash for them which means they can spend money on resources small teams cannot, and they can keep trying. In the Google case they can just keep plugging away at social. This isn't a "critical mass" but it's significant.

Second because the "critical mass" is existing users and brand awareness. It's always easier to sell to an existing customer, they have experience with you and like how you operate. Just being able to easily reach the user-base that Google can is a massive leg-up. You also get the benefit of being able to add network-effect or tie things together - see the whole gmail+G+.As importantly, people trust brands (how else can you explain Starbucks!) so you're more likely to be able cross barriers to get users on-board. Users associate themselves and their values with certain brands, it makes it much easier to extend into new product categories.

Everyone likes a success story, but the way that large organisations operate and their models for innovation don't apply well to small teams (in my opinion).

The reason why it isn't available on Amazon is that it's published by Hachette.

I looked up the book on Barnes and Noble, and the publisher is listed as Grand Central Publishing.

A Google Search for "Grand Central Publishing" reveals that it's part of Hachette (http://www.hachettebookgroup.com/publishers/grand-central-pu...).

Looks like the Hachette war has spilled into Audible as well, the audiobook version doesn't list Audible either.

Side note: The bottom of the page has a few interesting choice quotes: For example: ""Think 10X, not 10%. Global scale is available to just about everyone. But too many people are stuck in the old, limited mindset."

Sounds like they're describing a certain rival who only owns a fragment of the mobile OS space.

So, the answer for all those trying to figure out how to get it on Kindle is to wait until it is released, and then it should be available on Amazon (and hopefully Kindle).

Hrm, so it's not available at all? I figured it would just be late in shipping?

Presumably Audible as well

Open page,

ctrl + f: 'creative' = 6 results. ctrl + f: 'engineer' = 0 results.

Oh I see, you creatives now.

I guess it's time to revise some history and let the world know that you weren't just a bunch of super smart engineers... you were creatives along!

So, do I still need to take that code test? Or can I give you that link to my portfolio page?

From the page: "Who are these smart creatives? They’re the product-minded people who combine technical knowledge, business expertise, and creativity."

That doesn't seem like revising history as much as trying to sell a book. If you have the The Solution (tm), you likely have fancy non-traditional terms.

One of the lessons of business should be that "The Solution" is never found in a single book.

I honestly find this publication tacky.

The authors explain how technology has shifted the balance of power from companies to consumers

Said without a hint of irony.

It's true. Google's all encompassing centralized nature combined with Eric Schmidt open-door policy to mass surveillance (ie. 'if you have nothing to hide') and destroying privacy helped us realize we need to 'redecentralize' the internet and moved away from silos.

Critics, pranksters, and culture-jammers, hurry:


...are all still available!

Forget the 'really'.

The .org is still available. Occupy Google could snatch up howgoogleworks.org, copy the .net content and do a quick and dirty parody site.

Good thing they're all at Burning Man.

don't forget the












or to use a domain hack:


Why is an ad the top item on Hacker News?

I was hoping for something more technical.

I guess a part of me was expecting a re-direct to the wikipedia article on PageRank.

It's pretty interesting to me that Amazon is not an available format for downloading the digital version, but iBooks is (as well as Google Play and B&N). I wonder if that is a publisher choice or an author choice?

Looks like an awesome book!

Sadly, it doesn't look like there is a .mobi version available :/

Anyone with an idea on how to get this on a Kindle?

You can convert to .mobi with programs like Calibre.

Everybody who works in marketing is now rushing to update their LinkedIn profile to describe themselves as a "smart creative".

A good piece of propaganda.

Without the search engine, Google is nothing. Period.

I'll have to respectfully disagree. While search is their main product, with AdWords being their main source of income, Google also has maps, local, docs/drive, gmail, google play, wallet, android, etc.

While it wouldn't be a 'giant' without search, search definitely helped increase adoption of their other products and gave them revenue to invest into other things (plus their moonshots).

most of these product being ad driven,with the exception of some cloud services,though I really doubt Goggle win that much money on google/drive. It can however scan your files for "metadatas"

The irony being that in trying to be everything else as well, Google's driven me away from search.

I can't figure out what the hell this is.

where is Amazon?


I found his Google+ post related to this supremely ironic and hilarious.


Yes. All that stuff about "creatives" will age poorly, I think.

Not to mention the numerous broken images I got.

I read "Now Google works". I thought to myself, finally!

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