Silicon Valley Watcher - Former FT journalist Tom Foremski reporting from the intersection of technology and media

Eye Of The Needle: "In The Plex" Author Predicts Google Will Get More Social... And Maybe Twitter

Posted by Tom Foremski - April 21, 2011

(A guest post by veteran Silicon Valley journalist Dave Needle.)

By Dave Needle

Steven Levy, author of the new book, In the Plex, about Google, shared a series of fascinating insights Tuesday at a Churchill Club event in Mountain View not far from the famed Googleplex. All Things D's Kara Swisher interviewed Levy before an attentive early morning audience.

I haven't got a copy of In the Plex yet, but it's clear from Levy's remarks that it's a very different book than earlier ones on Google. The main reason is the unprecedented access Levy, a respected author of earlier books such as Hackers and a writer for Wired, had to Google execs and staff.

Does Google make mistakes? Sure says Levy, noting several flubs in the area of social networking including the privacy flap that accompanied the launch of Buzz. But he says he thinks Google for the most part tries to live by its famous "Don't be evil" motto.

"They don't say 'don't be evil' anymore, but it's in people's head there, they embrace it," he said.

Now that co-founder Larry Page has taken over the role of CEO, Levy said he expects Google to push harder into new product areas and ramp up its efforts to compete with Facebook and Twitter in social networking. Already under Page, Google reportedly has tied employee bonuses to how well they execute on social networking strategies.

"Larry Page is disappointed more people don't believe in trying the impossible," said Levy. "He can't understand why people don't push harder."

Near term Page & Company face the challenge of staying nimble and encouraging innovation despite its growing size and a bureaucracy Page is trying to streamline, if not eliminate.

"Google has a willful non-acceptance of its size," said Levy adding the company continues to hire people intolerant of bureaucracy. "Google wants risk takers," he said.

A Facebook Panic?

As for social networking, Levy said it's become a high priority at Google because it impacts the search giant's business model. "They're in somewhat of a Facebook panic now, people share a lot of information on Facebook that Google doesn't have access to," he said.

But he also rejects the analysis you hear sometimes that Google doesn't "get" social networking because of its cold-hearted, algorithm-loving culture.

"I reject the notion that Google is all about computer science and they don't understand social networking. Facebook has a lot of engineers too that aren't the warmest people in the world," he said, winning a few snickers from the crowd.

So what's the company likely to do next?

"They might buy Twitter," said Levy. "Twitter is a natural fit for Google."

Stay tuned.


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