First published August 18, 2005 in Mediapost’s Search Insider
It was one year ago that I wrote my first Search Insider column. I remember that by the fact that I wrote about the San Jose Search Engine Strategies Show and now here I am, back in San Jose, going for my semi-regular search marketing total body immersion. Thank goodness this only happens occasionally. It can do strange things to one’s perspective to spend four days with thousands of people who live, breathe, and eat search. Compare this to my other life, where my wife is still not exactly sure what I do for a living.
For those of us privileged to live on the inside of this industry, we gain a glimpse into a fantastic and highly illogical world. It’s a world where empires can grow from mere ideas overnight and where vast territories can disappear just as quickly. Intellectual capital is the currency here, and it can be redeemed only through the acceptance of the masses. The winners in our world are the ones that pull the gem of an idea, nurture it into life, and find it picked up by the world. It’s like throwing little bits of our soul at the public, and hoping one of them sticks.
Case in point: Google. While here in San Jose, I had the opportunity to visit the new Googleplex in Mountain View. I walked through the immense complex (on the morning after the Google Dance, so I was still bleary-eyed) and joined my host for a hot breakfast in Google’s gourmet cafeteria, one of many places to grab a meal. I was surrounded by impossibly young, blue jean- and t-shirt-clad Googlites (Googlians?) that were all searching for the next big idea that will resonate with the public. They bellied up to the counter for a custom-made omelet or fruit smoothie, and then gathered around tables to start discussing the future, built in their terms. As my host said, this was the kingdom of the engineers, and Google is still very much an engineer-driven company.
In our world, this is as close to Camelot as it gets. Our society has switched paradigms. Many of us no longer look to our governments or spiritual organizations to make the world a better place. We’ve put our faith in the raw power of ideas. And if we happen to make a few billion in the process, so be it. Empires like Google no longer need assembly lines or oil wells, smelting plants, or factories to grow and prosper. All you need is people with bright ideas.
It was a telling note that my host told me that the new Google campus was in fact the old Silicon Graphics headquarters. As technology passes on, a new king has come to occupy the castle. The old guard has passed the torch to the new. He acknowledged the irony and said, “Hopefully we’ll be able to stay here awhile.” Meanwhile, the engineers downed their omelets and smoothies, blissfully unaware of the fact that, more often than not, history is doomed to repeat itself.
As I took in the sheer immensity of the complex, with all its high-tech touches and iconic lava lamps, I couldn’t help but think that all this came from one single idea. And it’s not even that defensible an idea. The Google Empire has been built from a clever thought, a shard of the souls of Mr. Page and Mr. Brin that has lodged in our collective bosoms. By making “Googling” a verb, they have built an enormous company. And they’ve done it in seven years. Yet no one seems aware of how ephemeral this all is. The phrase “Castle in the sky” couldn’t help but come to mind.
I felt torn between the father in me and the self-acknowledged tech geek. Part of me loves the idea of a world built on sheer intellectual horsepower. I am excited by the constantly shifting challenges and the persistent question: “What’s the next big idea? Who could be the next Google?” As I often say, working in this industry is like dancing on quicksand. But the dad in me says: “Be careful. This could all come crashing down tomorrow.”