The Search by John Battelle

December 30, 2005

Categories: Reviews, Books
The Search by John Battelle

The Search by John Battelle is essentially a wander through the history of search engines - how they developed, and how they transformed the internet.

You might sort of figure that out by the subtitle: “How Google and Its Rivals Rewrote the Rules of Business and Transformed Our Culture”.

It’s not a technical book - it simply focuses on the history of the dotcom boom and bust, and the search engines role in transforming the web as a user experience through this period.

Coverage is pretty good - after all, John Battelle founded Wired Magazine in the boom days, and was subsequently burned when the investor bubble in dotcoms burst.

As a journalist, and drawing sometimes from personal experience, he writes an invigorating history on that chapter of internet development.

He covers search engines in terms of their corporate history, and points out how AltaVista failed at least in part because search was treated as a curiosity with little intrinsic business value.

The corporate tragedy of the dotcom boom and bust days is underlined by relating how Lycos was bought by a Spanish telecoms company for nearly $19 billion - only to be forced to sell it off in the bust days for just $100 million.

What John succeeds in doing with this book is to tell an interesting history, relating to how the technical innovations of the internet, namely search engines, have risen from being oddities to multi-billion dollar business models.

Where he fails with this book, in my opinion, is to simply recount history - there’s little real exploration of what technology search engines were, may, or have been using.

He also mentions at the beginning how search engine technology has a significant relationship with research into Artificial Intelligence - but never really addresses the topic again, despite its importance.

It generally does make for good reading: it stumbles a little in places - for example, his description of Search Engine Optimization reads sometimes as naive at best - but otherwise the social and corprorate history of the development of the rise of search engines makes for a very engaging read.

The book is too short, and could have been much more detailed on the areas highlighted above. Otherwise, it’s a fun read worth enjoying for a short couple of hundred pages.

The Search by John Battelle at Amazon.co.uk