Whether by coincidence or by design, I think there are a lot of parallels to be made between the startup success of Google, as told by The Search, and the success of the current Web 2.0 phenomenon. However, I’ll argue for the importance of the former (coincidence) than the later (design). Firstly, both Google’s startup story and Web 2.0 have a streak of rugged individualism running through their very core, either in the form of Silicon Valley entrepreneurship, as is the case for Google, or Web 2.0’s user-centered approach to web design. For example, consider Google’s humble start. It took two ordinary graduate students to develop what would become the goliath we now know as Google. There wasn’t a multimillion-dollar research lab funding their unfortunately named “BackRub” project in their Stanford dorms. Similarly, Web 2.0’s beauty, and enigma, is exemplified in how it levels barriers to entry: anyone can do it! Just like Google started in a dorm room and not in some NSF lab, consider how a velvet revolution took hold recently in Iran, with the cell-phone camera replacing the ballonet as the weapon of choice. Or consider how an obnoxious Nebraskan teenager is propelled to Hollywood superstardom without the backing of a powerhouse studio or a silver-tongued Ari Gold. However, in stark contrast to this rugged individualism, there’s also a theme of connection. For example, the ultimate success of Page and Brin was their extensive social networks within Stanford and the greater Silicon Valley. In fact, I would argue that, at least in their early days, the people in their social network were their most valuable asset, far more valuable than any discarded computer from the computer science department. Likewise, Web 2.0 is as based on individual expression as it is based on sharing this individuality with others, as seen with the success of mySpace and Facebook.
Innovation was the main driver for the success of Google and remains the main driver behind Web 2.0. At least in my view, innovation is engendered by two extremes- individualism, which creates the idea, and connection, which fosters the idea. Innovation sprouts from an individual idea and is aggrandized through large-scale sharing and interaction. This “networked” framework seems to be a subtle, but very powerful, notion that Page and Brin picked up on as graduate students. The Search takes note of this when describing how Page was choosing his research focus. The World Wide Web as the largest network ever to come into existence, intrigued Page, at least ostensibly. His focus on how web-pages linked to one another, both forward and backward, seems to hint at the true potential that was dormant within this new way of thinking, whether he realized it or not. To an extent, I would argue that what Page and Brin’s Google did for the Internet was what Silicon Valley did for them. Google would ultimately calcify the links between these networked nodes and hence, bring a dynamic structure to a nascent Internet. Similarly, Silicon Valley brought about the synergies and resources needed to grow Google from the dorm room to the world. Networks, I believe, will be a powerful motif revisited this semester.