Page & Brin: Icons of the decade

The Guardian commissioned me to write a piece on Google founder Larry Page and Sergey Brin as icons of the decade. My kicker:

To understand the power of Brin’s and Page’s focus, go to Google’s home page now and type “weather in Ed” and stop there. Google will not only understand you want weather in Edinburgh but will give you the forecast right there in the search box; it will answer your question before you’ve even asked it. Google’s true holy grail is understanding, anticipating, and serving our intent.

When we’re using Google devices with Google operating systems and Google browsers and Google software to ask Google questions in text or voice or even pictures and Google gives us each the personal answers we need from any source – no, the best source – in the world, in the context of the moment and our needs, that will be the culmination of the Google age. Google’s next frontier is not to organise the world’s information, but our lives.

  • Marcel

    Jeff, I really like the feature you mention, but it is only working in the US (or by going to If you are in another country, even in the UK, (, it will not work. So Brin and Page are doing a lot of things right, but globalization is not always one of them.

    • They also roll out new products and experiments, Marcel.

  • Karl

    Jeff, I love your work, loved the book, love you on Twig, but singling out these two guys is not supported by any evidence. Google has transformed the world, but I see the two founders as passengers on the ferry, not pilots. They’ve individually never done anything more than write a better search algorithm way back in the 90s, and then rode the wave. Your somehow equating them to Steve Jobs and I simply see no evidence of that.

    Second, Google is kind of McDonaldizing search. Your example is wonderful *IF* I want weather in Edinburough (or wherever you were talking about), but if I don’t want that, it’s *infuriating*. It is impossible to find something on Google if it’s not what 90% of other people are looking for. Just try to look for nuanced software development solutions. You are certain the answer is out there, but Google brings you results, which are useless for this kind of nuanced stuff.

    Try to type something into a Droid phone, take one of Google’s suggestions, and then try to enhance it. You can’t, because Google assumes they’re read your mind. You can choose their suggestion, or you can type the whole thing in, but you can’t use their suggestion to get started. Google is the best we have right now, but it’s really not that great for finding needles in haystacks, and those needles account for at least 25% of search, maybe more.

    Be careful of praising Google too much. It’s one thing to comment on the magnitude of change they’ve brung, but it’s another to qualify it as entirely good or bad change with a broad brush.

    We use Google because it’s fast but not because it’s the best and not because it’s great all the time. The fact is, it’s great sometimes, it’s good sometimes, and it’s acceptable sometimes.

  • “Google’s next frontier is not to organise the world’s information, but our lives.”

    Don’t you think this take Google worship a bit too far, Jeff?

    How did you interpret the “it’s-open-unless-we-don’t-wanna” statement from Google’s SVP-Product Management Jonathan Rosenberg?

    Do you really want this company in charge of all your devices, OS, browsers AND life?

    • Dermitt

      “The Middle Ages represents the social metaphysician’s unconfessed dream; a system in which his dread of independence and self-responsibility is proclaimed to be a virtue and is made a social imperative.” Instead of functioning by using concepts, they use memorized cue-words. They are not lost among concepts, they are lost among cue-words in an unreal world of verbal rituals and are ready for Zen Buddhism, “but what is so disastrous about the Zen Buddhist approach is its hostility to reason and conceptual thought. Whoever sets himself against reason, sets himself against reality and against nature, and consequently, against man’s survival.” Branden
      When Google organizes your life, human nature will cease to matter. Who needs reality?

    • Howard,
      I made no judgment about it at the end; I said this is where I think it is going. That prediction is neither worshipful nor fearful. I leave that to you.

      • Okay. I’ll pick fear.

        • That’s an emotional response, Howard. I prefer rationality.

        • Eric Gauvin

          oh god…

  • I’ve also enjoyed your book on Google and many of your blog posts but I think you’ve taken the level of praise to another level with this article and it’s just too much.

    It’s one thing having to write a book on the subject and having to stick within that topic for however many hundreds of pages but calling these 2 guys icons is a step too far. I agree with Karl, while taking nothing away from what they started and the huge effect their idea has had on the world and will have on the future there needs to be some perspective on the matter. Google is a large multinational conglomerate that is as big and evil as Microsoft and continuously painting them in this pastel-esque saccharine airbrushed manner is both patronising and misleading.

    I know you’ve made a name for yourself in recent years off the back of commentating on Google’s rise but there’s a limit to what your core audience will put up with and the mainstream will only be interested in some media professor boffin’s take on something as droll as a search engine for 15 minutes.

    You keep assuming what Google’s intentions are on every minute detail and always opt to presume that their intentions are completely wholesome, when the reality is that you’re guessing at best and at worst Google will end up being a giant out of control entity that abuses its power at will (something it has done with copyright law already).

    There is a hollowness and a self important assumption to praise like: “It also rewards specialisation: if you are the best at what you do, you will rise in search results over the mass of commodified mediocrity.” There’s absolutely no scientific evidence to back this up at all. Like all commentators you tend to find the end of the story first then join the dots to create a picture that fits. The truth is that the best people at doing what they do might wallow in obscurity and be completely overlooked by Google’s algorithm, making heroes out of idiots for all we know.

    Maybe the new year approaching might be a good time for you to take stock of where your commentary of Google will take you. After all they haven’t offered you a PR job yet. It seems strange that while everyone else can see the holes in Google’s work you remain fairly blind to their hegemony in areas that are well beyond the search that Brin & Page were responsible for.

    • I can take only so much from someone in marketing. You sell things for a living and get paid to do so. I give my opinion and you don’t like it and insult. “Like all commentators…” You speak in those kind of generalizations. You speak from an emotional perspective. Just because a company is big it’s evil? Where’s the basis for that? What companies and products do you sell?

      • Let’s see, Andy, you work on something called GossipCenter. And you stand on a high horse? You have ads such as this: And you’re holier than thou? Come now.

      • I’m not a marketing person, I make websites, and being 2 of them. Gossip Center is not owned or run by myself or my company. We manage some of their ad inventory in the UK.

        I’m not meaning to insult you, forgive me if my post seems rude, I’m from the north of England, we have a reputation for being friendly but abrupt and foul mouthed. I’m just really surprised to read your take on Google being so unbalanced. I respect your work and your opinion. I’m just at a loss that you would gloss over some of the darker practices of Google so easily in a puff piece.

        For example in China they are complicit with the Government in censoring information, they will not release what percentage of Adsense they take for commision, they scan personal email messages so that they can market products to you (yes they are marketing people too Jeff, it seems we agree there’s only so much one can take from marketers). There are many instances where Google’s practises are covert and unexplained, despite them (and you) keep spinning this idea that they’re not doing evil.

        I’m not the emotional one here, I’m not in love with Google, but I do use many of their products: Gmail, Adsense, AdManager, Goodle Domains, Analytics, YouTube, etc, etc. It concerns me how much of my information Google has and what they might do with that 5 or 10 years in the future when they’re beyond anyone’s control.

        Large companies aren’t evil per se but they do act in the best interest of the company that’s how they get to be large companies, otherwise they would be large charities or social concerns.

        And yes Jeff my company exists on the back of advertising, I’m not sure what your point is, as I’ve clearly linked to my real identity on my post so I’m not trying to hide behind a high horse. My company promotes other companies as we have a publishing business model. I thought your job was to teach kids and write books, do a bit of lecturing on the side. Or are you implying that you ARE working for the Google marketing machine and I’ve just missed this in your credentials?

        • Mate, the assignment was to write about them as icons of the decade – what makes them such. That’s what I wrote. I included sins. And I left it to you to decide whether the world I describe at the end is one you like or don’t. I at least appreciate that now you’re speaking more rationally and politely. I think that works no matter where you’re from.

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  • Au contraire, Jeff. My fear is neither personal nor emotional. I am old enough and secure enough to realize I can weather most anything.

    What I fear is far more systemic, pervasive and intrusive. “If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place.” Or, we’re for everything being open except those things that make us fabulously wealthy by being closed.

    In my world view, hegemony isn’t a good thing and we are coming closer to it all the time and some people are celebrating it.

  • Dermitt — What is the citation for that very interesting metaphysician/Zen quote?

  • Jeff, these guys are correct, even if they aren’t expressing it just right.

    For some time now you’ve been perceived not as a maven but a suck-up when it comes to Google, however hard you try to tell both sides. Whether you are, indeed, a Google suck-up is somewhat irrelevant at this point. Perception is everything, and you have a perception problem.

    • And so, in the old sense of media “balance,” you expect me to weigh one side with another and end up in the middle. Sorry. I think that Google is onto something and those who miss it and fight against it will suffer. That’s why I wrote the book. Ignore Google’s insight at one’s peril. Newspapers have.

  • Jeff,
    There is no doubt in my mind that Page and Brin are Icons of the Decade. Even if they now do not do all the work themselves, they certainly have a significant input into how the company runs and leadership is not about how good you are but how many people are following you and what you do. If these guys turn around there are a lots of followers which makes them great leaders of this last decade.

  • Decent article, seems a bit preachy, like it’s directed at people who don’t like Google. Maybe you hear too many defensive and accusatory old-media people in your line of work?

    BTW, is the “cons of the decade” link text intentional? ;)

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  • I just read Jeff’s article. What are you lot (who are criticising Jeff) on about? He pretty much just listed some facts and placed them in a context… Sheesh

  • That’s an emotional response, Howard. I prefer rationality.