Thursday, May 13, 2004

Are you going to buy into Google?

It's an interesting question, and one that many of us are likely thinking about these days. Should we consider participating in this unique "IPO auction" that's being proposed for Google? And what the heck is the auction and how does it work anyway?

I admit I'm interested. After all, I'm a pretty committed Google user. I use their Search Engine exclusively, and their Google Tool Bar keeps pop-up ads off my webpages, my home page is GoogleNews, I use Blogger to host my blog, I'm considering adding Google ads to my website and I've just signed up for a GMail account. Clearly, they're a company that I'm comfortable with.

But in the weeks since they announced their plans, I've read and heard some conflicting opinions about the company and the direction it's taking. For a good summary, see the Star's Tyler Hamilton's take on the IPO. The naysayers think it's just another mega-company, and likely to turn into an evil empire, a la Microsoft, Time Warner, Disney, etc. (even if the founders are well-intentioned.) The supporters say it's a different kind of company, and one that looks like it's going to act differently. I'm an optimist, so I'm probably in the latter camp. But while I was thinking about this, I had a revelation...what does the company say itself? After all, the speculation is based on what the founders of the company have actually said in the information they've filed with the SEC. But like most people these days, I've been content to just read snippets of it and listen to other people's opinions about it...or perhaps their opinions on what others have said about it. Does anybody really read the original sources any more?

So I looked up Google's preliminary prospectus or whatever it's called, and read some of it for myself. I admit I haven't read the whole thing...but I did read the open letter from the founders of the company, Larry Page and Sergey Brin. It's a fascinating read and I like what they're saying. But more importantly, it lets me hear from these guys directly, and make up my own mind. I realize that one of the realities of how I've been getting my information these days is depending on the media to interpret things for me. There was a time when I was part of the media, and I got to look at all the original source material. Then I would summarize it and do a story for my readers. It's an important function, no question about it. But over time, we can become too reliant on it. Instead of finding out the facts for ourselves and forming our own opinions, sometimes it makes sense to go to the source.

Ironically, that's the true benefit of the technology that Google has given us. We can now instantly go find the source documents that the media are using as a basis for their story. But more often than not, we think we're too busy to do that, so we end up just reading the stories. It seems the more access we get to information, the less we actually use it. The way that information is available now over the Internet is a defining attribute of our generation, perhaps one of the most significant. Only time will tell. But thank goodness that companies like Google are around to help us take advantage of the technology we've developed.

In the long term, I believe that Google will succeed in its mission. The part I like the best is when they say they've won't do any evil. Sounds like a winning formula to me. And after reading Larry and Segey (that's they way they refer to themselves throughout the document) have to say, I'm willing to support that mission. I don't really know how this auction process will work, but I intend to be a part of it somehow.

But don't take my word for it. Check out what they say in their letter and make up your own mind. And then use Google's cool search tool to find out what other people just like you are thinking as well...

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