SEARCHING FOR TROUBLE; Annals of Communications
The New Yorker
. New York: Oct 12, 2009. Vol. 85, Iss. 32;
Eleven years after Google's birth, people no longer search for information on the Web: they Google it. Google has
reinforced the notion that traditional media now want to combat: that digital information and content should be free
and that advertising alone should subsidize it.
(Originally published in The New Yorker. Compilation copyright (c) 2009 The Conde Nast Publications, Inc. All
In a suit and tie and with closely cropped gray hair, Mel Karmazin stood out as he crossed the Google campus, in
Mountain View, California, on a sunny June day in 2003. Young people in jeans and baggy T-shirts passed him
holding their laptops before them like waiters' trays. Google was nearly five years old, and was thought to be
merely a search engine. As the C.O.O. of Viacom, Karmazin represented one of the world's largest media
companies--the owner of, among other holdings, the CBS network, TV and radio stations, Paramount Pictures,
MTV and its sister cable networks, and the publishers Simon & Schuster. Two of Viacom's biggest competitors,
AOL and Time Warner, had earlier merged to become the world's largest old-and-new-media conglomerate, and
Karmazin was looking for potential partners in the tech world.
Waiting to greet him in a conference room was thirty-year-old Larry Page, one of Google's co-founders. With jet-
black eyebrows, short black hair patted down on his forehead, a permanent five-o'clock shadow, dark eyes that
often remained fixed on the floor, and wearing a T-shirt and jeans, Page seemed strange to Karmazin. He was
resolutely silent throughout the meeting. Sitting next to him was Google's chief executive officer, Eric Schmidt,
whose shirt and tie, round glasses, and relative maturity--he was then forty-eight--were more welcoming. "Eric
looked like me," Karmazin recalled not long ago. Google's other founder, Sergey Brin, who was then twenty-nine
years old, arrived late and rollerbladed into the room, out of breath and wearing a T-shirt and gym shorts.
Schmidt and Brin began by explaining that Google was a "neutral" search engine that promoted no content
company and no advertisers, and was intended to make the world's information available without favoritism. The
company's algorithms rank those links which generate the most traffic, and are therefore presumed to be more
reliable, and they also assign a slightly higher qualitative ranking to more dependable sources--for instance, Times
stories. By mapping, among other variables, how many people click on a link, and how long they linger there,
Google assigns it a value, known as PageRank, after Larry Page.
Of more interest to Karmazin was the company's advertising business, which accounted for almost all its revenues.