I avoided this book for the longest time – after all, I said, who the hell needed to read a fawning tale about a bunch of Silicon Valley Web 2.0 hipsters? I went to the same parties (fewer in number, to be sure) and read the same blog posts to know better.
I was wrong. The book is very readable, very entertaining, very good. If you follow the tech industry and scene closely, most of the information is well-known in broad strokes. But Sarah Lacy (author) managed to score detailed and excellent interviews with several folks at the forefront of the renaissance of the web, including Max Levchin, Kevin Rose, Marc Andreessen, Gina Bianchini (disclosure: a friend and a mentor), Jay Adelson, Evan Williams, etc. The personal back stories are compelling. Their reasons for starting companies and building great products make for a great read for any Valley junkie. A lot of fine details that weren’t covered in blog posts are perfectly suited to the longer book format. If you’re a student of human behavior especially as applicable to this weird little place we call home – this book is well worth the quick romp. The book is also fun for those of us who aspire to be entrepreneurs – no matter what your opinion of Digg/Slide and other companies, these guys were the first to capitalize on the Web in the last 5-6 years. They did more than most of us. Kudos to them and to the author for capturing that.
What’s more fun, however, is reading the book 2-3 years after publication. The author spends a bunch of time talking about Slide versus RockYou, a very appropriate discussion for the time. As of today, however, who gives a shit about the great slideshow rivalry? Slide got sold for a respectable $228 million but a nice strong climb down from the heady $550 million valuation. RockYou is now billed as a “social ad network”. Other parts of the book seem….well, simply quaint in hindsight. There’s a decent bit of discussion on the “widget economy”. Yeah you never hear about that anymore.
A quick final point: do not expect detailed discussions about product strategy, execution challenges at the companies discussed, etc. This is, by and large, a compelling set of portraits of a set of people and the times they lived in and the things they built.
Long story short, read this book. Well worth the few hours for any Valley junkie.
Let me get right to it – this book is awful. It is made far more awful by the fact that I, over-consumer of all variety of news, Twitter gossip, technology blogs got suckered into reading something so simplistic, so poorly written, so ridiculous in its overall execution of a (promising) premise and so narrow in its end goals.
Now, let me qualify that. If you work in a soul-crushing job that teems with unimaginative management – the kind that won’t ever let you work remotely, the kind that expects that you delight in your own micromanagement, the kind that won’t let you visit “personal websites” while at work (I’ve actually worked in a company that did this), you may find several choice nuggets of wisdom in this book. You may be inspired by Tim Ferriss’ admonitions to live now, find a way to upward-manage your bosses, etc. I grant the book that and I’m sure it has been valuable to a particular set of people.
But if you work in most enlightened places, especially in Silicon Valley, this book is a joke. Most of us love and value our work. We want to build technology at startups. We want to build great teams. Our managers don’t care if we work remotely or not. Hell, NetFlix doesn’t even have a vacation policy!
So with that being said, I find it incredulous that the book was actually read and discussed – and not with a sense of irony reserved for “Snakes On A Plane” – in Silicon Valley. I mean, seriously, folks? The book spends a whole chapter outlining how the author shilled sports supplements on the Internet, and NOW YOU CAN TOO (Billy Mays, RIP). I can understand folks who don’t understand AdWords or A/B testing deriving value from this, but is this what *we* are about? We obsess over whether the new web companies are “dipshit companies” (quoting Arrington here) but take this informercial at face value.
One final caveat: the book was published in 2006, only a year or two after Tom Friedman’s “The World Is Flat”. The ideas on hiring virtual assistants were fresh at the time, and outsourcing was actually a topic that more people cared about at the time. I read this in 2010 when several friends of mine actually have VAs so I found the detailed chapter repetitive and childish.
Bottom line, don’t waste your money. If you really want to read this infomercial, come take my copy. I refuse to send this to the library, have a strict anti-book-burning policy and don’t need paper weights in my line of work.