Excerpt from a James Gleick review of several recent books about Google
How thoroughly and how radically Google has already transformed the information economy has not been well understood. The merchandise of the information economy is not information; it is attention. These commodities have an inverse relationship. When information is cheap, attention becomes expensive. Attention is what we, the users, give to Google, and our attention is what Google sells—concentrated, focused, and crystallized.
Google’s business is not search but advertising. More than 96 percent of its $29 billion in revenue last year came directly from advertising, and most of the rest came from advertising-related services. Google makes more from advertising than all the nation’s newspapers combined. It’s worth understanding precisely how this works. Levy chronicles the development of the advertising engine: a “fantastic achievement in building a money machine from the virtual smoke and mirrors of the Internet.” In The Googlization of Everything (and Why We Should Worry), a book that can be read as a sober and admonitory companion, Siva Vaidhyanathan, a media scholar at the University of Virginia, puts it this way: “We are not Google’s customers: we are its product. We—our fancies, fetishes, predilections, and preferences—are what Google sells to advertisers.”
Also see a similar multi-book review/essay, “Google Wants You to Think It Is Virtuous: A New Argument About the World's Most Powerful Company,” by Evgeny Morozov (The New Republic subscription required for full access, at least as of 20110729)