Actually, it’s quite boring. I won’t be buying any shares in Google because I never buy shares in anything. The only businesses I’ve owned shares in are my own. This probably explains why I wasn’t on Concorde’s final flight last week.
Anyway, Google is now such a household word that you can barely pick out the news about the IPO from the casual mentions of the brand everywhere. Try searching for ‘google’ at The Guardian, for instance.
This is an extraordinary brand, crossing over from weird, stripped-down, geek phenomenon to mainstream consumer fixture in three years.
Zoe Williams Googles herself. An unnamed correspondent in The Times scrabbles for laughs with Google’s translation services. Tom Reilly celebrates Googlewhacking in The Observer (Hey, I’ve got one of those, sort of).
People have a skewed, idealised image of Google. Businesses, once they’ve achieved a certain size, look for a stock market listing. That’s how capitalism works. Listed businesses get access to larger amounts of (cheaper) capital than private ones. They use it to build boring, mainstream businesses and these businesses create jobs and boost economies. The idea that Google might have avoided going public is a product of the twisted Internet imagination. A privately held Google could never really change the world. The obvious risks from exposure to the great unwashed are inevitably outweighed by the growth that access to all that fresh capital will produce. There is a reason why important businesses are listed on stock markets and Google – unconventional image notwithstanding – can’t ignore this.
Homework: make a list of very large privately owned companies (Bertelsmann?). Now make a list of really important privately owned companies – ones that can move cultures and economies over the long term (clue: there aren’t any). Google, like any proper business, consciously and unconsciously longs for influence, notoriety, longevity, scale – all of which flow from a stock market listing much more easily than from a nice, quiet, private life out of the mainstream.