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Bringing Nothing To The Party: Revenge of the Nerds, with roasting

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Book extract In our second extract of Bringing Nothing To The Party, entrepreneurial chancer Paul Carr finds himself enviably ensconced in a swanky Hertfordshire hotel at the pleasure of Google. But will he make it out alive?

The trouble started with one of those emails that you assume must be the result of an administrative error.

Dear Paul,

I’m writing from Google Europe ’06. We’re hosting an event later this year called ‘Zeitgeist’, bringing together some of the top thinkers in the Internet industry to discuss trends...

...blah blah...

...Speakers include David Cameron, Peter Gabriel, Martin Sorrell ... and Google CEO Eric Schmidt...

...blah blah...

I wondered whether you might be interested in either speaking at the event or joining a panel...

...blah...

...hang on...

...what?

It must be a mistake. Why on earth would Google possibly invite me to contribute to an event like that? A former newspaper journalist whose only success to date was bringing together web and print. And they wanted to put me on the same bill as those guys? It just didn’t make any sense.

But at the same time, it sort of did.

A few months earlier, Google had launched a bold initiative to scan the world’s books and to make them searchable online, in the same way as they make websites searchable now. The plan had caused all kinds of outcry from traditional publishers, who claimed that by scanning books the search engine giant was breaching their copyright.

Evidently my experience in the middle of this strange internet and book publishing Venn diagram qualified me to be a speaker at this super-exclusive conference, hosted by the world’s biggest search engine. They were offering to put me up in the country house hotel that was hosting the two-day event. They would even give me a spare ticket for the second day of the event to allow me to bring along a friend. How could I resist?

Annoyingly, a couple of weeks before the event I got a second email. Due to scheduling issues, the email explained, there wasn’t going to be any room on the schedule for me to speak after all. Clearly Google had either found someone who was actually qualified to address such an illustrious audience or they’d realised that they’d invited the wrong person in the first place. My money was on the latter, but – the email went on – to make up for it they’d still be delighted to have me as their guest for the event, and I could still stay in a nice hotel. Although, now that I wasn’t a speaker, I would have to slum it in the hotel down the road with the other attendees – the CEOs of companies who advertised on Google and various other internet bosses. That suited me just fine. Five-star or four, a free shower cap is a free shower cap.

The event was to be hosted at the Grove hotel and spa in Hertfordshire, a venue so exclusive that the hotel’s website offers instructions for arriving by car, train, helicopter and boat (‘by boat: allow eight hours from London’s Regent’s Park’). I opted for the train and then took a minicab from the station.

"I’ll get as close as I can but it’s a bloody circus up there," said the cab driver when I told him where I was going. "What with all the TV cameras camped out."

"Really?" I asked. "TV cameras?" God, this must be an even bigger event than I thought.

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