Thursday, May 28, 2009

What Would Google Do?  A book review.

In the preface for "What Would Google Do?"   Jeff Jarvis writes, "This book is about more than Google and its own rules and about more than technology and business.  It's about seeing the world as Google sees it, finding your own new worldview, and seeing differently.  In that sense, this book isn't about Google.  It's a book about you.  It is about your world, how it is changing for you, and what you can gain from that."

For those who seek to better understand how the Internet has wrought great changes in their lives, Jarvis' work is very helpful.   Those who crave a facts and figures detailed history of how Google became "the fastest growing company in the world", should look elsewhere . 

The book is divided into two parts.  The first part explores the rules by which Google operates. For example, "Focus on the user and all else will follow" is a direct quote of Google's corporate philosophy. Chapter one is entitled "Give the customer control and we will use it".  Jarvis intentionally delves deeper in his exploration of Google's operating principles.  So he does much more than simply quote Google's ten rules and explain them.  Chapters explore relationship with customers, the impact of live links on information exchanges, changes in business models, the influence on society, and more.  

The second part of the book, entitled "If Google Ruled the World", explores how various industries and institutions may be impacted by those rules.  Media, Advertising, Retail, Utilities, Manufacturing, Service, Money, Public Welfare, and Public Institutions each merit a chapter.
The Google rules are already causing considerable disruption in media and advertising.  Jarvis gives examples of current events  ( newspaper failures, etc.)  but also looks ahead to how various forms of media must adapt to survive the new regime.  In other arenas, manufacturing or utilities, Jarvis has to report less and forecast more.  

Jarvis weaves together narratives of his personal experience as a customer, a blogger, and a journalist with more traditional feature writing describing events where he had little or no personal involvement.  Jarvis skillfully spins stories.  I found them captivating.  One such story is 
"Dell Hell " .  Jarvis is able to remain humble while telling a story of how the Internet allowed him, a disgruntled customer, to wield great influence.  Jarvis feels free to express his opinion strongly, as when he writes " It is insane to treat Google as the enemy.  Even Yahoo doesn't .."  That makes for entertaining reading, but at times Jarvis comes across as cocksure about highly complex matters.  He redeems himself from time to time with admissions such as "I am a hypocrite.  If I had followed my own wouldn't be reading this book right now, at least not as a book."

Jarvis shares many, many examples of new businesses, new social sites, related books, etc.  Just those references would be enough to justify the book's price for many readers.  I have considerable experience roaming the WWW,  nonetheless, Jarvis was able to surprise me with lots of new links that I will enjoy exploring.

There were a couple of spots where Jarvis struck me as naive, even ignorant.  That may have been inevitable in a light hearted tome with a vast scope.  When he writes "Free is a business model" he is parroting a bit of nonsense that I frequently encounter about the web. Few things are truly free, and certainly not a web constructed of millions of servers connected to billions of user computers through thousands of miles of expensive fiber optic cables.  Many web based business have foundered when confronted with the sad truth that access to the Internet costs money.  More access costs more money.   The fact that an individual's access to the Internet cost less than $50 per month may be misleading.  Access to broadcast television is virtually free, but we pay for that by allowing our eyeballs to be bombarded with commercial messages.  My blog account on blogger had no cost for start up, but I have no doubt that a price will be extracted in some manner over time.  Advertising, archiving fees, and the like will creep in. 
Sorry Jeff, free is NEVER a business model.

Jarvis makes his living manipulating words. I suppose that makes it easy for him to believe that we may all be able to dispense with concrete objects.  So he writes phrases like "Atoms are a drag" or "Nobody wants to be in the business of making stuff anymore".  He taps the words out on a plastic keyboard resting atop a collection of material objects (microprocessors, disk drives, memory chips, light emitting diodes, batteries) that are marvels of achievement in the material world.  Never, ever, take cleverly arranged atoms for granted!

"What Would Google Do" is an entertaining and informative read, loaded with material that a reader can use to do further exploration of the world 2.0.  I highly recommend it.
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