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Review: What Would Google Do?

July 20, 2009
tags: , , ,

I had a hard time focusing while reading Jeff Jarvis’ What Would Google Do? I found myself reading and re-reading paragraphs because I had gotten distracted.

And that was a good thing.

I wasn’t distracted because the book was boring — I was distracted because my mind was racing around thinking of ways to apply the ideas I was reading to my companies and my own blog. I was distracted because the book was working.

By now, many of the ideas in the book have been circulated, discussed, rehashed and remodeled in cyberspace, as Jarvis intended, and in support of the book’s thesis (you can see some of that discussion at his always-interesting blog). Therefore, I won’t spend too much time summarizing.

The first half of the book outlines the major tenets of a “Googly” company — giving control to (and trusting) your customers, being transparent, making mistakes in the right way, simplifying, etc. The second half of the book shows the results of brainstorming sessions, suggesting ideas for how those tenets could be applied in different industries and institutions — journalism, book publishing, airlines, restaurants, universities, governments.

Jarvis might put a little too much faith into how successful some of those second-half suggestions might be. The mass market isn’t quite dead yet. And some of his suggestions seem like stretches. For example, not seems to me that very few people want to (or have time to) custom-order soft drinks and discuss them with other soft-drink fans. However, to pick at his specific suggestions (in this post, at least) would be to miss the point of that part of the book — there are no wrong ideas in brainstorming. The details can be hashed out later, and some ideas will be discarded or tweaked. But this isn’t really a “how to change your industry” book. It’s a “how to change your thinking” book.

My biggest worry is that Jarvis often seems to misinterpret basic economic concepts. An increased supply of information and decreased barriers to entry do not change the economic definition of “scarcity” — resources, even ones not dragged down by “atoms,” will always be limited in some way. What Jarvis calls “scarcity” actually isn’t. Moving from a near-monopolistic model (e.g. newspaper classifieds) to a competitive one (e.g. Internet classifieds, Craigslist) does not “challenge” the law of supply and demand – in fact, it puts it into practice. Most people won’t be bothered by these little things. They don’t change the value of Jarvis’ core principles or even the validity of his conclusions. It worries me, though, that people are repeating things like “post-scarcity economy” — to me, it demonstrates a lack of understanding.

But if that — basically the content of a few short pages — is my biggest complaint, you had better believe that I would recommend that you read this book. There are some exciting ideas in here. More importantly, there are exciting ways at arriving at new ideas.

And rest assured, Google would never advocate wearing an ugly bracelet emblazoned with an acronym.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. July 20, 2009 4:13 pm

    Thanks for the kind words.

    Yes, I’ve had biz school people point a finger at me and say, “I won’t have you rewriting the law of supply and demand!” I don’t think I am. Maybe I could express it better. But I think the best illustration of the mindset of abundance over scarcity, in Google terms, is that when they created search advertising, they could have charged what the market would bear for a scarcity of space (that is, the number of people in a day who search on “camcorder). But they didn’t. They charged on performance – clicks – and thus were motivated to start AdSense – to create an abundance of possible advertising around camcorders, finding the most targeted and most relevant to get the most clicks for the advertisers. In media still, we are selling scarcity – only so many banners, eyeballs, minutes, visits. Abundance is their enemy because it lowers prices. For Google, abundance is its friend because it creates relevance. That’s what I mean by a post-scarcity economy: getting past the idea that the only way to make money is to control a scarce asset. Online, where there’s never a shortage of knowledge (and pages and bits….), that’s a losing proposition.

  2. Natalie DeBruin permalink*
    July 20, 2009 7:32 pm

    Yes, I think we’re just discussing semantics. I might be a little too attached to my economics terms …

    Thanks so much for your comment!

  3. rp johnson permalink
    July 27, 2009 9:47 pm

    OK, I give up. What does “WWJO” stand for? And, aren’t acronyms also supposed to be pronounceable? How do you pronounce “WWJO”?

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