by Martin Veitch

Book review: What Would Google Do?

May 13, 20093 mins
IT StrategyMobile AppsTelecommunications Industry

If you want to make Bill Gates angry, a good tactic is to praise Google to the skies, lauding the firm for reinventing life, the universe and everything. In a 2005 interview with CNet, he was dismissive of the hype about the firm, saying: “Google, because they are in the honeymoon phase, people think that they do all things at all times in all ways. You do me-too Google Talk, and it’s a big deal. We had our honeymoon phase, and it was fun from 1985 to 1995. And we’ve had lots of competitors in their honeymoon phase. But this is the biggest honeymoon I’ve ever seen.” With its stock having plunged, revenue growth slowing, awkward concerns over data retention policies and the closure of several projects, many people would see the Google honeymoon as being officially over. Many of us just think that it is a remarkable company that is now going through the usual growing pains and is forced into the usual compromises. For others, however, Google remains the north star of information technology, the company that helped create a vast new industry, wrote its own rulebook and became a paragon of how to treat employees and customers with the ethics they deserve. The academic and blogger Jeff Jarvis remains firmly in this last camp and has written a book that asks the reader to empathise with Google and seeing the world through the G-men’s spectacles. As he 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 isn’t a book 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. It’s hard to name an industry or institution – advertisers, airlines, retailers, auto makers, auto dealers, consumer-products brands, computer companies, fashion designers, telephone companies, cable operators, political candidates, government leaders, university educators – that should not be asking: What would Google do?” In a sense, this book is a kissing cousin to John Batelle’s The Search, a work that was widely read for clues to the secrets of Google’s success. However, Jarvis has gone further, seeing Google as an exemplar of how to conduct business and even a set of rules on to how to live. One example provided is close to home for Jarvis. The author first came to many people’s attention for the online storm he created when reporting his dismal experience of Dell’s customer support. As he writes in this book, Dell was smart enough to use this brouhaha as platform to remodel its service delivery and to use many Google-like tricks, including blogging itself and launching sites that would let readers suggest products, to build community. Not all of his other examples are so compelling, however, and some appear to praise what many of us would view as worrying trends in web usage. For instance, the story of how Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg was able to pass an art exam with next to no effort by pasting up images and inviting classmates to add comments is as cringe-making as it is (I hope) implausible. But this book is a powerful argument for ways in which the second coming of the internet stands to disintermediate many businesses, agencies and modes of communication.