Book review: What Would Google Do?

Is there a Google way of doing things? How did Google become the company we know? Did the society change its way of consuming? These are the kind of questions that this book tries to answer. Jeff Jarvis, the author, has a blog on which he writes about his book and the issues of the new economy.

The title of the book is a pun with the famous WWJD in the Christian world. It may seems that Google will be replacing God, but it isn’t about that. I was curious about this (that’s a reason why I borrowed the book), but it is more about specific Google actions than about some kind of religious approach. In fact, Google approach is similar to Jesus’s, but perhaps more pragmatic.

Content and opinions

The book is split in two parts: what Google does and what it may be doing in several different industries.

The laws of Google are what steers Google (or at least it what is steered them at some point). Focusing on client needs, decentralizing your industry, this is basically the core of Google. The book describes the implications of this on the client behavior, and on how information flows on the Web: the Dell experience is blatant is that matter. In this part, Jeff Jarvis says that almost everyone can use this approach, but I’m not so sure. Jeff uses the Google approach to money, saying that you can earn enough money through moneytizing your website through advertisement. With the current crisis, I don’t know how this pattern can be applied to everyone. At some point, you will still need a lot of classic webstores for web journals/magazines. The current discussion between News Corp, Google and Microsoft is clear about that: even with the visitors Google provides, News Corp does not make enough money. Well, it also be that News Corp is not embracing change as it should be. I still think that not everyone/every industry (that sells content) can make a living with just moneytizing.

Still, the ideas are very clever and a lot of things can be used for anyone (like giving power to the clients to help you create a better product, warranty service, …)

The second part tackles several industries that may benefit from the Google way. The first and obvious ones are the movies and music ones. Needless to say that their path is currently exactly this opposite, and for the music industry this means far less customers. In France we have the same issues, with these industries trying to keep their customers the wrong way. They alienate us, and this means that we run from them. Indeed, a Google approach is better suited. Although I don’t agree with Jeff Jarvis on the Intellectual Property (the authors must make a living, I’m not talking about the majors and the labels that can make money in different ways), a half-way between the current status and its proposal may lead to a far better place to watch movies and to listen to enjoyable music (it’s not the case at the moment at all).

Books are also an industry that may change, but they are still many pitfalls in the current approach. Jeff Jarvis praises the Amazon model, but for eBooks, I think it is really lame. The price for an eBook is the same as the price for a real book, there are no free updates (this is something an eBook would benefit from, I hate to see one of my books being superseded by a new version) and with DRMs, the market is closed. Jeff Jarvis states that eBooks are great because they can last longer than books. For the moment, thanks to DRMs (and Amazon’s Kindle), I don’t think that an eBook in another format than a pdf can last longer than the life of the Kindle/Nook/… it uses. When the eBook market will be opened, I think the situation will evolve. It’s sad that a firm that is praised by Jeff Jarvis for its Google attitude fails so short in this new market.

There are other chapters for other domains, the one that was the most astonishing is the energy one. The rest is decent IMHO, so I will not speak about them. Google approach to energy is to find a new source of energy (hurrah, but everyone is doing the same). The issue is that Google almost needs an exponential supply, which cannot be. So what does it say? I think the Google way is the right way for the next decade, at least. After that, we will face the end of a Ponzi scheme of some sort with the Google way (moneytizing, network and dillution). Google was the first on this scheme, and it benefits from it. The followers do not earn as much, the next ones even less, … The energy wall might be what will hit Google first: the next energy source is not yet discovered, and to fulfill its need, Google will still have to wait several years, years during which it will use the current supplies (projection says that new energies will account for less than 25% in twenty years IIRC).

Conclusion

Even if I do not share the Google Dream, there are several laws that our old industries have forgotten about. Google has used them extensively, and it is a good thing. We should all do the same, but we also need to step back and have some insight on the Google way. As with every industry, Google has its golden age and it may be now. It will end in some years, and as we listen to this trend now, we will have to stay alert to the new one then.

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