What Would Google Do, a review

The Corona virus has forced millions of people to stay indoors. Finally time to read all those books you never had time for. Only in my case it wasn’t a modest and well-organized pile at the corner of my desk but multiple stacks of unread books that have merged into one all-consuming mountain of paper looming in the corner of the room. There are so many books that it is impossible to decide which one to read first. Besides, I don’t even know anymore which books are lurking there underneath the dust and debris. So I closed my eyes, bravely plunged a hand into the pile and pulled out a book at random, fervently hoping that the mountain would not turn into an avalanche.

What Would Google Do?

The title of the excavated book was ‘What Would Google Do?’, written by Jeff Jarvis. This lucky draw is exemplary of how long the mountain of books had been accumulating. The book was published in 2009 and I’ve bought it shortly after it was published, but it ended up on the pile, unopened. 

But now, 11 years later, I’ve finally read it.

You could argue that a book published 11 years ago might be outdated by now. That is true to some extent. Jarvis uses examples like Digg or MySpace in the book, platforms that were booming 12 years ago, but now have become obscure or even non-existent. 

A book about Google could actually be very timely.

But Google is still going strong. Now more than ever due to the pandemic. In these uncertain times we have an unquenchable need for information, and we constantly want to know where we stand. How bad is it in my city, my country? Is there any sign of improvement? Where can I find toilet paper? Amidst the jungle of nonsense and misinformation, Google helps us to find an answer to all these questions. The company has made an SOS Alert for about CoVid-19 and launched a special website google.com/covid19, with the latest news, health- and safety advise, graphs about the virus, and tips and tools to deal with remote work and boredom during a lockdown. 

In times when physical contact is prohibited, Google helps us to find solace in the virtual world. Google -and YouTube- guide these searching souls towards suiting digital content. The platforms help you to find new hobbies like turning your pining Christmas tree into a Bonsai masterpiece, crafting a chandelier from empty beer bottles or learn to juggle with toilet rolls now that humanity is bored out of its wits. And Google helps us to connect virtually. During a worldwide pandemic with millions of people forced to work remotely, Google Hangouts and Google Docs are now used more than ever. 

It is clear that Google hasn’t diminished in the last decade. If anything, it has grown and branched out significantly. It even has its own artificial intelligence project, DeepMind, currently trying to analyze the protein strands of the CoVid-19 virus. You could even say that Google is more influential than ever in due to the Corona crisis. A book about Google could actually be very timely.

How to successfully emerge from the recession

The first conclusion is that the title is somewhat misleading. In contrary to what the title ‘What Would Google Do?’ suggests, the book isn’t about what Google would do. Instead Jarvis describes how the world has changed due to the internet and digital networks, and how he thinks we should profit from it. A better title for the book would have been ‘What Would Jeff Jarvis Do?’.

The book was published shortly after the financial crisis in 2008. 10 years later we are facing another recession due to the effects of the Corona virus. Jarvis starts with stating that it seems like no business other than Google knows how to thrive in the internet era. Will the book still provide useful advice on how to emerge from the new crisis successfully?

The true value of your business is in your network

Some of Jarvis’ insights are still valid. For instance, that the true value of your business is in your network, or that your business should generate means to achieve a goal for the customer and not be a goal in itself. And that we should empower the customer, the most important rule according to Jarvis.

Although Jarvis does share a couple valid insights, they are repetitive and only come from a narrow perspective. The first part of the book is more or less a continuous plea to openly share all our data with the companies and organizations whose services and products we buy, and in the second part Jarvis muses how different branches and organizations would fare if they turned their business into a community so that the customers would willingly give them their data.

Broken record

Apart from the irritating fact that Jarvis increasingly starts to sound like a broken record with all his repetitiveness, there are more ways to Rome than just turning anything and everything into a community where data is shared freely and the CEO’s are devout bloggers.

Google’s innovative strength lies in the field of infrastructure and data analyses. What we can learn from Google is how to create a vital infrastructure, and how to analyze data and distribute information in order to predict and steer behavior. This is something companies and organizations can truly learn from Google. And that is exactly where the book runs short. Instead of focusing on the true innovative power of Google Jarvis goes on about blogs, communities and openly shared data. But businesses aren’t miraculously saved if your customers openly start to share their medical files or recipes for desserts. It is what you do with the data that separates the wheat from the chaff.

Innovation is a synergetic process

Innovation is like stacking bricks. It is a synergetic process in which you build upon the discoveries and inventions of others. Google did just that. It took an existing phenomenon -the internet-, and an existing service -the search engine-, to create something new called Google. If you would do the same thing as Google did, it isn’t innovative, but more importantly, you won’t be as successful as Google because they already have a head start. Sure, some businesses could create a similar business model and generate a handsome revenue, but there is a real probability that your energy is better spent building on Google’s innovations and that of others than copying exactly what they have done. And blindly following the one size fits all solution Jarvis offers in his book isn’t a recipe for success either.

Now would I have said the same if I would have read the book immediately after I’ve bought it? Is my opinion colored because the book was released more than a decade ago? I might be biased, but I don’t think this is the case. Google is still a key player, thus a book about what Google would do could provide us with valuable insights. It could have also given an interesting perspective on how Google developed during the last decade. And even though a book was published years ago, it could still be valuable. Sometimes a book actually gains more recognition over time. ‘The death and life of great American cities’ by Jane Jacobs is such a book. But sadly, ‘What Would Google Do?’ isn’t one of them.

Was it money well spent?

The story about how Jarvis brought the mighty Dell company to its knees is amusing, but in general I am sad to say that there were better ways to have spent my money. And not because the book is outdated, but because it lacks valuable content. If the book had disintegrated underneath my looming mountain of paper, I wouldn’t have missed a thing.

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