In his latest book, What Would Google Do? Jeff Jarvis seems to have authored a gushing tribute to the search giant that has pledged to do no evil. He paints a very optimistic picture, and shows us over and over how Google has opened up industries, and how that same openness helps consumers like you and I.
Jarvis, if you don’t know him by name, has been a journalist for some time, but gained particular cred and notoriety when he blogged with the headline “Dell lies. Dell Sucks” after his horrible experiences with Dell computers and customer service.
While digging through Googly chapters, on Real Estate, Publishing, Entertainment, Shopping, Education and even Airlines, Jarvis serves up anecdotes on how a more open approach can help these industries adapt to a new business environment brought about by the Internet. He cites interesting examples like Gary Vaynerchuk, the creator of the hilarious and insanely popular winelibrary.tv show about wines, and now a public speaker on social media and brand building; and Brazilian author Paulo Coelho pirating his own works.
Taking the cue from some of these successes Jarvis goes on to propagate the idea that sharing and dishing out services for free is the way to make money. The irony that you have to buy his book for him to tell you that deserves a chuckle, and also raises the question of whether he himself buys all of that (pun inevitable). Indeed openness is great for consumers as most of us would agree. A level playing field increases competition, drives down prices for consumers. But it also drives down profits and margins.
With Google, Jarvis loses teeth
What this book lacked though was an honest assessment of the tremendous potential for abuse that Google has acquired through the course of its growth. We now see that manifesting in the current controversy of Google favoring Google+ posts in search results.
He quotes Google’s Marissa Mayer as saying “Data is apolitical”. Luckily google folks are good at coming up with these great slogans. They can hide behind them all the while they’re muscling search objectivism out of, and ‘social queues’ into search. I really wonder whether this may backfire on them, and not just because they don’t publish all those 200 variables that impact search, but because their strength has always been their algorithms, and how they aren’t biased. How I can get search based on what’s out there, and let me sift it. The more they try to *HELP* me sift, especially without my knowing how they’re helping, the more I become confused at the results, or worse, suspicious of them.
I might argue Google hasn’t necessarily won by openness as Jarvis posits. Rather they’ve won by being first to understand the Internet, and so have been first to market in so many areas that are being heavily disrupted by the new technology. It uses openness as a strategy against incumbents, but uses muscle and monopoly as businesses always have, in areas where it leads.
Aaron Wall put it brilliantly in his SEOBook blog: ” Where Google is losing you can count on them pushing the open label in order to build momentum and destroy the asymmetrical information advantages of existing market leaders. But where Google leads non-transparency is the norm.” Or to borrow a quote from a random comment: “Google is like a ‘friend’ who buys, lets you drink for free but then slips a 5 dollar bill out of your pocket when you aren’t looking.”
I really felt like Jarvis was too much of a Google fanboy. His confidence in Google is pervasive throughout the book, something one would find uncharacteristic of a journalist. Why didn’t he shine the Dell-Sucks laser beam light onto Google? I kept searching for that kind of incisive commentary but I couldn’t find it.
It is for this reason that I prefer Googled, The End of the World as We Know It by Ken Auletta. Auletta offers a more balanced and critical analysis and I don’t think that makes him look like a grandpa who’s afraid of new technology. Auletta’s work and prose just came across as more thoughtful and mature. and while both books have already suffered obsolesence from the day they were released, I know which one I can turn to for a better understanding of Google.
Read Jarvis like you would any article or book — with a healthy dose of skepticism. And perhaps also keep this question in your mind: “What Wouldn’t Google Do?”