Dude, have you read this book yet? Why not? It’s awesome! No, really. Go read it. Right now. I’ll wait.
Done yet? No? Oh, sorry. Yeah, I know, I thought that bit was a little crazy, too, but keep reading. He makes a good case for it.
Done now? Brilliant. Let’s talk about it.
Three Main Points
Jeff Jarvis‘ book is jam-packed full of fantastic ideas and wild new notions about life and business in the Internet age. I considered myself reasonably Internet- and Google-savvy before reading it, and even so, my mind was blown by some of the ideas Jarvis proposes. It’s a whole new way to think about the Internet, particularly for folks in my age group. (Thirtyish, if you must know.)
There are three main points that I took away from reading this book. Okay, well, actually, there are dozens of main points I took away from this book, several of which I’ve already put into practice, but I’m doing this thing for one of my college classes, and my instructor wants three. So:
- Free is a business model.
- Be a platform.
- Small is the new big.
Google has roughly a million excellent products, and by the time you finish reading this sentence, they’ll have added ten more to their beta-testing labs. And they offer all these services to you, free of charge. Despite that, Google makes mad cash every single second of the day.
Jarvis proposes that by following Google’s lead, other businesses can also make mad cash, by giving stuff away for free. Google makes money by offering awesome services for free, asking only in return that you share some information about yourself, via your Internet search habits, so they can serve you ads for things that you might be interested in.
Jarvis states, “Free is impossible to compete against. The most efficient marketplace is a free marketplace. Money gets in the way.”
Consider these examples: Spybot S&D, a free spyware remover, and one of the best in the business. It’s not only my go-to tool for spyware removal, it’s everyone’s. According to WebTrafficSpy.com, Spybot’s main website averages almost thirty thousand visits a day. The folks behind Spybot run their organization on donations and paid upgrades to the programs they offer for free.
Or how about David Wellington, who started by posting his novel in serial format on his website, completely free, and leveraged his popularity into several book deals, and just branched out into comic books.
Or there’s the fascinating movie, The Man From Earth. When the film debuted, it flopped. Then, pirates got a hold of it and uploaded it to different file sharing sites. People watched it for free, loved it, and gave it glowing reviews on sites like Amazon.com, and sales of the movie soared. The producers even thanked pirates for torrenting their film!
The days when businesses could hoard their products and force people to cough up wads of cash for those products are coming to an end. Everything is free somewhere on the Internet. Jarvis’ advice is to embrace this change and leverage it to your advantage, like Google has.
The way Google accomplished this was by being a platform for their users. Jarvis exhorts other businesses to do the same:
A platform enables. It helps others build value. Any company can be a platform. (…) Platforms help users create products, businesses, communities, and networks of their own. If it is open and collaborative, those users may in turn add value to the platforms …
Google has dozens of platforms, for all of its enterprises. In everything Google does, it encourages its users to collaborate, communicate, leave feedback, get involved. When a user becomes involved in a product, they invest emotionally in that product. Once they’re invested, and as long as you continue to treat them well, they become advocates for your platform.
Facebook and Twitter are two examples of platforms, but so are Amazon, a platform for selling goods, iUniverse, a platform for publishing books, and CafePress, a platform for making and selling personalized merchandise. Jarvis suggests that you don’t necessarily need to be an online business to be a platform, either. He points out Home Depot as an example of a real world platform. They help their customers find the right products to build, renovate, and decorate their homes, do carpentry, and lots more, and they even offer free (or very cheap) regular classes and seminars on site to teach their customers how to do various things.
One of the ways you make your platform useful and viable, and attract interest in it, is by catering to the niche market. Jarvis argues that “small is the new big.” He says that, while “big” isn’t going away anytime soon (judging by giant superstores like Walmart, or Google itself), thanks to the Internet, it’s now possible for just about anyone to cheaply start a business catering to a niche market, and succeed.
Consider success stories like Etsy.com, which offers crafters a specialized marketplace from which to sell their goods, or BookMooch, an incredibly popular little website that caters to people who like to read. It’s a free service that acts as a platform for readers to meet each other and trade books they’re done reading. It’s now possible to turn any specialized hobby into an enterprise, and because of the way Google works, the more specific your niche, the better you’ll do.
This is just a sample of some of the theories and ideas Jarvis put into his book. He has a real talent for not only spotting a burgeoning trend, but explaining it easily and in an interesting and entertaining way.
Two Impacts Google Has Had On My Life
I have no graceful segue for this. Moving right along …
My Jim told me once about his idea of “heaven.” He said, back when he was just a kid, he thought Heaven would be a place where all the information and knowledge he could possibly ever want would be instantly available to him. And then he grew up, and there was Google.
I literally do not know what I would do if I didn’t have the Internet. I have, at my fingertips, the sum knowledge of the human race, all thanks to Google. If I want to know something, I only have to ask, and Google will tell me. If I want to know anything, Google can tell me.
For example, awhile back, I needed to do some research on firearms and ammunition, for our book. I went straight to Google, and in mere moments, had everything I needed to know right at my fingertips. Whenever I’m making a post at my website about a controversy or current event, I like to use as many reputable sources as possible, and Google provides them. When I needed to do some product research about what kind of car I wanted to buy, Google helped me out. When it comes to information, Google has my back.
And, as a result, I barely know how a library or encyclopedia works anymore. On the rare occasions I have to look something up in a book, it’s an immensely frustrating process, particularly if the book doesn’t have a decent index. It can take whole minutes to find the page I’m looking for! Migawd, how did we ever manage to cope without Google to tell us everything instantly? Seriously, I can’t even remember the last time I went to a library to look something up. I’m not entirely sure I’d know how.
Do I Agree With Jarvis & WWGD?
Definitely. The world is absolutely, utterly different than it was even five years ago, let alone when I was a kid. Google’s impact has been profound.
If you want to start a free, easy blog, you go to Blogger. If you want to watch some videos, you head to Youtube. Need an RSS aggregater? Google Reader. Need to put a document up for other people to see and use? Google Docs. Want to chat, voice chat, or video chat? Google does all three, right from your gmail account. And speaking of which, hands down, best email account I’ve ever had? Gmail. I never get spam. Need to get somewhere? Google maps.
Is there a single pie in the world Google doesn’t have a finger into?
Google has taken over the advertising world. Google is the best and most popular search engine. Google does everything. With Google, you can do just about anything, for free, and well. Their business transparency and code of ethics has fundamentally changed what we expect to see out of a large business.
By way of comparison, look at Walmart, and everything they do that draws the ire of the public. They’re secretive. They’re unfair to their employees, particularly their female employees. They run small, locally-owned stores out of business. They sell products made with child/slave labor, unrepentantly. They sell a lot of poor quality products.
This is the exact opposite of everything Google does. Google is transparent and open about the vast majority of their business. They follow a largely admirable code of ethics. They spoil their employees rotten. They facilitate the success of small businesses. We love Google. And because we love Google, and the way Google does business, we expect the same behavior out of all the other businesses. When those other big businesses fail to measure up, we make them suffer.
Using Google’s platforms.
Man, we better hope Google sticks with that “Don’t be evil” thing of theirs.
Google’s Effect on Media
Two words for you: advertising and journalism. And the two are even correlated. Because Google has taken over the advertising world, advertising sales for newspapers have dropped. Because newspapers have fewer advertisers, their profits have fallen drastically. (Well, Google had a little help from Craigslist, but still …) Because their profits have fallen, newspapers around the country are downsizing or shutting down completely. And since 94% percent of original reporting comes from newspapers, journalism in general is suffering.
And that’s not to mention all the ad agencies who are suffering, because they can’t keep up with Google’s simple, non-intrusive, permission-based advertising.
But maybe we shouldn’t be quite so hasty in condemning Google for its successes.
Thanks to Google’s free service platforms, anyone can start a newspaper, now. Take Talking Points Memo for an example. TPM started as a blog run by Josh Marshall, and expanded into a great newspaper that operates entirely online. Granted, Marshall didn’t do it with Google, but he could have. And for free.
Newspapers originated as little partisan papers run by guys with an agenda and access to a printing press. The only difference between those original papers and us bloggers is that we don’t need the printing press.
Journalism won’t collapse, but it is going to change, and I think bloggers are going to lead the way. It’ll be completely different, and probably based more in opinion, with obvious agendas and axes to grind, but it’ll be journalism, and it’ll be all over the place. And furthermore, it’ll be interactive, involving video, polls, thriving communities of commenters, collaborators, live chats, live-blogging and tweeting of events, and things we can’t even imagine yet. And since the Internet is everywhere these days, public personalities like politicians, celebrities, corporations, events, and so on, won’t be able to escape the literal legions of “citizen journalists.” Sneer at the term all you want, but it’s the wave of the future.
Surprises in WWGD?
It was less the raw information in What Would Google Do? that surprised me, and more the way Jeff Jarvis knitted it all together and showed me the bigger picture. There wasn’t much in the book I hadn’t at least heard of, but this was the first time I’d encountered all that information stitched together, and considered the implications.
And the implications are profound. We are in the midst of a sea change in our culture, thanks to the Internet, and the way Google does business. Our paradigm is shifting without a clutch (to borrow from Dilbert), and it’s going to strip the gears of our society. Some of the great edifices of the pre-Internet days are going to fail, and spectacularly, and a lot of people will panic as they see that happening. We’re going to hear a whole lot of “The sky is falling! The sky is falling!” from every quarter, but the people screaming it will be the people who couldn’t adapt with the times.
I think the future is going to be absolutely amazing. We won’t even recognize ourselves in ten years.
Jeff Jarvis’ What Would Google Do? is an excellent, entertaining, informative, and eye-opening read. I’ve already been recommending the book to several people. Jarvis puts forth some really fascinating ideas, and offers a lot of suggestions for ways businesses might adapt to this new paradigm. Some of these ideas sound hare-brained at first, but I think Jarvis is on to something. Something big.
Listen, just go get the book and read it. You’ll thank me for it.