What Would Google Do? - Book Review

If Google is so successful, shouldn't you be doing what they do? If you follow their philosophy, then you can be successful, too.

This book, by blogger Jeff Jarvis, is a collection of Google fanboy thoughts on how to do business in the internet age, using Google, and other high tech companies, as a model. The rules have changed. The old way of doing things no longer applies. We're entering a brave new world where the internet will bring about a tech-led utopia.

Haven't we heard all this before?

Indeed, we have. We heard this before the last 2.0 tech crash. And the tech crash before that. When you look at the burn rate of internet start-ups, it doesn't look like a tech utopia, so much as a train wreck. The landscape is littered with bodies, wasted venture capital, and broken dreams. Many of these companies followed the "new rules of engagement", demonstrating that following new models, like the Google model, is far from a guarantee of success.

I'm not quite sure where to start with this book. Someone who is new to internet culture should find it illuminating, as Jarvis pontificates on state of the internet, circa 2009. Unfortunately, the book is a rambling, curricular collection of thoughts, some of which I find highly dubious. For example, Jarvis pontificates that "Free is a business model".


Perhaps it's a case of semantics, but "Free" is not a business model. Free is a loss leader tactic. Free gets people hooked in so the ticket can be clicked somewhere else, just like Google does with Adwords. The obvious irony is that Jarvis isn't giving his book away for free. He's not publishing it online. He defaults to a traditional, old world, fee-based business model facilitated by middlemen - the book.

Funny, that.

Jarvis outlines the "Google Rules" you should follow in this brave new world, which include:

  • The customer is always right
  • Be a platform others can build upon
  • Middlemen Are Doomed
  • Be Transparent (Google are transparent?!?)
  • Small is the new big
  • The middleman is dead
  • Don't sell things, stuff sucks (Kinda hard to drive a non-car, though)

You get the idea. I doubt the audience of this blog will find anything particularly new in this book as it is a mishmash of various ideas that have been floating around for years. I found myself skipping through it. Whilst yawning.

Curiously, SEO is discussed. I'm pleased to note Jarvis doesn't pour scorn SEO, rather he shows how newspapers, and About.com, used SEO to make themselves more useful. He even outlines a basic SEO strategy. So pat yourselves on the back, SEOs. It looks like after all these years, commentators outside the SEO industry are starting to appreciate the value you provide.

It doesn't look like Google had anything whatsoever to do with this book. In fact, this book isn't really about Google. It's more about Jarvis and his personal observations of the state of the internet. The book's major downfall, besides being unnecessarily pompous and condescending, is that it misses the mark. The Google model can't be applied elsewhere and get the same results. It is a model that suits Google, but Google is a product of its own unique environment.

I also disagree with some of his predictions. He thinks the salesperson's days are numbered. Uh-huh. So we're all going to order from the internet, just like we didn't order our stuff from mail order catalogs? Salespeople will persist while people like to do business with people.

He also thinks middlemen won't last. Middlemen often create efficiency, aggregation and add value. Isn't Google a massive middleman, getting in between users and content, and adding value by making finding content a more efficient process?

Really, the rules of business online are very similar to the rules of business 100 years ago. We still need to give people what they want, at a price they can afford, and we need to deliver it at a lower cost than we sell it for. Free is an ideology, it's not a business.

I'm guessing the next big thing on the internet won't model itself after Google. It will do things quite differently, and few people will see it coming, based on their experience of the existing "rules". Did anyone see Google coming? Facebook? Yahoo? EBay? By the time people saw those companies coming, those companies were already entrenched.

They did so by doing things differently than what had been done before. The question isn't so much "What would Google do?". The question is "What Is Everyone Else - including Javis - Missing"?

Published: June 24, 2009 by A Reader in book reviews


June 23, 2009 - 10:57pm

Thanks for reviewing the book. Pretty much as I expected it might be, so I am glad I resisted the temptation to order it.

June 23, 2009 - 11:00pm

>>>It's more about Jarvis and his personal observations of the state of the internet. ...unnecessarily pompous and condescending, is that it misses the mark.<<<

Pretty much sums up what I think of Jarvis!

June 24, 2009 - 12:19am

What a useless book to the average small business. I can write better advice in a single sentence:

Find a demand, and create a supply for it that's good value and of a quality that people are satisfied with to the point they recommend your service/product to others.

Trust me, it's worked in the past, works today, and will work in the future.

June 24, 2009 - 2:59am

I swear, I enjoy and appreciate this blog more and more every passing month; I get some of the best wisdom from these posts, even about life in general, more than just the internet.

I know nothing of this book, but it sounds like another book sold to the wannabe copy cats so people like Jarvis can make some money.

Where there are guppies, there will be sharks - such is life.

But very good point about what has been successful on the internet so far (and with life in general). Novelty is rewarded in the end.

Ultimately, if you are trying to copy what has been done successfully, you are lacking one of the most important characteristics of that successful model - being the first. Once it's already happened, the landscape is never exactly the same.

And you can't learn how to think independently or creatively from a book; it's just a fact of life. Isn't there something ironic about learning how to be original by studying someone's business model?

June 24, 2009 - 6:20am

another book sold to the wannabe copy cats so people like Jarvis can make some money.

Such books are typically sales letters for overpriced consulting services.

And you can't learn how to think independently or creatively from a book; it's just a fact of life.

Anything that challenges your view of the world changes the way you think. There are lots of great books on critical thinking, history + linguistics, and even being creative that can give you key insights and help change your view of the world & the way you think, but such books typically have historical references and tell you to do much more than follow the leader. ;)

June 24, 2009 - 3:39am

Google will move along at it's own pace. It has the bull by the horns so to speak. Question is how do we (SEO people) set a pace that's in tune with Google?

My opinion, we carve out a smaller track within Google's Preakness. Where we're able to run along side, but perhaps not cover as much ground.

At the center of our tracks, we have our business models. For those of us who can no longer be considered a startup nor a breakout success, we'll have to continue honing the adaptability and evolution of our unique business models to keep from being squeezed out.

The truth behind 'freedom' the Author speaks of (although I've not read the book, nor plan to) could be misinterperted due to the pomposity refered to.

I would agree with using the term 'free' freely. In the end if you're able to work from home, support & work with your family, extended family and continue to learn what moves you're endeavors forward because SEO and Google happened then 'free' is the only keyword.

June 24, 2009 - 3:40am

Agree wholeheartedly. I see too many people claiming far too much and promising even more.

I also enjoyed the "whilst yawning" commentary, I found myself skimming the review based on the guys ideas - like the death of salespeople.

June 24, 2009 - 5:04am

I just saw this book in Barnes and Noble...

The book asked:

What Would Google Do?

And I answered to myself:

Google would promote scams, promote reverse billing fraud, promote stealing of other people's content, and then wrap it in cute PR, like Doodle 4 Google and say Do No Evil as much as possible.

I could write a more useful book by scraping Aaron's content and then promoting it with adwords (sorry, had to say that) :p

June 24, 2009 - 11:24am

I am sure that there are a number of people that will drink this utter crap right up. Web 2.0 really annoyed me, stick a name on a concept/set of principles that have been around for years and suddenly evangelists are jumping up and down talking about the coming of the next messiah.

Podcasts were new and sexy despite the fact that people had been streaming mp3s for years.

Free is a business model for failures. Aaron has already put this far more succinctly in saying that by giving your users information and whatever you are willing to for free they become more interested in your paid products and services. So where is the free in that? How can anyone hope to make any money with a free business model :/

Sounds like another irritating web 2.0 asshat.

June 24, 2009 - 3:55pm

Is it me or do MOST marketing, business, management, or sales books read the same? Most of what I come across seems recycled/reworded--same, same, same. Perhaps I should write a book "referencing" or "summarizing" everything I've already read and liked--and call myself a consultant. :)

While I haven't skimmed, read, or seen the Jarvis book, I'm not impressed by the "Jarvis outlines the 'Google Rules'..." list revealed above--seems I've seen that list before. :)

On a final note, the 'death of the salesman' is as likely as the 'death of taxes'--never going to happen. As long as there's money and greed, there will always be a politician--oops...a salesman. And for the record, yours truly (Mr. Skeptic) actually bought something from a door-to-door salesman yesterday...I hate when that happens. :)

June 26, 2009 - 3:11am

Extremely well said, Peter.

I think it was in The Knack - by journalist Bo Burlingham but also by real entrepreneur Norm Brodsky - that these kinds of hagiographies were mocked. Rightly so, as you show.

September 25, 2009 - 2:40pm

It appears that you are involved in the SEO industry and took What Would Google Do (WWGD)as a threat. WWGD clearly defined the new business model of doing business in the Internet age. Your rant as it relates to free has missed the point. Free to the customer is a huge business model, simply look at NBC, CBS, FOX or any radio station. That poor free model seems to work.

Your RANT makes it look as if you are entrenched in doing business as usual.

September 25, 2009 - 5:59pm

Hehehehe...nice flames there stanefm1. Have you counted the number of mainstream media businesses going into bankruptcy (or nearing it) recently? Pretty soon (as senior bond holders) JP Morgan Chase and Goldman Sachs are going to own THOUSANDS of media assets:

One wonders why Goldman and JPM were so eager to provide "rescue" financings to virtually the entire distressed media space: both companies knew too well that sooner or later they would end up with full equity control over essentially the most coveted industry: thousands of TV stations, radio channels, newspaper and magazines. If you thought the media propaganda was unbearable now, just wait.

The fact is this site is more forward looking than most the mainstream media websites are. We not only have far lower overhead (and share tons of free content + software) but we also have greater subscription revenues than many online newspaper websites do...all with an editorial staff of 2. :)

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