I recently finished reading Jeff Jarvis’s What Would Google Do? It’s a well-written, accessible book that offers either 40 or 44 “rules” (it’s hard to distinguish between the examples and the axioms, at times) that Jarvis feels Google has followed in becoming the dominant search and advertising engine it is today.
The book is divided into two primary sections: “Google Rules”, which offers up the 40/44 rules across ten broad categories; and “If Google Ruled the World” (assuming it doesn’t already), where Jarvis describes how media, advertising, retail and seven other industries might reshape themselves to emulate Google and its success.
Although both sections are useful, the first half could have been improved by more carefully differentiating causes (those things that Google does to its benefit) from effects or consequences. The two sections that come closest to offering a clear description of Google’s “rules” are “New Architecture” and “New Ethic”. All of “New Architecture” is on target, as it describes why “the link changes everything”. Its core rules are simple:
- Do what you do best and link to the rest
- Join a network
- Be a platform [most important to the next generation of media]
- Think distributed
Although there are six parts to “New Ethic”, only three (“Make mistakes well”, “Life is a beta” and “Don’t be evil”) rise to the level of rules. The balance of what Jarvis presents may be more aptly seen as consequences of the “new architecture”, not conditions for its development.
I don’t offer this to line-edit a good book. The challenge we all face in the wake of abundance (whether or not it is derived from or inspired by Google) is the need for effective filters. No company can truly “follow” three or four dozen rules, particularly as that firm doubles or quadruples in size.
By offering so many rules, Jarvis dilutes and somewhat randomizes his message. Toward the end of the book, Jarvis has honed his pitch to a handful of themes, but by then the horse is already out of the barn.
Clay Shirky has talked about how media (in an era of scarcity) traditionally followed a model in which we filter, then publish. The emerging model, built in an era of abundance, reverses the equation, in which a lot gets published and then we use really good filters to extract value.
Perhaps because his blog supports and encourages conversational, after-the-fact filtering, Jarvis elected to put everything he could into one fairly broad print bucket. I can’t fault him for the content, but the way it is presented ends up revealing why “filter, then publish” remains a good rule when delivering old media, like books.
In the spirit of full disclosure that the book encourages: I’ve known Jeff Jarvis for 20 years. He hired me to help launch Entertainment Weekly, where he was a demanding, fair and fun boss. We’ve kept in touch sporadically over time.