What Would Google Do? – Jeff Jarvis

By | September 12, 2013

The first printed edition of What Would Google Do? appeared at the beginning of 2009. Quite early? Rather late? It depends on the perspective. One thing’s certain, though: it had a great impact on the ways in which the online and the offline are connected and are bound to interact.

By means of relevant examples and convincing arguments, Jarvis proposes a veritable manifesto: What if the basic principles that guide Google would be applied in fields of activity such as real estate, offline advertising, industrial production, public relations, services or even politics and education? In other words, what if Google could be transposed in the offline world?

The very title of the book is generous enough to potentially create some confusion, both in the mind of the “educated” reader, and in that of anyone for whom Google is just a search engine and nothing more. All things considered, though, Google is one of the fastest growing companies of all times and, even if it’s not necessarily a synonym for the Internet in its entirety (not yet, anyway), it truly deserved this kind of an “ode”.

It might just happen that the Google example could soon become a viable catalyst for the success of businesses everywhere – both online, and, more interestingly, offline. However (apparently) surprising, Jarvis’s idea seems feasible: the principles behind Google’s evolution- potential instruments and means of development for the more “traditional” fields of economic, social, cultural and even political life.

Here are some of the ideas Jarvis puts forth. Thought-provoking, to say the least.

  • In the so-called “Google era”, focusing on niche markets is key. Put differently, we are now witnessing (and have been for quite some time) the decline of mass production. A decline that is not only very visible, but also immediate and, most probably, irrevocable. The target-audience is no longer a vast group of people, sharing similar needs or interests. Prospects are now (more than ever) individuals in need of custom services and products. Providers need to show potential clients that what they do is for each and every one of them individually, and this is done by means of specialization and quality. Providers work for the customers, not for profit. The former understand and respect individuality, offering control over the latter’s decisions. They demonstrate it and base their entire evolution in the business world on the importance of the end users’ opinions, focusing on feedback-driven innovation.
  • Providers also facilitate the organization of communities of interest. This kind of communities already exist, they are not created. Provided these communities only need a sort of nucleus to take shape, all that’s left to do is choose the correct trajectory in positioning in relation to them.
  • Branding and brand consolidation are built on trust, which, in turn, results from communication. The main objective of any provider should be to convey a message of openness: enjoy appreciations and, at the same time, admit mistakes and attempt to repair them. More often than not, the feedback that is received might even offer solutions. Just like that: feasible, cost-free solutions, coming directly from those interested in a brand/ service/ product. “Public relations are the new marketing.” Or, in other words, marketing is no longer a unidirectional flow. It is imperative to listen to the target-audience. “Power to the consumers!”
  • “The link changes the structure of industries”, “it changes any business or institution.” Search results and Hyperlinks open new doors: we can find anything and contact anyone, regardless of our physical location. And this is paramount for our times.

OK, but what does Google have to do with any of this? Well, first of all, links work because of Google. Secondly, Google facilitates communication. It is basically a means to make our voice heard, and, in this context, the fact that we can express opinions easily has become somewhat more important than what it is we’re actually saying.

This freedom and the illusion of control motivates us (individuals, companies, institutions, industries) to go further. Google offers alternatives and the freedom of choice. Google helps us organize ourselves around a mutual interest, a shared idea or a similar need. Moreover, it provides control on the manner in which we decide to take action or express ourselves. “This is the great promise and power of the Google era: DIO (Do It Ourselves).” And – why not admit it? – from a certain point of view, Google contributes to defining our identity.

We are now witnessing the democratization of knowledge. Until recently, “all roads led to Rome. Now, all roads start from Google.” After all, one primary objective behind Google is – grosso modo – organizing (most of the) available information throughout the world.  Is this good? Is it bad?

But, more importantly: Is Google taking over the offline world too?

Well, if anything, this is an ongoing process (and not yet reality), so this answer holds no clear-cut answer. Jarvis himself offers a rather elusive answer. However, he makes clear that this is something that’s bound to happen. So, no definitive proposition, but a sort of normative approach, which stipulates that the Google example should be applied to the offline world as well. Why? It’s actually really simple and quite commonsensical (to a certain extent): Google has worked and still works so well in its own environment, that it raises the question: Would it work as well in fields of activity that are “traditionally” offline?

Jarvis’s book has been characterized as “part prophecy, part thought experiement, part manifesto and part survival guide”. There must be at least some truth in these words. After all, this is a book that is written in simple language (not simplistic, though), providing concrete examples and argumented business illustrations, which only needed to be expressed. That is all. This is the 2.0 era, rapidly pacing towards the next one. Why not apply the lessons we learned online… offline? It’s all about familiarizing ourselves with certain aspects that have the potential to help us grow our business, communicate more efficiently, better the qualite of the services we offer, be closer to those who share our preferences or objective – in a word, to re-invent ourselves, in order to face the challenges that are taking place all around us anyway. And all this is available to us with minimum effort.

Power to the consumer. Whether clients, customers, voters, prospects, students, readers, tax payers – let them define and improve what you have to offer. Leave your brand/ image/ service/ product/ institution in their hands, and they will repay you. Because not only will they have a sense of belonging, but your brand/ image/ service/ product/ institution will also be theirs. And it’s OK if you sometimes make mistakes. Google teaches us to learn from our own mistakes – thanks to the beta concept. So, let your audience help you… help them!

All things considered, What Would Google Do? turns out not to be a book about Google at all, but rather a prediction. Hopefully, this short review answers some of the questions you didn’t even know you had and raises some others. It is a controversial topic (to say the least), but as contemporary as ever.


Jeff Jarvis is a media and news blogger, university professor, editor, media consultant and public speaker. His blog, buzzmachine.com, is among the most influential blogs in the world.

What Would Google Do? is available for purchase here.

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