Reading: “What Would Google Do?” (part 1)

We’re preparing to jump into Innovation Week: Next Tuesday I’ll outline the details of the Knight News Challenge project, and we’ll take some time to toss around some initial ideas; then Thursday we’ll delve more fully into the principles and practices of news innovators (and, I hope, hear from one of them in class).

3125936268_715b3ac5d3To get you thinking like an innovator, an entrepreneur, like one who can recognize the new rules and opportunities of the digitized media field, let’s learn from one of the best: Google. Jeff Jarvis’ book “What Would Google Do?” attempts to reverse-engineer the company to unpack the elements of its success. As we read this book over the next couple of weeks (beginning with pages 1-69 for Tuesday), I want you to approach this with an eye toward your own project—the one you’re thinking of pitching to the News Challenge. How can this book help you? How might it change your thinking? Which of these principles (these “Google rules”) are important for your pitch?

I have one other piece I’d like to read. It comes from MediaShift, and describes the need for journalism students to have business and entrepreneurial skills—in addition to the core journalistic skills that are the foundation.

As usual, post your comments for discussion in our next class. Have a great weekend!

p.s. For outside observers: I should note that we’re not reading WWGD just because Jeff Jarvis gave this course a glowing endorsement last week. Seriously, we were planning this long ago. Honest!

18 Responses to “Reading: “What Would Google Do?” (part 1)”

  1. 1 Cassandra H September 28, 2009 at 1:01 am

    What Would Google Do has definitely had an impact in my thinking for the innovation project. A great take-a-way that I got from this reading is to not be afraid of my audience—they ultimately are my critics but also are my saviors because they will help me make the innovation better. When he was discussing his “Dell sucks” series of blogs he really drove something home for me—once the Internet has entered our lives and our work goes out into the abyss—you have to do everything you can so they can find you. You have to change your thinking to make sure you diversify in citing you ideas in links and sharing.

    Another key idea that I got from the book is to not think in a small-minded way—always look at the big picture—“be a platform.” When people start to take notice with the innovation, they are going to want it to be personalize it, fit it to their needs. Therefore from the very beginning, you have to think in terms of openness and making sure other people can add to your product and it be easily accessible to do so. As per the Google rules: Customers are the ones in charge, we need to be open and allow those customers to collaborate as to how we can all make the innovation better.

    Lastly, I need to make sure that the innovation is simple with “elegant organization.” Once you get people in the door and let them add to your project, they have to be able to do it with great ease. The last thing I want my innovation to be is a convoluted hot mess. I had fear of this happening because when you get excited about something, you just get so many different ideas to add to it, but that just gets messy. I feel like this book has definitely put me in the right mind set to start brainstorming.

  2. 2 billbowmanut September 28, 2009 at 1:50 pm

    I thought the reading was excellent and gave me not necessarily a new perspective on the current state of the media and economy, but a clarified and more accurate one. Several things that Jeff Jarvis said made me mark it on the page as I was reading.

    I think Seth touched on the idea of “Do what you do best and link to the rest” in class. I think this is an important point. From my own work experience, I have seen that attempting to do everything or try to emulate others in areas will most certainly fail. If you are successful at something, stick to it and get so good, that your product or content will be distributed. Since everyone can do something good, having a collaborative environment for journalism is all the more appealing.

    Jarvis went on to discuss the concept of creating networks and platforms for users and not simply attempting to create content on your own. Google has successfully created these platforms and it has led to a “functional symbiosis” between Google and other users and websites. The idea of creating a platform for users to create an “elegant organization” of content is potent when dealing with new journalism. It has been touched on by some sites but the model is continually being refined.

    Another interesting point that Jarvis made was detailing how companies should focus on users and not money, since money follows users. I think that is crucial to the success of facebook, Google etc. If a journalism open-source type model could be created to attract intelligent users, I think it could be a force to reckon with. I hope to develop a viable model with those aspects for the Knight Challenge.

  3. 3 jwhitcomb September 28, 2009 at 3:18 pm

    First of all I thought “What Would Google Do?” was filled with so much valuable information. Everything was well organized and synthesized so it was easy to comprehend and apply. One of the most valuable points I thought Jarvis made was about content being simple. I think this is helpful for understanding journalism in the future but also for our Knight Challenge. When I had thought about what I wanted to work on prior to reading the book, I had a lot of really complicated ideas. I think Jarvis makes it clear, though, that with “elegant organization” simplicity may actually yield a better product in the end. I like the idea that “organization is a business model.”

    I also think Jarvis’ point “life is public, so is business” was really important to the development of journalism, etc. Jarvis says “The more public you are, the easier it is to be found, the more opportunities you have.” I think this directly applies to what we were talking about when we discussed openness and credibility in class. This idea of being public being a good and helpful thing for business can be directly applied to journalism and translate in credibility and transparency.

    I’m excited to read the rest of the book – I think it will really help with organizing ideas for the Challenge.

  4. 4 brandonfried September 28, 2009 at 4:18 pm

    I also really enjoyed the Jarvis reading. His points were easy to understand and presented in a very concise manner. I especially loved the opening and his story about ‘Dell Hell’. I didn’t know he was actually ‘responsible’ for tipping Dell towards it’s current approach to consumer relations but the inclusion of his actual blog posts provided a great perspective.

    The main points of the selected reading that stuck out to me were his ideas of ‘being a platform’ and the importance of ‘thinking distributed’. He of course reiterates the point that businesses, and of course [news] organizations, need to remain public. As he says, they have to keep themselves searchable and readily available to their consumers/customers/readers/viewers/etc. The Google maps/mashup story was really great and serves as an excellent example for how successful organizations use transparency to their full advantage.

    I feel like the majority of this part of the book was really a lesson on doing great PR in the web 2.0 age – a relatively easy lesson anyone should consider. But I was really intrigued as I tried to apply his ideas to the situation facing news organizations. It’s shocking that more organizations aren’t really thinking this way – yet, at least. Perhaps the big companies and papers are on their way but it all sounds so easy when Jarvis presents like he does.

    I’m really eager to put his ideas to use. I consider myself a pretty aggressive and involved consumer and working lots of PR jobs has taught me how to listen to communities. But now, I feel like this Innovation Project will really give me a chance to correct the deficiencies I see when consuming the news online and hopefully improve the experience for others like me.

  5. 5 Grant September 28, 2009 at 5:47 pm

    Probably the most important lesson that I took away from the beginning of WWGD is that being personable online really goes a long way. I knew this to be true in direct conversation, but not online. Since I knew that anything put online could be viewed by anyone in the world. I have, in the past tried to make sure that all content that I put online sounded very professional and straightforward. I have consistently tried to make my writing sound as if it were coming from a far more experience writer than myself. This isn’t necessarily bad, as it was good practice. But after blogging for a bit and reading the “Dell Hell” section of WWGD, I realized that this is not always the optimal way to connect with an audience. Sometimes it really is far more effective to speak as if I were talking directly to one person, or a small group as opposed to writing as if I were writing a term paper at all times.

    This is especially important when writing for online because of the dynamics of online conversations. Being open not only enhances the experience for the user, but makes a lot less work for the producer. For example I could make a blog post that is read by x number of people. If one person replies with a question, I can respond directly to that persons question and then post both his or her question and my response after my original post and I will have answered that question for all other readers with the same question. If I were writing for print, I would probably have to re-word both the question and response so that it will make sense to all those reading the response who do not have readily available the original article to which the question references. Likewise, that same person could post that same question and one of my other readers may reply with an answer before I have even noticed the question. By fostering this dynamic types of discussion, I not only make my writing more meaningful to my readers, but my readers can also help me make my content more meaningful to them as well.

  6. 6 msherfield September 28, 2009 at 5:51 pm

    As expected from previous Jeff Jarvis readings, What Would Google Do? was filled with very useful observations and analysis of the new world order established by the internet. In Google, we see a company that has done all the right things to reach and connect people at the lowest price they could bare, namely free, instead of the highest the market could. That is probably the most important distinction I found in the book, because it is in many ways indicative of the current problems faced by companies not yet aware of this new ethos and a good example of the openness mandated by the internet.
    Other big points to take from the reading from my perspective were about the listening and using your audience/customers. It’s something that the journalism industry as a whole does not do, often insulating itself behind inner-industry awards and the general negligence of the comment section, which is still mostly “look but don’t touch”, a la Dell.
    Instead, we are in a place where communication between producers and consumers is in itself valuable and an integral part of the new process. We must be willing to make mistakes, admit we were wrong, ask for help and improve, all very publicly, which scares the hell out of most of us.
    The final point that stood out was Jarvis’ description of our current state as the “abundance economy” as opposed to one based on scarcity. As he says, this is in many ways a reversal of our entire economic paradigm, based on supply and demand, placing value on those things that are rare. Now we find ourselves in a position of abundance, when it comes to information at least, and value no longer lies in controlling it, but in sharing it.

  7. 7 Tiffany Tso September 28, 2009 at 6:55 pm

    Like most people at least made a mention of, I like that this book, or at least the beginning, is very heavily centered toward the P.R. and Marketing side of the internet business. First off, it is very interesting to see the little bit of insight behind Google and the big internet companies and their mindsets, etc. Second, it is very important to read and learn about this aspect behind multimedia ventures as well — rather than what we have previously been learning about. There is only so far that fake, idealistic business plans and talking about functions of the internet will take us. We need some concrete business goals and ways of running a business that have been proved successful.

    Some of the do’s and dont’s prove to be sort of obvious, but the “Dell Hell” rings the most true. Not that I would ever venture to have a huge computing company, but it really should be applicable to any sort of business concerning people that one opens up. It is sort of just common sense at this point, but needs pointing out — good customer relations (and all related to) is necessary for a successful business. It is like going back to working at the retail store. You are an image of your brand / company and you should be able to represent it well. People remember how they are treated by companies and it affects the way they are perceived and purchased in the future.

  8. 8 Adam Aldrete September 28, 2009 at 7:18 pm

    The Jarvis reading has been much more enjoyable then I believed it would be. I already have my uncle (a business consultant) reading it!
    One of the most important points Jarvis makes is the value of networking. Through networking, individuals and companies broaden their audience with minimal effort. One common way to network with other businesses, bloggers, and people is to post links. This simple action allows users to quickly delve deeper into a given post or product. From a journalistic standpoint, linking can help to verify facts and provide supplemental information for readers who want more.
    In addition to linking, Jarvis’ observation that Google allows itself to “be a platform” is something I have attempted to recreate on my own blog. One of the tabs I created, titled “Your News”, allows readers to suggest topics for news coverage. It is similar to a tip line with the exception that after the initial request, readers can continue to participate in the development of the story through comments and questions. I would like to ensure that for my project, readers have the ability to participate in the news making process. After all, journalists should cover those things that interest the public.
    The end of the reading discusses how “small is the new big.” I like this concept (and thoroughly despise Wal-Mart). It empowers the small niches of folks in a way that businesses creating scarcity cannot. The new “open-source, gift economy” encourages collaboration, and ultimately creates better product, which in turn creates a happier group of consumers for companies like Google to make money from.

  9. 9 Lonny.A September 28, 2009 at 7:28 pm

    Like Seth said, this was a pretty easy read. Although I didn’t learn anything profoundly new, it was interesting to see what goes on behind of scenes of social platforms.

    My favorite part throughout the read was the example of when Zuckerberg created a website study guide for his art class and ended up as a class doing better than previous years. It further proves what the book was saying, that better outcomes come through communities. This to me was the main point, along with the ideas of creating a platform and giving the control back to the consumers.

    After reading the book and looking at this clip,
    -and I know it’s just a parody- but I feel like we’ve gotten to a point where is it even possible to successfully one-up Twitter? It’s concise and shoots out messages every second of the day. It’s allowed communities to come together just like that. And the parody clearly showed that attempting to make Twitter more compact just isn’t going to do it.

    Over all, WWGD is interesting, but it left me feeling a bit overwhelmed. I just can’t imagine myself thinking the way all those guys do.

  10. 10 Katherine Robinson September 28, 2009 at 7:45 pm

    I really enjoyed the first reading from “What Would Google Do?” Jeff Jarvis’ book is very helpful with how to get problems solved by simply expressing ones bitterness to a company. The book was simple to follow and all of Jarvis’ ideas were well organized. Jarvis’ book gave me ideas on understanding how blogs have a bigger influence on society. If a customer is not satisfied with something, instead of keeping the issue to oneself brag to the world until the problem is solved. This book, did help me focus on my innovation could incorporate to help journalism.

    The Google Rule that I found most important was, “your customers are you ad agency.” When a product is good to the public, they best way for it to spread is by word of mouth. Since the internet is worldwide, gossip can spread like as if it were a virus. The internet can do a lot of damage to sales or a reputation (i.e-Dell after Jarvis’s blog).

    Reading the MediaShift article really got me thinking about my goals after graduation. Over the last few years, journalism has shifted for everyone. That’s exactly why I agree that journalism students should have some interest in business. Why doesn’t UT offer a course about incorporating entrepreneurial skills to journalism students? We’re all aware that many newspapers aren’t hiring as many people as they use to, but if a journalism graduate could begin a blog with profitable advertisers, they could certainly work for themselves. UT offers so many courses that we’re required to take for graduation, but a course like the one Jeff Jarvis’ teaches in New York would most likely be as successful.

  11. 11 timgarlitz September 28, 2009 at 8:04 pm

    According to WWGD, the Google platform of “openness” is what has set it apart from the other old media models where the company attempted to control traffic and content within its internet space. As far as potential news models go, any news model that hopes to be successful will have to incorporate an “openness” policy and allow its customers to form their own communities. Forcing them to conform to your website’s standards or restrictions will only send them elsewhere. Any future news agency must also be willing to engage and listen to their customers or readers. Instead of creating a niche and trying to herd customers into that niche, companies need to listen to what their readers suggest and then act accordingly. Like Jarvis outlines in the first chapter, the news companies must first create a dialogue by finding people on blogs (or Twitter or some other social medium) who have a complaint or dissatisfaction with a particular service, and then try to address the problem firsthand.

    Perhaps most importantly, web-runners must make their system Google-friendly. By all accounts, playing ball with Google and allowing your site to be transparent and cooperative will be the most effective way to increase traffic to your site. Providing a serviceable amount of links for those who require more information is also crucial to an upstart companies’ survival. If your links are substantial and valid, it will ensure that readers keep returning to their point of origin: your site. I also liked the Zuckerberg terminology of “elegant organization” that stems from allowing people online to be themselves and equipping them with the right tools to achieve their ideal community. There were two main areas that I’m still don’t quite understand: the Googlejuice spam problem that was mentioned on p. 43, and what exactly Google does that makes it light years ahead of Yahoo.

    On a sidenote, I work at a certain coffee company where I’ve noticed what happens when a company doesn’t listen to its customer feedback or the feedback of its employees. There have been a few instances where the company has done well by incorporating suggestions into the store’s makeup, and it goes out of its way to express solidarity with its customers and employees by calling them “partners.” But more often than not, I feel like they completely ignore the mass of people that routinely ask for more simplicity, while they continue to introduce new media, new products, and new perks to drive new business. Rather than focusing on the business that they are already getting and catering to customers and employees who like fewer menu items and fewer foreign smells (many customers have complained that they can no longer smell the coffee aroma upon entering the store), the company seems intent on trying to pull in new converts with fringe items that quickly dissipate in popularity. But I digress.

  12. 12 James September 28, 2009 at 8:27 pm

    I enjoyed this read and it left me contemplating just how much of an impact the Google model has had on the status quo of so many things: businesses, institutions, government, etc. The three parts of the book that most left me with this impression were “Join a network,” “Be a platform,” and “Small is the new big.”

    The “Join a network” portion pointed out how industries and institutions tend to view the Internet as a vehicle that they have control over. Jarvis then writes, “The once-powerful approach the internet with dread when they realize they cannot control it.” This made me realize no one company owns or can own the internet and that, instead, companies would be in a much better position if they did what Google has done: created open networks. Google’s understanding of network externality has enable them to grow to gigantic size by being open, this has in turn allowed them to make a killing off of their clickable ad strategy.

    The “Be a platform” part of the book got the innovation cogs turning in my head. I like the discussion about Google maps and how it has become a platform for mashups all over the web. I have used Google maps for all kinds of cool stuff and I am amazed at its ease of use. I used it to create a map for my little brother’s trip to Europe; complete with rich info about each place he was stopping. I used it to map out a jogging trail on Town Lake and included pictures of landmarks along the way. And more recently I used it for my internship to map out newspaper locations in Texas; this came along with answers of a questionnaire that we sent out to the papers. In short, it has a ton of uses. This portion of the book made me realize that a good start-up will be able to built off of, and will be relatively simple to interact with.

    And lastly, “Small is the new big” made me consider the possibilities that are out there for so many niche companies. This portion raised the idea that the Internet has given everyone the ability to follow their passion, and make money off of it if they have talent and are willing to put in hard work. Still, I wonder how many people will be able to undertake such a task. Here I’m specifically thinking journalistic sites. Many of the bloggers that Jarvis writes about are skilled journalists, journalists that have acquired their skill over many years of experience. I just wonder how many students fresh out of college will be able match this level of writing when they are not trained in other news environments? Maybe Mark Potts’ comments in the book answer this question: “Perhaps the only way to succeed at being small is to be a part of something big: a network.” For young journalists maybe a large network could be created where we pool together our ideas and create from there?

  13. 13 Leigh. September 28, 2009 at 9:04 pm

    As echoed by most of my classmates, I liked the reading although much of it seemed familiar — either due to in-class discussion or the fact that much of it was fairly common sense. Also, was this book endorsed by Google? Seriously, best publicity ever.

    Anyway, overall I found the book to be a useful read for tailoring my interests in what areas I might be interested in exploring in the Knight News Challenge.

    In particular, I really liked the parts about developing a web identity and developing your own niche. Jarvis’ emphasis on the power of the link, while it seems pretty intuitive, actually made me really think more about the value of developing your role on the internet into specialized outlets.

    I also really like the idea of “small is the new big,” and of creating these specialized, community-like networks within the giant abyss that is the internet. When you break down and compartmentalize the web into these smaller projects, it makes the whole concept of “new media” and “web 2.0” seem much less daunting.

    It’s interesting how not having a “web identity” isn’t an option for the modern journalist anymore. In a way it’s a little scary that so much is dependent on the Internet and the power of institutions that really have no face behind them. Sometimes when Jarvis would refer to Google, it seemed like he was calling the website a person, which was kind of bizarre but really drove home the point that we really do live in a time where you have to exist on the internet or else, well, your presence really isn’t heard.

  14. 14 Erin Harris September 28, 2009 at 9:14 pm

    Jeff Jarvis knows what he’s talking about, and he knows how to articulate things in such a way that developers, entrepreneurs, businessmen, what have you, can understand and put to work his advice. He’s interesting, knowledgeable, and his information is very useful.

    If you read my consulting project part 2 blog post, you’ll notice that in the last paragraph I talk about the site I’m interested in developing. I specifically say, “My site will have a goal that every member is striving to achieve; therefore I will build a community…”

    After reading the first few chapters of Jeff Jarvis’ “What Would Google Do?”, I now know I’m totally nuts for thinking I’m going to build a community. These days, in the virtual world, communities don’t form around brands or websites. Communities already exist, and new media should find a way to facilitate communication and organization. I now understand that my goal should be “elegant organization” rather than building a community. I will hand over as much control as I can. My goal will be to make it easier for these communities to continue to do what they’ve been doing. I’m simply a median, not a manager.

  15. 15 Samantha Borger September 28, 2009 at 9:30 pm

    So far WWGD is a very interesting read. We’ve kind of heard the basics of Jarvis’ ideas through many of his blog posts, but I really like the examples he gives in the book to illustrate his theories.

    I think overall, and I feel like I say this a lot in my comments, Jarvis’ book is reiterating to importance of relationships. Relationships between the company and the consumer; relationships between companies; and relationships between consumers. Facebook worked not because it created relationships—they already existed. Facebook works because it created that “elegant organization.” It eased the coming together of people: it was effortless. Google creates a relationship with its consumers that makes them feel ownership. Same with Wikipedia. By providing platforms and letting consumers run wild with them, both parties benefit from the traffic on their sites. By becoming more interested in their relationship with their customers Dell was able to completely turn their customer service image around. I like the idea of the relationship, and of the community and how success builds from these ideas.

    This whole dynamic then leads other companies to realize they must play Google’s game as well. They must create content on their sites that is “google-ready,” or search engine ready. monitors search engine queries to see how people word their questions to find certain answers so they can tailor their site to pop up as one of the first results on Google. Companies have to understand that Google values them as they get more and more popular, and it’s a vicious cycle in which Google also helps them become more popular. The main lesson in the end: don’t work against Google, instead find a way to work in a mutually beneficial relationship.

  16. 16 austintries5 September 28, 2009 at 9:36 pm

    Like everyone else, I found Jarvis’ reading as an easy read, but very insightful on using the Internet as a business model. I think an important aspect for a business is realizing that their audience is just as important and that they need to be included in decisions and other news. The beauty and appeal of Google is their open platform and willingness to hear from their users on content. I think this is evident in the books ideas of your worst customer being your best friend as well as being transparent and allowing the audience to be a part of content and decision-making. For news industries to survive in the future they have to make their audience a part of the process through blogs and other networks like Twitter. This is a big theme in my ideas for the Knight news Challenge. The idea of “linking to all the rest,” is also a major part of the user involvement.

    I think the MediaShfit article hits on a very important point because many people do not look at journalism with a business mindset and with intentions on creating something new and innovative. I remember my dad always saying that no matter what I did, I had to sell myself and convince people I could do the job. This is the nature of journalism today and journalists have to approach it as a proprietor position by writing a blog, shooting video and developing an audience or customer base that will follow them. By understanding business, journalists can understand the future and how to make money in a shrinking profession.

  17. 17 frankie marin September 29, 2009 at 12:29 am

    I really, really enjoyed this reading for serveral reasons.

    Firstly, it affirms something I’ve always thought regarding the new era of business sensibility– “Customers are now in charge. They can be heard around the globe and have an impact on huge institutions in an instant.” It’s amazing to think that we hold so much power now in this two-way conduit of customer-business interaction. The Dell Hell chapter was especially amazing for how provactively it shows the weight one pissed-off blogger can hold against an entire company.

    An aside: there’s something I’ve always wondered about Google’s profitability (i.e. Adsense/DoubleClick) — how does Google gain profit from these ads when (I would think) consumers avoid ads in the first place? Am I wrong? Does the typical consumer click on those text-based ads that I abhor for their intrusion on Google’s deliciously minimal design and because I’m wary of the spyware/malware that you risk infecting your computer with when you click on a dubious Web site?

    I found Jarvis’ comments on how Google becomes smarter over time through consumer-based interaction very intriguing. I’m reminded of this game (not sure if it’s still up) where you have to label photos for Google in a “match” against someone else also playing the game. For instance, if you’re shown a pink balloon, you’d tag the photo “pink”, “balloon”, “rubber”, “helium” — the more accurate/comparable tags you feed the photo against your competitor, the more points you win. At the same time, you’re helping Google, which is outsourcing a dull/mundane task to the world in the form of a relatively fun, online game.

    I found the “linking” chapter a little strange — it asserts that bloggers/writers can network conversations, such as in the “conversations” among blogs in the days following 9/11, but how does Google fit into all of this? Yahoo or AskJeeves could have been the search engine that was conducive to distributing links, right? I feel like I’m missing a big point here, but I’ll think about it a little more.

    Zuckerberg’s anecdote about acing the art exam demonstrated the power of ‘elegant organization’ really well. Another aside: I feel guilty that he achieved more at 22 than I could hope to aspire to by that age. But it was really thought-provoking, his philosophy: communities already exist and have been collaborating for hundreds of years — elegant organization (e.g. Facebook, blogs, Twitter) brings them together and helps them do their thing better.

    There’s much more to say, but I’ll cut it off here.

  1. 1 Twitter Trackbacks for Reading: “What Would Google Do?” (part 1) « The Future of Journalism [] on Trackback on September 25, 2009 at 9:09 am

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September 2009

What I'm reading

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