Saturday, March 21, 2009

What Would Google Do?

This is the title of a new book by Jeff Jarvis that provides a good overview of how the web has changed the ways in which companies and organizations operate. If you have ignored all the hype about the Web 2.0 and are just curious about how people are thinking about developments in search, social networking, sharing free content, engaging with the public and so forth, this would be a good book to get a thoughtful summary of this thinking.

Here are Jarvis' basic themes that define the ways in which Google and other web savvy companies and institutions will succeed in the years to come:

Customers are now in charge. He suggests that organizations will need to organize the delivery of products and information in ways that meet customer needs. Obviously, this basic idea has always been true, Jarvis asserts that the we are going to have to be even more quick to be responsive to customer demands.

People can find each other anywhere and coalesce around you-- or against you. Organizations that are good at engaging the public around their ideas, products and people are going to be more successful than those who fail at this. He provides important examples of how customers also can organize against companies that fail to respond to problems. It is no longer an idle threat to say, "I am going to tell a few million of my closest friends about how horrible your product or service is?"

The mass market is dead, replaced by the market of mass niches. Alot of commentators have made this point in the last several years (see Chris Anderson, The Long Tail). Some good examples of this idea are Amazon (lots of small book sellers and lots of obscure books) and the Huffington Post (lots of excellent writers/commentators in one place.)

Markets are conversations. This idea was first offered in The Cluetrain Manifesto and extended in Naked Conversations. There are good examples of this idea in this book, but this is still a fuzzy idea. Ok, so I get the idea of talking to customers. What do I really need to talk about? What are the important conversations? And who is really the "customer?" There are lots of customers and lots of topics. How do you find the right conversation? This is much easier said than done.

We have shifted from an economy based on scarcity to one based on abundance. This idea has a variety of implications. How do you manage too much information? How do help people manage and organize lots of ideas and options? Another question related to this situation is what value do you add when everyone can find any product, service or idea a click away?

Enabling customers to collaborate with you-- in creating, distributing, marketing and supporting products-- is what is creates a premium in today's market. This idea is an elaboration of the marketing as conversation and customers are now in charge.

The most successful enterprises today are networks and the platforms on which those networks are built. Today this means Facebook.... tomorrow this means....?

Owning pipelines, people, products, or even intellectual property is no longer the key to success. Openness is. This may be both the most important idea and the most troublesome. Note that Jarvis does not say that pipelines, products or people are "valueless," only that "openness" is the key to success. He notes however that Google does not practice this value in much of its operation. This is a complicated idea. What needs to be open? In what ways is it valuable to be open?

This book provides a good basis for an extended discussion of many important ideas that will shape business, education, media, government and much more. We are only at the beginning of understanding how to think, work and act in this world.

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