Derek Sivers
What Would Google Do? - by Jeff Jarvis

What Would Google Do? - by Jeff Jarvis

ISBN: 0061709719
Date read: 2009-03-05
How strongly I recommend it: 4/10
(See my list of 360+ books, for more.)

Go to the Amazon page for details and reviews.

Great think-piece about lessons learned from Google's approach to things, and how they might approach different industries like airlines, real estate, education, etc.

my notes


The mass market is dead, replaced by the mass of niches.

We have shifted from an economy based on scarcity to one based on abundance. The control of products or distribution will no longer guarantee a premium and a profit.

Enabling customers to collaborate with you - in creating, distributing, marketing, and supporting products - is what creates a premium in today's market.

The most successful enterprises today are networks - which extract as little value as possible so they can grow as big as possible - and the platforms on which those networks are built.

Owning pipelines, people, products, or even intellectual property is no longer the key to success. Openness is.

Yahoo and AOL are already has-beens. They operate under the old rules. They control content and distribution and think they can own customers, relationships, and attention. They create destinations and have the hubris to think customers should come to them. They spend a huge portion of their revenue on marketing to get those people there and work hard to keep them there.

Give the people control, and we will use it. Don't, and you will lose us. That is the essential rule.

As a business owner, respond to people. Don't rely on an intern or PR company to make the search and contact. Do it yourself. Be yourself. Find someone who has a problem. Find out more about the problem by engaging in conversation. Solve it. Learn from it. Then tell people what you learned. You might have had such exchanges over the years via letters, phone calls, and underlings. But now the conversation will occur in public, as will your education.

As with free speech itself, what we say isn't as important as the system that enables us to say it. That system requires that everything about you, your product, your business, and your message, has a place online with a permanent address so people can search and find you, then point to you, respond to you, and even distribute what you have to say.


Do what you do best and link to the rest. The link forces specialization. The specialization fosters collaboration. Specialization creates a demand for quality.

Explosive web companies don't charge what the market will bear - they charge as little as they can bear.

Today's "Web 2.0" method for growth is to forgo paying for marketing and instead create something so great that users distribute it.

Networks are built atop platforms. A platform enables. It helps build value. If it is open and collaborative, those users may in turn add value to the platforms.

Facebook didn't translate its own Spanish and German versions: it created a platform for translation and handed the task to its users, who did the work for free.

USERS: "Can I use your platform to build my own business?" The correct answer is yes.

How can you act as a platform?
What can others build on top of it?
How can you add value?
How little value can you extract?
How big can the network atop your platform grow?
How can the platform get better learning from users?
How can you create open standards so even competitors will use and contribute to the network, and you get a share of the value?


Monitor search queries. If users are asking questions, write articles with those answers. Keeping an eye on search terms is a preemptive reader survey.

Publicness is a key attribute of successful business. We now live and do business is glass houses (and offices).

Take actions in public so people can see what you do and react to it, make suggestions, and tell their friends.

Customer service is the new marketing.


You don't start communities. Communities already exist. They're already doing what they want to do. The question you should ask is how you can help them do that better. Bring them elegant organization.

The key to all platforms is to enable others to use the tool as they wish.

Look at the communities around you. Have you enabled them...
to talk?
to share what they know and need to know?
to support each other?
to do business together?
to socialize?

Be careful. Don't assume these people care about you or think of themselves as members of your community. Don't think that you can create a community. They're not yours.


Umar Haque's blog has influenced Chris Anderson and me. He says media 2.0's three sources of value creation are:
- revelation (finding the good stuff)
- aggregation (distribution 2.0)
- plasticity (enabling content to be extended like mashups)

Release information bottlenecks and make things more liquid.

Stop trying to make money by interfering in transactions.

What if your goods cost you nothing?
What if you charged nothing?
Where does your value exist?
What is the essence of your business?
What can you learn from it?
How do you make money - is there a side door?

The internet is a great big race to free. Anyone who has built a business model with a price above free for something that can be free is in a tough strategic position. So how do you get to free first?


The more you control, the less you will be trusted. The more you hand over control, the more trust you will earn.

The powerful must learn to trust the public.

We still need editors, curators, teachers to find and nurture the best.

Traditionalists suggest we throw out the internet baby with the bathwater. One nasty comment, one hoax, and they try to use that to discredit the entirety of a service as a whole.

Corrections enhance credibility. Standing up and admitting your errors makes you more believable. It gives your audience faith that you will right your future wrongs.

The worst mistake is to act as if you don't make mistakes.

Blog about your plans and decisions. Join in human conversations with customers. Ask people what you should do.

Your competitive advantage is not that your designs are secret, but that you have a strong relationship with your community of customers.

Companies should be meritocracies.

Speed is a strategic necessity. Adjust to customers' actions and desires quickly. Learn from them and stay ahead of them.

Holding back products and popping them out as surprises insults your customers (unless you're Apple). The earlier they're involved with the process, the better.

Beware any strategy built on protection from cannibalization, for it probably means the cannibals are at the door and ready to eat you for lunch.

Cash flow can blind you to the strategic necessity of change, though decisions, and innovation.

Approach innovation in that order: first find the problem, then create the solution. Beware the cool idea.

Design is about more than aesthetics. Design is an ethic. Design is the path by which you interact with your public. Magazines, clothes, and cars aren't the only things that are designed. Companies are designed. Services are designed. Rules are designed.
The simpler and clearer the design, the better. To be simple is to be direct. To be direct is to be honest.

If you make a great platform, the worst thing you could do is to put yourself in the middle, getting in the way of what people want to do with it.

Make something useful. Help people use it. Then get out of the way.


Decide what business you're in.

A huge new business of being analog in a digital world: like therapy.

What if papers handed over much of their work to Google? Why not outsource distribution, technology, and a good share of ad sales to Google as a platform so the paper can concentrate on its real job: Journalism.

In the link economy, it no longer pays to sell copies of content when the original is just a link and a click away.

The link economy makes five demands:
- produce unique content with clear value
- open up so the world can find you
- when you get links and audience, exploit them (often through advertising)
- use links to find new efficiencies (Do what you do best & link to the rest.)
- create value atop this link layer: curation, infrastructure, advertising networks.

See how the world is disrupted and find opportunity in it.

The best way to exploit the legacy value of a paper is to use its old-media megaphone to promote and build what comes next.

Cannibalize thyself. Convincing your audience to move to the future is better than following them there after they have discovered other sources of news.

What doesn't the public assign us? Gather assignments. This turns the relationship between journalist and public on its head. The public is now the boss.

Reaching deeper into communities, having more of an impact, and adding more value.

Revision3 TV: inviting viewers to submit their own pilots.


Marketers' ultimate goal should be to eliminate advertising by improving their products and relationships instead. (This is an unreachable Nirvana, but a good goal.)

Google - and Apple - make money by giving a key part of their business away for free, then making money on something else.

Too often, companies think that everything they do has value they must capture, charge for, monetize, preserve, restrict, and protect. Instead, the real value may come from the side.

Invest effort in social tools that enable customers to tell you what you should be producing. Hand over as much control to them as you can.

Advertising is supposed to tell us about a product or its price so we can save effort, time, and money in our search for it. Doesn't the internet itself replace advertising? Often, yes.

The fundamental message of marketing must change from "we want your money" to "we share your interests".

Companies should buy ads on relevant blogs, as a way to underwrite blogs, as they would a PBS show. Share the interests and affections of the blog's readers.


Imagine a restaurant run on openness and data. The menu shows exactly how many people had ordered each dish. Survey diners at the end of the meal.

The more layers of data you have, the more you learn, the more useful your advice can be. You could show what dishes are popular with runners!

Open-source the restaurant. Put recipes online, and invite the public to make suggestions.

MANUFACTURING: See Threadless,, Zazzle, Threadbanger,


If you must explain your value, it's not as great as you think.

I'd start a company that does nothing but help market homes in the open internet, creating listings on Craigslist, taking pictures and making videos, making web pages for the homes, making sure those pages show up in searches, even buying ads on Google. You can do this for free using Picasa, YouTube, Google Maps aerial view, and lists of local restaurants using Yelp. Home sellers can add links to their own favorite hangouts, best grocery stores, and add tips about where the kids can play. You can sell not just the property but the experience, the lifestyle, the community. It won't be long before you can introduce buyers to our neighbors, linking to their blogs or Facebook. Many homeowners wouldn't want to do this themselves, so there's a business opportunity to help. I'd sell these services and options for flat fees, not a percentage of sale price.

Start a company that offers concierge services to schedule and escort would-be buyers. Buyers could pay the consierge to chauffeur them from home to home. Sellers could pay the consierge to hold open-houses (& make the place presentable). See lcoal home-tour bloggers emerge, taking tours, taking pictures, and treating new homes on the market as news. I'd read it and buy ads there. lists all kinds of data around addresses. organizes local blog posts around locations. CleverCommute provides a real picture of traffic headaches. All this open data beats the agent telling you that every neighborhood is wonderful and every house has potential.


See Fred Wilson, partner at Union Square Ventures in NYC: His blog is

Venture capital's goal is to find talented people with good ideas, and to give them the resources they need to execute those ideas. If I were a venture capitalist I'd figure out how to build a platform for entrepreneurship. Consider being a matchmaker connecting investors and start-ups directly, trying not to get too much in the way.

Learning from lots of data is the pillar of Google-think.


Decentralized. Self-organized. Not just DIY, but DIO (Do It Ourselves).


When we embark on learning, we often don't know what we don't know. The teacher still has a role and value: to craft a syllabus to guide your understanding. When it's clear what you want to learn, it's possible for a student to use books, videos, or experimentation to teach himself. connects teachers with students.

We join to learn and teach together, sometimes handling the teaching duties to the best student on a given subject. Peer-to-peer education works well online as we can see in language-learning services such as where teachers in one language become students in another, and where anyone in its gift economy can critique and help any student. It's a learning network.

See The Berlin School of Creative Leadership (where I serve on the advisory board).

PR and LAWYERS: hopeless.

PR: They can't be transparent. They have clients. It should be the job of PR advisers to convince clients that it's in their interest to be transparent and honest. PR turned upside-down: rather than representing and spinning the client to the world, they remind the client that the world is watching. Help get companies into this groove.

Volunteers could publish simple, clear, and free explanations of laws and legal documents online. All it takes is one generous lawyer to ruin the game for a thousand of them.


What is the internet, then? Libertarian? The internet champions and enables personal liberty.

The internet not as left, right, or libertarian bus as the connection machine that brings together any and all worldviews.

The internet doesn't make us more creative. Instead, it enables what we create to be seen, heard, and used. It enables every creator to find a public.

That takes creation out of the proprietary hands of the supposed creative class. Curmudgeons argue that they rob the creative class of its financial support and exclusivity: its pedestal.

The internet lets us find people who like what we do.

The internet kills the mass: mass economics and mass media.

Curmudgeons argue that it's flooded with crap. Only the playing field is flat. To stand out, one must rise on worth - as is defined by the public, rather than the priests - and the reward is attention.

We want to create and we want to be generous with our creations. We will get the attention we deserve. That means crap will be ignored. It just depends on your definition of crap.