Disclaimer: It has been years since I took a critical writing class in J-school. Forgive my professors, I alone decided to not bother with all the things they taught me and just write in the same style that I write my blog in. If you disagree with my thoughts, feel free to write your own review of this book.
The most shocking thing about this book is that it was only copyrighted in 2009; as of this writing, only nine years ago. Things in our digital world are changing so fast that What Would Google Do? comes across as quaint.
First off this book is not a history of Google. It is not meant to be a history. This book is Jeff Jarvis' thought experiment as to how things would be if other companies and industries incorporated Google's way of doing things. That is the way Google was doing things back in 2009.
It is striking that when Jarvis wrote this book he, and the rest of us were so positive about what good, which bring people together on a common forum would initiate. After this past year, I found myself laughing with derision at many points put forth in this book. I was well into the book before I thought about writing a review. Once I realized that I was going to, I marked passages that I thought merited some mention.
On page 213, Jarvis writes, "I celebrate the idea that old networks could be eclipsed by new meritocracies." I hate to say it, but at first I thought, "Finally, something that rings true today!" Then I took a second look and realized that I had read mediocrities rather than meritocracies.
On Page 219, Jarvis writes, "I’m not suggesting government should be crowdsourced." That is a good thought Jeff, but it seems that is just what has happened, and it seems to have turned out just as bad as you feared.
On Page 228, in reference to Apple, Jarvis writes, "I’m a believer, a glassy-eyed cultist." I found this particularly funny since I frequently watch Jarvis on TWIT.tv, and have gained the impression that he is now a true believer at the altar of Chrome (i.e. Google).
From time to time I found myself having to stop and think, to try to remember some of the websites and apps, which Jarvis referred to, seeming to think that they would continue over the years to have an impact on people's internet profile. MySpace I can remember, though I was only there briefly before running to the more closed platform of FaceBook. I wonder whatever happened to my Flickr account, or the myriad of other photo sharing sites that came and went. Seesmic came and went without my noticing it.. Though so many of the sites and services Jarvis references as making Google tracks are gone, it is easy, as you read to substitute current social networks to see that it all still makes it easy for anyone to find you and not let you forget about your youthful indiscretions.
On page 232, Jarvis writes, "Facebook such a success: It brought real names and real relationships to the internet. It’s about good friends." This reminds me of when I thought this was true, when I was finding old friends, playing games with them, and enjoying cute photos of their families and pets. That was before intrusion of the "News Feed", and seeing what people liked and shared caused me to be creeped out by my now former friends.
Also on page 232, Jarvis writes, "Our new publicness may make us more empathetic and ultimately forgiving of each others’ and even of public figures’ faults and foibles." Oh, had this only been true! Had I not deleted my past FaceBook posts you could see how even I, who likes to think I am above such things used FaceBook to slam people, who in public did things I didn't agree with.
On page 239, Jarvis reminds us of the Declaration of Independence of Cyberspace by John Perry Barlow. I will leave you to your on thoughts about this video, but only remind you that when Jarvis was writing his book, most of us still believed in the words of John Perry Barlow.
Jarvis quotes Barlow, "We are creating a world where anyone, anywhere may express his or her beliefs, no matter how singular, without fear of being coerced into silence or conformity.” I can't tell you how sad that makes me feel, knowing what potential the internet had before it was taken over by those, who are only interested in silence and forcing people into conformity.
This book is dated, but that doesn't mean that it has no value today. It is a candid view of a small slice of our history. It is well worth a read, to remember a time when we had such great hopes of the internet and social media. Just maybe if just the right person reads Jeff's book, they may come up with a solution to reclaim the future that we geeks dreamed about.