Reading media blogger Jeff Jarvis‘s book, ‘What Would Google Do?‘ is very interesting and full of great anecdotes, human-level stories and aspirational ideas for technology – but I can’t help feeling the book is a little miss-named; I would suggest that it would have been more accurate to call it ‘What Would p2p Do?‘. (I mean p2p in the broader sense) Why? Because much of the book looks at the contrast of old ways vs. new ways of doing things, it’s just the the new ways Jeff describes often have more to do with p2p than Google. Google is there, but more as an entity that captures the data of the new way rather than representing the new way itself.
For example take the chapter on banking and insurance entitled, ‘Money: Google Capital/First Bank of Google’, Jeff talks about peer-lending and micro-finance and shared insurance as the new way, as methods of removing the middle-men from the process and of connecting people directly to people for co-financing. This is clearly a p2p model and not what Google does. In the section on insurance he confesses the he didn’t think this area could be more ‘Googley’, (his term for ‘being like Google’) but on his blog he’d thrown open the topic to the crowd (his peers) to see what they thought, and the peer-group came back with ideas for new ways of doing insurance – such as peer-insurance.
Another example is the media section of the book; where Jeff talks about peer-journalism, about how the wisdom of the swarm can be harnessed to assist in suggesting, building, fact-checking and ultimately promoting the story. (These ideas that Jeff is great with remind me of the fact that myself and my colleague Ana did a few articles for the media section of The Independent, including one on Wikis we generated much more information than would fit in the final article. We were all for adding the ‘source’ data in some kind of a link to this article so others could use/remix plus use the research we’d done for other articles in this peer-journalism method. Sadly it didn’t happen…but I digress).
Also in the book there is the oft cited Craiglist as a means of connecting peers and letting them get on with it. Craiglist is a classic peer-generated system; the wealth comes from the mass of users and their effort, and founder Craig Newmark knows this; and Jeff documents its method as success well, however it’s a peer process and so a peer method that is being espoused.
Jeff is an open and enthusiastic writer and the book is a good read and whistles though topics leaving lots of interesting trails to be explored in depth at a later date. I would critique the deeper idea of some of the ideas (as in: it’s p2p, not Google, that is really emerging) so for example; if we are going to re-think what a Bank actually is under the Googley microscope; why not re-think money itself? The deeper questions the book raises are ones of structure.