Answers are free

The fascinating and terrifying tale of upstart Google.

Some folk say they can vividly remember what they were doing when John Lennon was killed. I remember the moment my former business partner, Grieg Buckley—now head of the Internet Marketing Bureau—shouted the ten feet across our ten-by-eight-foot office: ‘ … check it out!”

I was fascinated. Like so many others I waited, conditioned by the Yahoo/portal experience, for the rest of the page to load. A white page with a whimsical logo at the top and a search box in the middle defied convention.

It was a defining moment, to the extent that now I can’t imagine a day without Google. It’s more than a search engine: Google also hosts my blog at, videos on YouTube, Gmail, satellite photos at Google Maps, stats at Google Analytics and so on—all without charging me a cent.

What Would Google Do? is a fascinating book that examines the nature of Google’s business—how it’s become such a monumentally successful and all-pervasive organisation by giving so much for free. Author Jeff Jarvis looks to deconstruct Google’s strategies and behaviour on the premise that it’s a beacon for other businesses, and that Google has made real the adage from the mid-nineties: “The web changes everything”.

Jarvis’ style is personal. He embeds himself into the conversation, which sometimes reads like a blog. Much of the thesis of the book seems familiar; several years ago Chris Locke’sGonzo Marketing (Buy@Fishpond) touched many of the points it makes. But that said, if you work in advertising, publishing, retail, banking … okay, just about anything (we’re talking about omniscient Google after all) … you’ll find this book fascinating and terrifying by turns, depending on whether your glass is half full or ‘Did you mean: half empty?’