WWGD? on BusinessWeek’s cover

I am thrilled to say that What Would Google Do? is the cover story on BusinessWeek on the newsstand with an excerpt about the Googley car company.

But wait! There’s more!
* Here’s another excerpt at BusinessWeek.com about Googley government.
* Here’s a summary of some of the top laws and lessons from observing Google’s success.
* Here’s a nice slideshow the BW editors made contrasting old ways and Google ways.
* Here’s a podcast with BW’s John Byrne.

But wait! Buy now and you get this free video with BW’s Peter Elstrom:

Here’s a snippet of the Googlemobile excerpt (as today’s 30 days of WWGD?):

* * *

What if just one model from one brand were opened up to collaborative design? I don’t suggest that design should be a democracy. But shouldn’t design at least be a conversation? Designers can put their ideas on the Web. Customers can make suggestions and discuss them. Designers can take the best ideas and adapt them, giving credit where it is due. I don’t imagine customers would collaborate on transmission design—though a few might have good suggestions if given a chance. But they would have a lot to contribute on the passenger compartment, the look of the car, the features, and the options. They could even get involved in economic decisions: Would you be willing to give up power windows if it got you a lower price or a nicer radio? This collaboration would invest customers in the product. It would build excitement. It would get the product talked about on the Web and linked to and boost its popularity in Google searches. The approach could change the relationship of customers to the brand and that would change the brand itself. Imagine that, the collaborative community car: our car.

A car company could take an existing brand and work with the community that already exists around it. Go to Facebook and you’ll find communities of greater or lesser involvement and affection devoted to many car brands. I stopped counting the Facebook groups for BMW when I hit 500—including the “If the BMW M5 was a woman I would marry it” group, with more than 800 members. The online gatherings site Meetup has six clubs where people organize get-togethers for drives in their Beemers. BMW also has an official car club offering 75,000 members rebates on cars and discounts on Brooks Brothers clothes. (Do they see the demographic humor in that?) These are the company’s best customers—its partners. BMW should solicit their help in designing cars, in giving advice to fellow customers (there’s a little of that in the club forums), even in selling cars.

On Facebook, BMW invited customers to color pictures of its car. It’s hard to imagine something more children’s museum-like than a company enticing adults to color cars. But more than 9,000 people submitted their designs in only a few days. What that tells me is not just that they love their BMWs but that they would love BMWs that look different—BMWs that express their muses as well as their libidos.

What an opportunity the industry has to bring humanity and personality back to cars. If so many of us like to express ourselves in blogs, YouTube videos, Facebook, Bebo, MySpace, and Flickr—if, as Google understands, many of us want to have a strong identity online through self-expression—why wouldn’t we want to express ourselves through our cars? Companies have turned their products into commodities by imposing such sameness on them. I know, it’s about efficiency: four models built under four brands on the same body with the same parts, making them cheaper. But the joy of customizing our own cars was taken away by factory efficiencies and dealer economics: We buy off the lot, not out of the factory, and we buy cars that are often loaded, like cable subscriptions, with things we don’t want.


: And more: Here’s a Q&A with me by Dave Kansas at The Daily Beast.

: A kind reader told me that this story on WWGD? took up a whole page in today’s Volkskrant.

  • http://Wir-sprechen-Online.com Gerrit Eicker

    Wow, that’s great. Grats!

    Received my copy yesterday. Enjoyed the first pages.

    BTW: “The mass market is dead, replaced by the mass of niches” might get contradicted by your book itself, doesn’t it? ;)

    Smile! Gerrit – We speak Online.

  • http://www.newmedici.com Adrian Sexton

    Congrats. Completely support: “The mass market is dead, replaced by the mass of niches”

  • http://www.dougpetch.com Doug

    BMW did solicit its customers help to design a car – the Z4. Owners of its predecessor, the Z3, were asked what features they would like to see in BMW’s next generation roadster and by-and-large the majority of their (realistic) suggestions were incorporated.

    The fact that their suggestions were surrounded by a Bangle-designed sheet metal and plastic is another story for another day….

  • Eric Gauvin

    That’s nice. Do you have some contacts over there at BusinessWeek? This is your second cover story:


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  • http://www.citrusbegin.com peter levitan


    Good PR buddy.

    Please note, according to Nico you are now up to 11 minutes of your allotted 15.


  • http://www.busblog.com tony

    wow! nice job Jeff!

  • qimet888

    I fear cars like “The Homer” could be the result of cars designed by customers, viz. http://images4.wikia.nocookie.net/simpsons/images/1/13/The_Homer.jpg

  • Eric Gauvin

    I think it would be cars covered with ads…

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  • http://www.mauronewmedia.com/blog Cianna Timbers

    Great article in BusinessWeek. It’s typical of the Big Three to always be looking in the present and clutching to current design methods rather than looking to new ways to create truly innovative designs. We recently posted a blog about how the user experience of the SUV trashed Detroit http://www.mauronewmedia.com/blog/2008/12/how-the-suv-user-experience-trashed-detroit/
    It seems like the Big Three spent the SUV years patting themselves on the back for fooling consumers rather than trying to create an innovative designs.

    We also had some thoughts about Google Chrome’s user experience. It isn’t perfect. Check it out: http://www.mauronewmedia.com/blog/2008/10/what-does-google-chrome-mean-for-the-future-of-user-experience-design/

  • Hans-Peter

    Great idea.
    But do you know that the idea of an open source car is older then Google itself?
    In 1999 German based car-heads open the site:
    and are working since then at this project. Way before Google thought about healing the world.
    Probably it’s time for Larry and Sergey to invest in this project and thus help speeding the story a little bit up.

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