Posts about wwgd

Book as process, book as byproduct, book as conversation

Nieman Lab’s Megan Garber wrote a brilliant post about the nature of books and conversation using as illustration a conversation about my book. It is, as Jay Rosen said, too good to summarize. So please do go read it.

I love Garber’s piece not just because she said that “90 percent of Morozov’s criticisms are wildly unfair,” referring to a so-called review of my book. I love it because Garber delivered the most serious criticism of my book to date:

The precise thing that makes idea-driven books so valuable to readers — their immersive qualities, the intimate, one-on-one relationship they facilitate between authors and readers — also make them pretty lousy as actual sharers of ideas. Books don’t go viral. And that’s largely because the thing that makes books lucrative to authors and publishers — their ability to restrain ideas, to wall them off from the non-book-buying world — is antithetical to virality. How can books be expected to share ideas when the very point of their existence is containment?

I wrote a book about sharing. But a book is a bad form for sharing.

The book, Garber said, is “designed to advance books within the marketplace, rather than the marketplace of ideas. It aims at publicity rather than publicness, at selling objects rather than propelling the arguments they contain.”

Garber is right. I’ve confessed my hypocrisy in writing both my books on other grounds: I didn’t make them digital, clickable, correctable, linkable…. I did it to get paid, edited, promoted, and distributed (though with the closing of Borders, that last function becomes less valuable). Garber points out as mitigation that I had shared my ideas about publicness on my blog before I wrote the book.

“The professor has been preaching publicness for years — at Buzzmachine, in his Guardian column, at conferences, on TV, on Twitter, on the radio, on his Tumblr. If you follow Jeff Jarvis, you follow Public Parts. You’ve seen his thoughts on publicness take shape over time. The book that resulted from that public process — the private artifact — is secondary. It is the commercial result of a communal endeavor.”

She’s being too easy on me. While I wrote the book, I did share and discuss many of the ideas in it on my blog. That can be a form of collaboration and peer review. But I didn’t do it nearly enough, as far as I’m concerned. I was so busy researching, writing, and editing the book that I neglected the blog.

As Garber notes, I say in Public Parts that I should try to make my next project — if I choose to undertake one — different.

At the end of Public Parts, Jarvis mentions that his next project may not be a book at all, but rather a book-without-a-book: a Godinesque series of public events held both in person and online. “The book,” Jarvis writes, “if there is one, would be a by-product and perhaps a marketing tool for more events.”

The book, if there is one. The book, a by-product. Imagine the possibilities.

I’m still working on what that could be. So let me begin the process and outline my early thinking here to hear what you think.

Start with Kevin Kelly’s 2006 essay in The New York Times Magazine arguing that authors would come to support themselves with performance — and John Updike’s appalled reaction to this “pretty grisly scenario.” I’m not suggesting that authors become merely actors after their books are done.

I’m suggesting, as Garber does, that talks, events, symposia, blogs, hangouts… — discussion with smart people in any form — should come before the book. The process becomes the product; the book (if there is one) is a byproduct.

To take an example: I’ve been wanting to explore the impact of one simple idea, that technology now leads to efficiency over growth. I wrote a post about one aspect of that here and here as well as here and here. The conversation was amazing in its intelligence, perspective, and generosity. It became even better when Y Combinator founder Paul Graham posted it to Hacker News with a challenge, asking what makes this revolution (digital v. industrial) different. Amazing replies ensued. It took me many hours to go through it all, taking many notes.

That made me decide to propose this topic as a talk to South by Southwest. If accepted, that will give me a deadline for research. But I want — no, need — more conversation in the meantime.

That leads me to an idea for a new business. I don’t really want to start it or run it; I just wish it existed so I could use it.

It is time to disrupt the conference and speaking businesses and give some measure of control back to speakers (also known as authors) and their publics (formerly known, as Jay Rosen would say, as audiences). I hope for a way to support the work of authors and thinkers — support it with conversation, attention, and collaboration as well as money.

So imagine this: Authors decide to hold their own event. If you have the brand and popularity of, say, Seth Godin (or, in the sales arena, Jeffrey Gitomer), you can gather a large roomful of fans without effort; each does. But folks like me don’t have their brand or promotional power. So let’s say I get together with another one or two authors and we propose an event in which we discuss what we’re working on.

Kickstarter would seem to be an ideal platform to find out whether there is sufficient demand to support such a gathering, at least to get started. If enough folks sign up, the authors can rent a venue: no risk. The startup I wish for would handle logistics for a fee. It could also be a platform for groups to get together, organizing conferences without conference organizers.

The event, in my view, isn’t speeches to audiences so much as conversations. The author needs to bring value: a presentation, a talk, a set of ideas or challenges. But it’s the conversation I crave, to develop and further challenge ideas and gather perspectives. The event could be streamed for a larger public. It could be videoed and shared online for continued exchange via blogs, Google+, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, et al.

Note that this isn’t about containing ideas but sharing them. That’s what Garber and I both want.

Is there a book? Why should there be? Because a book can memorialize the ideas and research that comes out of this process. It can bring the discipline that the form — and a good editor, like mine — can demand. It can spread the ideas yet farther — to the many more people who couldn’t be bothered joining in the process and the conversation. It can make the ideas last longer. (In Public Parts, I quote Gutenberg scholar Elizabeth Eisenstein pointing out that Gutenberg’s Bible turns out to be a much longer lasting repository of data than a floppy disk.)

If there’s a book, is it printed? The likelihood of that decreases by the day. So if it is just electronic, then it can change form, including video from the process; photos and graphics to illustrate points; and permalinks to any part of the book to support conversation on the net.

So now we arrive back that the book I apologized for not writing in WWGD? — digital, clickable, linkable, correctable, updateable, part of a conversation. There are issues: Conversations can be invaded by trolls. There’s no economic certainty. We’ll make missteps.

But can we get closer to Garber’s ideal? Well, we’ll know it when we see it. But if we try this route, we now have a standard to judge it against: the one Garber sets in her great post.

Our assumptions about information itself are shifting, reshaping “the news” from a commodity to a community, from a product to a process. The same changes that have disrupted the news industry will, inevitably, disrupt the book industry; Public Parts hints at what might come of the disruption. Books as community. Books as conversation. Books as ideas that evolve over time — ideas that shift and shape and inspire — and that, as such, have the potential of viral impact.

Can books go viral? Garber asks. Maybe, if they’re allowed to be more than books.

What Would Apple Do?

Here is a snippet from What Would Google Do?
about Apple as the grand exception to every rule I put forth there:

How does Apple do it? How does it get away with operating this way even as every other company and industry is forced to redefine itself? It’s just that good. Its vision is that strong and its products even better. I left Apple once, in the 1990s, before Steve Jobs returned to the company, when I suffered through a string of bad laptops. But when I’d had it with Dell, I returned to Apple and now everyone in my family has a Mac (plus one new Dell); we have three iPhones; we have lots of iPods; I lobbied successfully to make Macs the standard in the journalism school where I teach. I’m a believer, a glassy-eyed cultist. But I didn’t write this book about Apple because I believe it is the grand exception. Frank Sinatra was allowed to violate every rule about phrasing because he was Sinatra. Apple can violate the rules of business in the next millennium because it is Apple (and more important, because Jobs is Jobs).

So then Apple is the ultimate unGoogle. Right?

Not so fast. When I put that notion to Rishad Tobaccowala, he disagreed and said that Apple and Google, at their cores, are quite alike.

“They have a very good idea of what people want,” he said. Jobs’ “taste engine” makes sure of that. Both companies create platforms that others can build upon—whether they are start-ups making iPod cases and iPhone apps or entertainment companies finding new strategies and networks for distribution in iTunes.
Apple, like Google, also knows how to attract, retain, and energize talent. “Apple people believe they are even better than Google people,” he said. “They’re cooler.”

Apple’s products, like Google’s, are designed simply, but Tobaccowala said Apple does Google one better: “They define beauty as sex,” he said.

Apple understands the power of networks. Its successful products are all about connecting. Apple, like Google, keeps its focus unrelentingly on the user, the customer—us—and not on itself and its industry. And I’ll add that, of course, both companies make the best products. They are fanatical about quality.

But Tobaccowala said that what makes these two companies most alike is that—like any great brand—they answer one strong desire: “People want to be like God.” Google search grants omniscience and Google Earth, with its heavenly perch, gives us God’s worldview. Apple packages the world inside objects of Zen beauty. Both, Tobaccowala said, “give me Godlike power.” WWGD? indeed.

What Would Google Do? – in paperback

After almost three years, What Would Google Do? is out in paperback. Oh, no, now I have two things to hawk. It comes with a new afterword. A snippet from that (with rules from the book highlighted):

Screen shot 2011-09-22 at 9.44.32 AM

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The best part of writing What Would Google Do? came after it was published, when people from a surprising range of sectors shared with me how they had tested the rules you’ve just read in their own endeavors.

I spoke with a convention of truck-stop owners who realized that their way stations could act as nodes to build networks among drivers who have information to share with each other. Join a network. Be a platform. Think distributed.

At the other end of the demographic spectrum, I heard from executives at two of the largest luxury-goods companies in the world, who saw value in opening up even their exclusive design processes so they could build direct relationships with new tastemakers and new talent and become curators of quality and luxury. Elegant organization.

At another extreme, I heard foundations speculate about how different their work would be if they opened up their structures to identify new needs, new grantees to meet those needs, new ways to measure their success, and new ways to leverage their assets by encouraging others to help in their work. Join the open-source, gift economy.

At a meeting of librarians, we faced their worst case—closing libraries—and then catalogued the value they will still add when information and search are digital but human expertise and guidance aren’t. Atoms are a drag.

A group of postal executives wondered what Google would do if it ran the Post Office. One official speculated that it would give every American a computer and printer, replacing mail and slashing cost. This discussion led to a conference in Washington called PostalVision 2020, where I pushed the industry not to try to fix the Postal Service a cutback at a time but to bravely consider what the market would and could do on its own. Beware the cash cow in the coal mine. Do what you do best and link to the rest. Get out of the way.

At the height of the financial crisis, I moderated a session at Davos in which entrepreneurs speculated about how to fix the broken banking industry. They imagined creating the bank that is open about all its data, from investments to salaries. Be honest. Be transparent. Don’t be evil.

Lufthansa ran a brainstorming session with a score of social-media practitioners at the DLD Conference in Munich, wondering how even an airline could be Googley. The bottom line: Customers want airlines to share information with them (why is the plane late?) and then they will be willing to share information back if airlines make good use of it (for example, assigning me the exact seat I like best). There is an inverse relationship between control and trust.

Best Buy’s tweeting chief marketing officer, Barry Judge (@BestBuyCMO), had me come to the company’s headquarters to try out some of the ideas here. I learned more from them than they did from me as I witnessed a smart company that is trying to move past just selling things in boxes to providing service and expertise. Best Buy opened up its infrastructure to allow others to build stores atop it. It has 3,000 sales people answering customers’ questions through a single Twitter account (@Twelpforce), turning them into the “human search engine.” It also is becoming a media company, selling promotional opportunities in stores. Decide what business you’re in.

Sales guru and author Jeffrey Gitomer invited me visit his staff to help them decide how they could be Googlier. I suggested they start by gathering the best sales tips from their own readers, who are out there selling and succeeding every day. Gitomer himself blogs and tweets and that inspired his new book, Social BOOM!, about this new way to do business together. Trust the people. Your customers are your ad agency.

In my next book, Public Parts, I also tell the story of a very Googley car company Local Motors, which designs cars openly. Collaborate. I also report on visionaries who are rethinking retail from the ground up, now that Google and the net make pricing transparent. Google commodifies everything. Welcome to the Google economy.

Most fun of all, I have heard of church pastors who aspire to be Googley, leaving their brick walls behind to go to where the parishioners live, using the web as a tool. Church Magazine suggests a “move from giving answers to asking questions.” Listen. Trust the people. Everybody needs Googlejuice.

These church folks did not fall for the joke in the title of this book. Google isn’t God and these laws here are not immutable. “We don’t consider Jarvis’s rules to be sacred or unchanging,” Leisa Anslinger and Daniel S. Mulhall wrote in the magazine, “but they do provide a valuable tool to help us rethink how we are to be a church in the twenty-first century.”

It is with some considerable relief that I read What Would Google Do? today and find that its gospel still stands. But then, as I said at the beginning, this is not really a book about Google but about the changes overtaking our world. Those changes only prove to be more disruptive—and more important to understand—by the day.

Rat poison

The Google/Motorola deal is lawyer repellent. Or rat poison, if you prefer. It is a tragic and wasteful by product of our screwed-up patent system. Just this year, $18 billion is being spent not on innovation and invested not in entrepreneurship and growth but instead in fending off lawsuits. Damn straight, we need patent reform.

Having said that, this is good for Google and Android and its ecosystem. That’s why HTC, LG, and Sony all released statements praising the deal. Google isn’t going into competition with them. Google is buying them protection to defend against Apple, Nokia, and other patent holders and legal thugs.

The net result is that Android can now explode even more than it has already. I imagine — I hope — there were other companies in other fields — cars, appliances, TV, devices of all sorts — that were waiting for some security so they could add connectivity to their devices, using Android.

Google wins because, as I’ve been saying, the real war here is over signal generation: Google, Facebook, and to an extent Apple and telcos and others want us to generate signals about ourselves — who we are, where we are, what we want, who we know, what we’re looking for, where we’re going — so they can better target their content, services, and advertising. Mobile is a great signal generator.

But I’ve also been saying that mobile will become a meaningless word as we become connected everywhere, all the time. Who’s to say or care whether we’re connected with a phone as we walk, through our car, on our couch via the TV, in the kitchen via the iFridge, or at the desk (remember that?). Mobile=local=me.

I disagree with those who say that Google had hardware envy vis a vis Apple. Google went into the hardware business and was smart enough to get out. I imagine that Google will operate Motorola as an independent entity; it won’t become Googley. Indeed, I can imagine Google spinning off the product arm, keeping the rat poison.

So this is a good if unfortunate deal to have to be done. That’s my take.

Why do we need a postal service?

Do we need a Post Office? That is the question I will be asking when I keynote and moderate PostalVision 2020, a one-day conference in Washington on June 15 along with Google’s Vint Cerf and other players and experts from the industry.

The answer to this question is probably yes. But I don’t think it should be answered until we reconsider the delivery industry from the ground up, seeing what is no longer needed and what the market can provide in the digital age.

My involvement with this project came through a side door. John Callan, who organized it, is a respected consultant and veteran in the industry. He read What Would Google Do? and, I’m glad to say, thought it had lessons for his industry. He came to the book because, at another conference, he heard the head of the UK’s Royal Mail ask the question, “What would Google do if it ran the Post Office?” Ruth Goldway, head of the US Postal Regulatory Commission, answered that she thought Google would give everyone a computer and printer (eliminating the cost of delivering now-obsolete correspondence). Callan thought Goldway had read my book. She hadn’t. But he did. So he contacted me; I was intrigued with the speculation, and we’ve been collaborating since.

Since then, I’ve worked with Callan and company on a project for the USPS Office of the Inspector General. And now I’m honored to be part of the event Callan has called in Washington to ask the big strategic questions about the fate of the Postal Service and the industry.

Who should attend? Obviously people in the delivery industry. So should its customers: retailers that ship directly to customers, Amazon, banks, lawyers, and media companies—including advertising agencies and their clients. Companies that are disrupting the industry should be there. That includes, for example, Facebook, which believes it is redefining and replacing the idea of mail; Google; email companies; new transactional and billing companies; telecoms whose bandwidth replaces trucks; even online media and digital agencies (who should understand what would happen if media and advertising become too expensive to deliver by mail). Entrepreneurs who find opportunity in the disruption of the industry should be there, of course. This includes companies that are rethinking such activities as paying bills and merchandising. Plus, of course, government officials and regulators will need to be there.

I intend to set the tone by proposing some obvious but difficult trends (like these for media), starting with this rule: If it can be digital, it will be digital. Anything that can be delivered by bits will have to be because that costs essentially nothing. That will continue to kill first-class mail and as it declines, its subsidy to the rest of the system disappears, which will raise both prices for customers and losses for the USPS. That trend is already accelerating. The USPS’ loss reached $2.6 billion in the first quarter alone, up from $1.9 billion the year before and volume of first-class mail fell by more than 7%. The USPS says it will be insolvent by September.

This is urgent.

Just as I tell newspapers they need to imagine turning off their presses so they discover where their real value lies, I am saying that the delivery industry has to imagine building itself over because it can and must. Or entrepreneurs will. There are countless new efficiencies to take advantage of. We can’t afford not to.

Do we still need the Postal Service’s guarantee of universal delivery? Likely yes, but it’s worth asking whether that obligation to get deliveries to remote outposts should be carried out with offices and trucks owned by the government or through subsidies to private industry. Does the Postal Service have a role to play in and identity (could it be a guarantor?) and security (our mail is protected from warrantless spying but our email so far is not). What are the principles and rights to privacy and security that should govern even private and electronic delivery? What impact does all this have on broadband policy?

There is much to discuss. This is a starting point, to identify the issues, needs, and opportunities and start the discussion around them. I’ve found the challenge fascinating, more than I’d ever have guessed.

If you are remotely connected with delivering messages, transactions, and goods; if you are the disrupted or the disruptor; if you see the opportunity to invest in the arena, I hope you’ll come.

What did Google do?

Reuters asked for an op-ed on the handover at Google. Here it is:

The miracle of Google was that it could accomplish anything—let alone become the fastest growing company in the history of the world and the greatest disruptive force in business and society today—while being run by a committee, a junta, a council of the gods.

In management, as in every other arena of business, technology, and media, Google broke every rule and made new ones.

It should not be a shock that Eric Schmidt has stepped aside as CEO and made room for Larry Page. Schmidt was the prince regent who ruled until the boy king could take the throne while training him to do so. We knew that this would happen. We just forgot that it would.

When I interviewed Schmidt a few weeks ago and asked about pressure over privacy, China, and lobbying, he said, “This is not the No. 1 crisis at Google.” What is? “Growth,” he said, “just growth.”

Scale is Google’s greatest skill and greatest challenge. It scaled search (vs. quaint Yahoo, which thought it could catalogue this web thing). It scaled advertising (vs. the media companies that today don’t know how to grow, only shrink). It is scaling mobile (by giving away Android). It has tried to scale innovation (with its 20 percent rule)—but that’s the toughest.

How does Google stay ahead of Facebook strategically? The war between the two of them isn’t over social. The next, great scalable opportunity and challenge is mobile, which in the end will translate into local advertising revenue. Mobile will give Google (or Facebook or Groupon or Twitter or Foursquare … we shall see) the signals needed to target content, services, search, and advertising with greater relevance, efficiency, and value than ever. As Schmidt told broadcasters in Berlin last year: “We know where you are. We know what you like.” Local is a huge, unclaimed prize. The question is how to scale sales.

I have no special insight into the Googleplex. But I have to imagine that when the company’s three musketeers sat down and asked themselves what impediments could restrain their innovation and growth, they were smart enough and honest enough to finally answer, “us.”

As well as their holy trinity worked setting strategy and reaching consensus—the one thing I did hear from inside Google was that nothing happened if they did not agree—it has become apparent that Google became less nimble and more clumsily uncoordinated.

Google is working on two conflicting and competing operating system strategies, Android and Chrome. It bungled the launches of Buzz and Wave, not to mention Google TV. It is losing talent to Facebook. It needs clearer vision and strategy and more decisive communication and execution of it.

If it’s obvious to us it had to be obvious to them that that couldn’t come from Largey-plus-Eric. Google, like its founders, is growing up. It needs singular management. So let’s hope that Schmidt did his most important job well—not managing but teaching.

Now we will watch to see who Larry Page really is and where his own vision will take Google. Will he give the company innovative leadership and can Sergey Brin give it leadership in innovation?

I imagine we will see a new support structure for Page built from below now rather than from the side. I’m most eager to see how he will cope with speaking publicly for the company. Schmidt’s geeky sense of humor was not grokked by media. (When he set off a tempest in the news teapot saying we should all be able to change our names at age 21 and start over with youthful indiscretions left behind us, he was joking, folks. Really, he was.) Page is even less show-bizzy.

As for Schmidt: I have gained tremendous respect for him as a manager, thinker, leader. His next act will likely surprise us more than this latest act.

* * *

And here’s my appearance on The Takeaway this morning:

Lock up the kids, here comes the EU

If you want a sign that Google is past its prime, you got it today: The EU is investigating it for antitrust.

Remember Microsoft: The EU took 11 years investigating it — during which time, the web was born — and by the time it finished in 2004 and brought its mighty hand down upon the mighty Microsoft, the market had already done the job, thank you. Microsoft was a has-been, a joke as a monoplist, a laggard legacy company left behind by new technology, a threat to no one but itself.

Now the EU is going after Google. No surprise. One thing that has surprised me lately is the anti-Googlism (read: anti-Americanism, anti-capitalism) I’ve seen reflected in the nasty rhetoric over Google’s Street View. In my trips to Germany and talks there, I regularly heard that Google is too big (can someone please send me to the statute that defines big and thus too big?) — not too big to fail but too big to live in Europe. I’ve also heard people say they don’t want Google making money on them (but it’s OK for the corner store or the local newspaper to?).

Now the crows come home to roost with this EU investigation. But as Danny Sullivan argues in a wonderfully smart-assed and logical post, the EU is going after this search engine for acting like a search engine. When he searches for cars, Google has the audacity not to point to other search engines. It points to car sites! Bad Google, Bad.

And what if Google does point to its own businesses: YouTube, shopping comparison, Gmail, whatever. That’s business. Yahoo points to Yahoo; I’ve sat in meeting with them back in the early days of the web when they bragged about how they could point their “firehose” at their own stuff. The New York Times points to The New York Times. Microsoft links to Microsoft. So?

Remember that it was Google that created the ethic of search results untainted by business. Its model before that was GoTo/Overture, which *sold* search position. Analysts thought they were nuts — Commies, maybe — when Google decided *not* to tell search position out of some strange sense of ethics.

So now the EU wants to take Google’s own standard and interpret it against Google? Where the hell does this?

Last night, someone said to me something I also hear a lot: that search is a utility and utilities need to be regulated. Europeans reflexively regulate.

But Google isn’t a utility. There are plenty of other, competitive search engines. The fact that Google has 90+% penetration in Europe is the choice of the market, nothing Google did through unfair advantage.

And — shades of the Microsoft case — Google is being challenged now by other means of discovery: namely us sharing links through social means. Google is no longer the all-powerful Oz of the internet. The EU’s timing is impecable.

Now there is one arena in which Google does have much power: advertising. It’s not as effective to market on Bing as it is on Google. And I’ve said before — just yesterday — that I think Google would be wise to establish a Constitution and Bill of Rights and channel of appeal of its decision on advertisers so it cannot be accused of manipulating things behind the scenes through its sole power.

In that sense, Google is not a utility. It is law. And laws require principles and means of appeal. That’s what I said yesterday and what I’ll argue again in this case. Google would be wise to be more transparent about its advertising rules and decisions (not its algorithms but its judgments) and open up that process to trusted outsiders. Google needs a court.

But now the EU is looking to take them to court. Oh, boy.

What should Google do?

Twitter was abuzz last night with links to the David Segal’s amazing NYTimes yarn of a bad internet actor who says he uses — and eggs on — customer complaints to get more links and mentions online, thus more Googlejuice, thus more business.

The Times didn’t go the next step to ask what Google should do about this. And Google didn’t help itself by dispatching only an unnamed spokesperson who then, Segal complains, didn’t send a followup email. Google would have been much wiser to have hooked Segal up with Matt Cutts, the company’s wizard in the game of bad-guy whack-a-mole, to discuss the options and implications.

It’s not as simple as it seems, for Google and its algorithms are now a set of laws of the web and if you intervene in one way, you may trigger the law of unintended consequences in another.

What if Google sensed the positive or negative sentiment in links and used that to guide its placement in search, as some suggested? Makes sense in the case of bad-guy Borker and his virtual eyeglass store. But as someone pointed out on Twitter last night, if Google did let sentiment affect rank, then what would it do with the negative links regarding Barack Obama or Sarah Palin, to Islam or GM? How would you write that law, remembering that the code is the law?

What if instead Google intervened in a case such as this and, seeing all the complaints, manually downgraded the guy in search? The first problem with that is scale: how do you find and investigate all the bad guys? The bigger problem is whether we want Google to be the cop of the world. Google has been sued by companies it decreed were link-bating spammer sites, downgrading them in search, while the sites said they were legitimate directories. This is the one case in which Google holds the power of God in a market and it’s a dangerous position to be in.

I have suggested before that Google should set up a jury of peers to adjudicate such cases. I didn’t use the verb “crowdsource,” for crowds can be gamed, as Mr. Borker amply demonstrates. But a trusted (cue Craig Newmark) jury could give Google distance from the decision. I say peers — fellow business people — because in cases such as this, their interests and those of Google and us, the users, are aligned: We don’t want bad guys to game search. Google, especially, wants to — in Cutts’ words — find more signals of quality and originality so its results are of higher quality and relevance.

What I’m really saying is that as Google, Facebook, Twitter, and other private players come to be the law of the land on the internet, they need to start acting like public players with Constitutions and Bills of Rights and the means of enforcement and adjudication with due process. I’ll be exploring this notion in Public Parts.

In the end, Segal’s story looks like a failure of search, Google, and the internet. The internet made it possible for a bad guy to win. Well, so does Wall Street.

But I don’t think this was Google’s failure (cue fan-boy accusations). The moral of the story should be that if you search Google for the name of Borker’s company, you see plenty of loud complaints in the results. The internet doesn’t nullify the First Law of Commerce: caveat emptor. When I had my now-legendary problems with Dell, I kicked myself for not doing a search of “dell sucks” before buying my computer. That’s my responsibility as a shopper. And, as I pointed out at the time, Google would have given me the information I needed. Ditto for the lady in Segal’s story. If I think of buying from a new vendor, I’ve learned my lesson: I search Google first because fellow customers, using Google, will help protect me.

That is the lesson The Times should have given its readers: Use Google to guard against those who would use Google.

P.S. In fairness to Dell, I should add that we made up and it became a leader in social media. I figure everybody who comes here knows how that story ended, but in case not….

: UPDATE: Google responded to the story and the problem; here’s the blog post explaining. The NYT does a followup, the last graph of which kind of deflates the entire story and its premise that being bad is good for business:

At the blog Search Engine Land, Byrne Hobart also wrote in a recent posting that the review-generating strategy was not the driver of Mr. Borker’s success. His analysis found that Mr. Borker benefited chiefly from various “black-hat tricks” to improve his site’s standing, including links from what he called auto-generated spam pages. He also found that the store was frequently linked to by mainstream media sites — The Times included — when references were made to high-end eyeglasses.