Posts about wwgd

WWGD? – The videos

In addition to What Would Google Do? the book, the ebook, the Kindle book, the audio book, the video, and the PowerPoint, we were planning to release a so-called V-book with videos interspersed throughout the digital text. Never happened. So in a bald effort to drum up sales anew for my book (or frighten them away), I thought I’d share the videos here, one or two a day.

The first: a rumination on progress in front of the estate Ditchley near Oxford:

Another from the Ditchley estate about the haha (bald attempt to find a useful metaphor about openness and collaboration):

I was inspired to put up these videos because this reader wanted more videos here. Blame him.

The Gapper gap

(Note: I’m going to link to the Financial Times three times in this post. You’re allowed two views a month at before being forced to register. If you’re conserving, I suggest you read the second two FT links.)

The Financial Times’ John Gapper gave my book a bad review because he refused to go along with its organizing premise and principal: that our economy and society are undergoing fundamental shifts as we move past the industrial age and that Google is a worthy totem to use to understand that change. Gapper instead treated the premise with surprising literalness (for a Brit) and decreed that Google is not a good example for business; Apple is.

I got some insight into Gapper’s worldview in a good piece he wrote last week on the death of Bertelsmann mogul Reinhard Mohn and, with him, the media moguls of his generation. Gapper does acknowledge fundamental change but he still explains it in the old, expired terms of the old economy, in terms of control.

The challenge of the internet is that it blows up the control of distribution, ensuring that all content owners – from Rupert Murdoch to the lowliest blogger – compete on equal terms. Moguls can no longer exploit its scarcity by buying television spectrum or by owning printing presses.

That is why media moguls have been pushed on to the defensive by a new breed of technology moguls such as Steve Jobs of Apple and Sergey Brin and Larry Page, co-founders of Google. Control of distribution has passed to people who make the software through which content passes.

He’s half right. Control of distribution was how the old moguls prevailed. But that is not replaced, one-to-one, with new control of distribution. The internet makes us all distributors. That is why you want to be open and part of the conversation so the people formerly known as the audience distribute you.

Google is not a distributor. Indeed, its greatest misstep to date, the book settlement, came in part because it uncharacteristically was going to control and distribute content (that it didn’t own). Google doesn’t distribute. It organizes. It links. Google is not in the software business. It is in the platform business (advertising being its primary platform). Apple, too, isn’t in the software business. It’s in the hardware business and that is what gives it control of distribution: we, the cult, buy its great products and take Apple’s control as the price. That, I realized, is why Gapper admires it, because it still has control, like the old media moguls. He defines and measures value in their old media terms.

Gapper is hardly alone. I’m using him as a convenient totem for media’s insistence on viewing the world through old media lenses. Both media and the world around it have changed in many more ways that I tried to outline in WWGD? That’s what I wrote in this post the other day about media’s blind spots to the realities of the new-media economy:

…the imperatives of the link economy, the need and benefit of giving up control, the advantages of creating open platforms over closed systems, the value of networks, the post-scarcity economy and the art of exploiting abundance, the need to be searchable to be found, the deflation innovation brings, the value of free, the triumph of process over product….

Now here’s the bigger question: How does this willful worldview affect the business analysis performed by business journalists? Gapper’s boss, FT editor Lionel Barber, predicted that “almost all” news organizations will charge for content within a year. That was in July. The clock’s ticking. I snarked at the time that if this same analysis were applied to GM, Barber would predict that the car company would simply raise its prices just because its cars cost more to make. There are no simple solutions to such fundamental change. Every industry has to remake itself under the new realities of the new economy. That is the story business media should be covering. But if media people refuse to – if, like the moguls Gapper eulogizes, they insist on holding onto their old ways – how good will they be at analyzing and predicting the future?

That speaks to the key recommendation in the good Luke Johnson FT column Gapper quotes in his Mohn piece. Johnson argues that lamenting change in media is futile and that media companies need to hire the digital natives who understand the new age.

The only answer is to hire as many bright young things as you can afford and hope their dynamism will counteract the inevitable conservatism of an existing institution. The media trade could learn from the technology industry, which is subject to wrenching structural upheaval at regular intervals.

Right. And Johnson also says that’s why the legacy companies are the least likely to see and build for the new world.

Unfortunately, a chief executive only a few years from retirement is hardly motivated to sack loyal colleagues to bring on board lots of teenagers to turn their company upside down. Psychologically, we are congenitally opposed to tearing down what we have helped create in order to build anew. Hence the status quo prevails, even if it is the demoralising task of managing decline with no salvation in sight. And so all efforts are applied to preservation in spite of a realisation that the economic model is broken – because no one is forcing the company in a new direction.

Right again. On this week’s On the Media, Ava Seave, coauthor of The Curse of the Mogul, told Bob Garfield that the media businesses that media reporters love to cover are and long have been bad businesses. But we don’t hear that – because, one assumes, they don’t want to hear that.

So how well equipped are reporters in legacy media companies to analyze the upheaval in the industries they cover? Where are their bright young things who see the world in new ways? Who is the Google of financial reporting?

: Later: Gapper responds.

The collaboration economy

Two events of recent days underscore for me how old-media executives are not comprehending the collaboration economy: how it adds value, how it creates efficiency, how it operates under new currencies.

Add this to the other blind spots these old media powers have about the new economic reality: the imperatives of the link economy, the need and benefit of giving up control, the advantages of creating open platforms over closed systems, the value of networks, the post-scarcity economy and the art of exploiting abundance, the need to be searchable to be found, the deflation innovation brings, the value of free, the triumph of process over product…. This is what I wrote in my book about. Trying to get media to understand it is why I wrote it.

Behind each of these new laws of the new age is a set of consequences that result if you don’t at least try to understand them and continue to operate under the expired rules of the industrial economy. We online folk tend to operate under entirely new assumptions and think that our legacy colleagues see the same world we do. But they don’t. That hit me square between the eyes – once again – this week at a Paley Center debate over paid content between Steven Brill and NPR chief Vivian Schiller.

“I don’t know of any worthwhile content that’s free,” Brill said at the start of his remarks. He said it as a truism, as if we’d all assume the same. But I think most of you reading this would think that false. You may not value this very blog, but it’s free. The web is filled with free wonders. There’s plenty of wonderful content that’s free, more every day.

Later, Brill suggested we imagine going into the New York Public Library and instead of seeing many books, we see millions of pages, loose and flying about. What would we do? His stated assumption is that we would recognized the need for professional editors and journalists to make sense of it all. My response to his question was, “Go to Google.” Not for the first time, he sneered at me. But others around the table agreed that Google brings together our editing through our links and clicks; we will make order of that pile of pages, given the means to do so. Our assumption is that we value those actions and opinions, even if they are free – perhaps all the moreso because they are free.

That afternoon, I finally read AP CEO Tom Curley’s remarks in Hong Kong – before his duet with Rupert Murdoch at the Forbidden City – in which he equated control with value. That is the distilled essence of the old media model.

Listen to Curley: “The value of that content has been undervalued. It’s now at the lowest level, I think in history…. But the reality is that all of us know that our content is valuable…. We deserve to be paid, and now it becomes a matter of trying to figure out how to do that…. It’s time for us to get control of our content, and so we shall do that.”

Curley is saying that it’s up to him – not us, not the market – to set value. That is possible only if one controls distribution. That is why he wants control – or wants it back. He asserts value as a matter of entitlement, emotions, and ego over economics. But in this open economy, there is unlimited competition and value is created in many places, measured in many currencies.

Curley says that “we intend to participate in that stream, in that revenue stream.” But what about the content stream? He needs to participate in what Marissa Mayer calls the hyperpersonal news stream. He has to break out of the idea of sites and portals and go to where the people are. Yet Curley said he’d prevent his customers from redistributing his content through emails or “re-syndication” – from the stream, in short.

Here’s the nub of it: Curley says, as has been quoted often already, that “there is an oversupply, at least in the short term, of us.” That is true only if you see the world in the old, owned, controlled, closed, centralized, professionalized, scarcity economy – only if you think you can own news and access to it and thus its price. In the post-scarcity economy, he can’t bear new competitors; he call them the oversupply.

But in the collaborative economy, it’s another matter. All those “extra” people add new value and efficiency – if you see the opportunity in it and enable them to. They’re us. That’s how Google sees us, capturing our links and clicks to discover the value of those million – no, trillion – flying pages. That’s how Wikipedia and Craigslist created their value, dealing in trust and membership as a new currency. That’s how I want next-generation news organizations to look at us, as the people who will create news while the news orgs add value to it: vetting, correcting, organizing, training, promoting, selling. The news orgs and their journalists then become so much more efficient because they work collaboratively with the public. That’s how they become sustainable and profitable again. But this happens only if you trust and value the others and understand the economics of collaboration.

Curley talks, at last, about wanting to link to journalism at its source, which is important, since the AP has long cut the link to original journalism by rewriting it, by turning it into a commodity. But Curley talks about his news registry doing this among his closed circuit of members and big old companies – not the unlimited number of witnesses and citizens who will create news now. He talks about creating “our own self-referring network” (after talking nonsense about Google referring to itself nine times out of ten when Google links out to news far more than the AP ever does). He still sees a closed, controlled world where he sets the value. He, like Brill, does not respect the links and clicks and creation of people outside their walls, paid or otherwise because he can’t control it and he thinks that control is what still gives him value; the truth in the new economy is exactly the opposite: You gain value by giving up control. They do not see the value in collaboration and collaboration as a key to the creation of value and the recognition of efficiency of the new news economy.

News’ Forbidden City

I found this Associated Press story this morning because of a tweet and then I retweeted adding value along the way, a one-word reason to read it: “Fools.” Many retweets ensued leading to many more readers.

Welcome to the future of content distribution, the new newsstand, if you ask me. Welcome to a den of thieves, if you ask the subjects of the story, Associated Press CEO Tom Curley and News Corp. oligarch Rupert Murdoch.

They stood near Tiananmen Square – as Alan Mairson retweeted, “Nice touch: They made announcement in Great Hall of the People, shrine to Central Control” – arguing once again that people who aggregate, curate, link to, talk about their stories are stealing their value.

“Crowd-sourcing Web services such as Wikipedia, YouTube and Facebook have become preferred customer destinations for breaking news, displacing Web sites of traditional news publishers,” Curley said. “We content creators must quickly and decisively act to take back control of our content.”

He said content aggregators, such as search engines and bloggers, were also directing audiences and revenue away from content creators. . . .

Murdoch also told the opening session of the World Media Summit in Beijing’s Great Hall of the People that content providers would be demanding to be paid.

“The aggregators and plagiarists will soon have to pay a price for the co-opting of our content. But if we do not take advantage of the current movement toward paid content, it will be the content creators — the people in this hall — who will pay the ultimate price and the content kleptomaniacs who triumph,” the News Corp. chief executive said.

I rolled my eyes and hardly for the first time at their dangerous ignorance of the new realities of the next economy – at this suicidal attempt to protect outmoded models and fight the future – and tweeted my comment and thought that was it. But then I got a call from the AP reporter in Beijing who wrote this story, Alexa Olesen, and pulled off the road on my way to work to talk with her. I said exactly what you’d expect me to say, arguing against their arguments.

I presented an alternative future that is being built today, the future we see in the New Business Models for News Project with new efficiencies, specialization, targeting, value that comes with the collaboration that the internet and its links enable, with an ecosystem of many smaller but once-again profitable entities providing news we have reason to hope will be better. I got angry at the irresponsible stewardship over journalism that has been exercised by the Politburo of the Press meeting in Beijing, the people who did but no longer control the press and squandered the last 15 years. I said I was angry because they are the ones killing newspapers, not the internet.

Olesen asked whether I agreed with other talk in Beijing that it’s important for news to be on many platforms. Yes, I said, but that drive is about a decade late. Then I said I was being unfair; there is good work going on and I pointed to three or four things The New York Times is doing by example. But I then said the media world is moving to a next step, after sites and pages to streams.

And then I used this story as an example. I discovered the story through a tweet. I spread the story through a tweet. Others spread the story through their tweets. I’m spreading it again here. We are not kleptomaniacs. We are the new (free) distribution. We are providing value to news. I explained that Google News causes a billion clicks a month and Twitter causes more ( alone causes a billion). But the comrades in Beijing can’t see that because they are ignorant of the imperatives of the link economy.

Among the many ironies in this tale is that Curley presages his own defeat. If he and Murdoch and the Central Committee put up walls and guards or unbelievably delays the news (as the AP is considering), we will go to the sites he cites – Wikipedia et al – and create better news with or without them. The way they are talking in Beijing, I fear it will be without them sooner than later.

: Later: Olesen also said that she wasn’t hearing what I was saying in Beijing. And they call us in blogs an echo chamber, I replied.

Except one might have heard these things some years ago … from Messrs. Curley and Murdoch themselves. Kevin Anderson does a wonderful job making them eat their earlier words, a dish of Peking crow.

: The Brisbane Times Sydney Morning Herald says the summit in Beijing really is run by a media politburo.

The summit has a secretariat based at Xinhua’s Beijing headquarters and is chaired by Xinhua’s president, Li Congjun, previously vice-minister for propaganda. Co-chairmen include Mr Murdoch, Mr Curley and leaders from the BBC, the Japanese news service Kyodo, Russia’s official news agency, ITAR-TASS, and Google.

Big issues are decided through ”collective consultation” with the world media organisations that comprise the secretariat.

”This is beginning to look familiar, don’t you think?” wrote David Bandurski, from the University of Hong Kong’s China media project. ”A self-appointed group of elites making decisions through consultation among themselves … The World Media Summit has a politburo.”

The irony is just too obvious. At the summit, Chinese leaders tell media leaders to create just ”’true, correct, comprehensive and objective’ news coverage.” As we say online: Heh.

On All Things Considered

NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik came to CUNY to report on the effort to find new business models for news, including our Knight Foundation funded presentation at the Aspen Institute. It turned into a bit of a profile of yours truly.

The open EU

I got email this morning from someone getting ready to present to the European Parliament on the changes in journalism from their perspective. He said: “Given the shift to hyper-local journalism, being a supra-national body seems to be a problem. It is a particular problem for the EP in that it strives for relevance and to make its voice heard.” What should their strategy be? Here was my answer:

Unsurprisingly, my response starts with transparency: all the actions and information of government must be online, searchable, linkable, in a form that can be shared and analyzed.

I argue for this not just because of a will to catch the bastards with no end of citizen watchdogs (not, perhaps, the best selling point from your side of the discussion now – though transparency is an important element in the new, post-institutional ecosystem of news). I argue that it is in government’s own enlightened self-interest to have everything out there because, thanks to the link, source material – whether from government or from companies or from witnesses to news – will become part of news coverage; we will link to information at its source and we will expect it to be there.

It is also in government’s interest to have Googlejuice (dare I bring up a large American brand to the EU?); it will want to be discovered when citizens search for information. Indeed, search will be the primary means of contact between citizens and government. That is the case when citizens initiate the contact.

When government wants to make contact – when it wants to disseminate information or, god help us, messages out to the people – it soon will no longer be able to rely on mass media and the press to do that. It will have to rely on the citizenry, on people spreading that word, but only if it’s worthy, only if they care to. Government can establish a Twitter account, yes, but its tweets won’t be retweeted unless fellow Twitterers care to, unless that message is relevant and useful to them. And in a transparent government, it may not be up to government to decide what messages are spread; it will be up to the citizen-users.

Having said that, it is still vital for government – its politicians and its agencies’ bureaucrats alike – to establish these connections using the social tools of online. The internet itself is a social tool; it is not a medium but a connection machine. So just as one wants Googlejuice for search, one wants relationships for the social web.

Here’s the hard part. I argue that in a post-industrial economy and society, when process overtakes the end-product, we customers, citizens, users expect to be included in the creation of products and decisions, which means we expect them to be opened up before they are done. This is why Google (there, I did it again) releases products as betas; it is necessarily an invitation to collaborate – as well as a statement of humility and humanity: ‘This thing is unfinished. It’s imperfect. Help us finish it.’

We need beta government. When I’ve spoken with government people, they confess a phobia of failure. Yet without the opportunity to fail, government – like industry and media – cannot experiment and thus innovate. We must give government the license to fail. That is difficult, especially because it is the citizenry that must grant that permission. I think government must begin to recast its relationship by opening up pilot procts to input and discussion, to smart ideas and improvements. I’m not suggesting for a second that every decision be turned into a vote, that law become a wiki. Government still exercises its responsibility. But it needs to use the new mechanisms of the web to hear those ideas. I would look for examples to Dell’s Ideastorm, Starbucks’ My Starbucks Idea, and Best Buy’s Idea Exchange.

Finally to your question about local v. national and extra-national: I wouldn’t worry greatly. In the U.S., we didn’t have national media until TV networks reached critical mass and we didn’t have a quality national news brand until satellites enabled The New York Times (not to mention USA Today) to transmit pages to remote printing plants. Most of the journalistic resource in the U.S. has been spent locally, most of it by the monopolies that are now dying. In Europe, local newspapers are in the same sinking ship and, as in the U.S, I believe there are opportunities in local (in our work on new business models for news at CUNY – at – we forecast a robust and sustainable local ecosystem for news).

But in Europe, unlike the U.S., each nation has long had and still has strong and competitive national news markets. I think that will continue. Indeed, where languages cross borders, there are new opportunities to grow internationally; look at the Guardian, which exploded online and gets two-thirds of its audience from outside the UK. I believe that strong national news brands – some of them new, perhaps – will be supported in Europe because the the public is so accustomed to having them and without production and distribution costs and the need to reproduce commodity information and content (‘do what you do best and link to the rest’) they can find new efficiency.

Still, as you say, that should not lull government into thinking it can continue, business as usual, working through those national brands, for many citizens will go around them – or rather, will go to them only when brought there by a link through search or aggregation or peers. As a college student famously told a researcher in The New York Times a year ago, “if the news is that important, it will find me.” Marissa Mayer and Eric Scmidt of Google (there I go again) is talking now not about hyperlocal but about “hyperpersonal news streams.” Now return to the start of this discussion: This is why government must have connections with people, so its information can insinuate itself into the web and their lives and – here, at last, is the real point – so government, especially such a supra-national body, is not remote from the needs and lives of its citizens but is, instead, in constant conversation with them.

Googley philanthropy

I’m getting ready for a talk this week at Philanthropy New York about giving and What Would Google Do? So I’d like your help on brainstorming what Googley philanthropy looks like. How would a transparent, networked, collaborative, even open-sourced, process-oriented, beta philanthropy as a platform operate?

Not being wealthy, I don’t know a lot about how philanthropies operate, though I have begun begging seeking funds in my new life at CUNY and so I am eager to learn more. That’s why I’m looking forward to the conversation and brainstorming at the event and here. So let’s examine a few of these notions.

A philanthropy is not about giving away money but about accomplishing goals and the internet and social connections give it new and more effective and efficient ways to do that. That’s why I think it makes sense for a charity to be transparent. In its challenge grants, the Knight Foundation urges applicants to open up their ideas to get more input. I’d think that even the MacArthur genius grants would benefit from open nominations. With transparency, givers open themselves up to getting more information, new ideas and suggestions, links to new and possibly better grantees from a public that will gather around them.

Mind you, I’m not suggesting for a second that philanthropy should become democratic. The philanthropist or foundation is responsible for the optimal use of its always-scarce resources and so it must decide where its money goes to meet is own goals and conditions. But I do think that – as with journalism, marketing, government, and most any industry – more information from interested people can only help. That’s why I’d like to see philanthropies open up their goals and processes using the web and social media: blogs, Facebook, Twitter (where I see a fair number of philanthropists and foundations already).

Once transparent, it’s a short step to becoming collaborative. The charity can ask the public for help in finding ways to meet a goal – and not just through seeking funding. It can use the internet to mobilize people to work together. Why will people go to the effort? For the same reason that the charities are giving money: because they care. Once more, I’ll call on the vision of hundreds of millions of dollars worth of time given to Wikipedia by people who care. This is what makes philanthropy ideal for online, I’d say.

Collaboration can take the form of ideas and the form of effort. Of course, it can also take the form of money. Challenge grants are common: At CUNY, we’re working to meet a $3 million challenge grant from the Tow Foundation right now; Knight does likewise for community foundations to encourage them to invest in local journalism; on every NPR fundraiser, there’s a matching challenge used to motivate the public to give more. Challenges work in some cases better than others but online presents a new opportunity to have grantees raise money from their publics when that’s helpful.

But even aside from challenges, there are advantages in collaborative fundraising online. A foundation can create an infrastructure that lets people piggyback onto its giving, structure, and management: ‘We gave $3 million to this effort and if you agree, you can give, too, and we’ll make sure your money is as well spent as ours.’ The charity becomes a mutual fund. In that sense, then, the foundation can extend its value not just with its money but with its expertise and structure. Except then, when the money comes from the public, the public becomes the boss and the charity merely helps organize and executes its desires.

Openness and collaboration at the start of the process – seeking and giving funds – can also extend to the end: sharing lessons learned, good and bad, from giving. About a year ago, one foundation I know sent out a report detailing its mistakes. I thought it was gutsy (though potentially a bit embarrassing for the grantees – that’s the risk). But that kind of openness about lessons learned can be valuable to others. So why wait until the end? What about being transparent during the process of a project, so adjustments can be made? That becomes beta philanthropy.

At the end, a foundation, charity, or philanthropy should act like a platform. They do now in the sense that they make good work possible with funding. But how else can they enable others to do the same good work and how can they thus extend their resources with knowledge, networking (from introductions to more formal structures), vetting, teaching, management, and more?

How do you think philanthropy can work differently given the tools of our new age?

: LATER: Here’s info on attending the talk Thursday morning. And here is Philanthropy New York’s blog.

Sidewiki: What Google should do

I spent yesterday marking the dangers around Sidewiki. Today, I’ll say what I think Google should do with it: close the toolbar app, open it up to the entire conversation, and turn it purely into an API. And probably buy Technorati.

I read a great deal of the discussion about Sidewiki yesterday: much of it in the comments on my blog post, much found through search in Technorati and Google News, much through trackbacks, much on Twitter, much through links on sites I read, and a tiny bit on Sidewiki itself (sorry, can’t find a URL to link to that).

Some of the comments said the conversation is already fractured and my trail would seem to prove the point. That was the common word – fractured. But I’d quibble with the choice and argue that the conversation isn’t broken; that it is occurring just where it should be: in the cloud, where it is controlled by no one.

I did complain about bifurcating the conversation on my own site and that’s because Google presents a second opportunity to comment from a site with comments and I do not see how that adds value there; it separates people. We should be doing the opposite.

I also complained about losing control of the comments and some folks, not surprisingly, thought they had me in a gotcha moment: “Hey, Jarvis, you tell newspapers to get over it and give up control but when it comes to you … heh, heh, heh.” OK. I, too, chose the wrong word. I should have complained instead that Sidewiki robs sites of the responsibility for comments. Many of the people who joined in my crusade yesterday said they work hard on the conversations on their sites to make sure they retain civility and quality – as good sites do – but now they can’t exercise that responsibility with Sidwiki comments that will appear essentially on their sites. Google promises an algorithm. Algorithms may be good at killing spam – albeit with syncopated delays – but they will not be good at policing the subtleties of trolls, prejudice, unfair competition, grudges, pettiness, and hate; those are human sins and it takes humans (and perhaps God) to see them.

The Guardian spends a great deal of resource on Comment is Free doing just that and when the conversation is about the Mideast, it knows from sour experience that it has to add extra precautions. There were no open comments on its Blogging the Koran. But now, with Sidewiki, there will be. Let’s say the Guardian gets too restrictive. Then there’s always the cloud. You can go to one of its competitors or create your own site and complain about what’s said on CiF and no one – except your hosts there – can stop you. That’s the essence of free speech on the internet.

It’s perhaps inconvenient that the conversation is distributed but wherever there’s such a problem, the wise see opportunities. Technorati saw that years ago and tried to bring the conversation together not by creating the ultimate conversation site but by adding organization and thus value to the conversation across the blogosphere. That was very Googley.

Google’s mission is to organize the world’s information and make it accessible – not take it over and centralize it. That’s what so many fear about Google book search: that is it not just linking to books but serving and thus controlling them (I still believe the settlement can cope with that). That is what I fear about Sidewiki: that it is not adding value to the conversation by organizing it but instead trying to hijack it. I’m surprised how tonedead [a happy typo I’m holding onto] Google is in this case. David Sleight called Sidewiki “a failure of empathy.” Or as a father says to a little kid: “What were you thinking?” One more metaphor: Google thinks its Snuffleupagus – big but cuddly and good – and just doesn’t realize that some people see it as a potential bully and so it has to act accordingly. With size comes responsibility.

So I think Google saw a problem where there wasn’t one: The conversation is not broken and doesn’t need fixing. It saw an opportunity to enable people to comment on sites that do not have comments – and to gain more beloved metadata from us about those sites – but it bigfooted the entire conversation trying to solve that; it went for a fly but put its fist through the wall. It wasn’t Googley.

Now I suggest that Google stand back and have that don’t-be-evil conversation about its mission and how it can add value to the conversation and to our collected knowledge about sites and entities without trying to take it over. Start by following Dave Winer into the cloud.

Google could try to organize – but not hijack – the entire conversation; no one has really done that yet. It could analyze comments on sites and understand them better and perhaps even try to find quality in them and their authors. It could use Friend Connect and Facebook’s APIs, as it has started to do, to enable those authors to establish and collect – on their own, via APIs – and burnish their identities across the web. It could bring together conversation about sites, whether those are blogs or companies’, as Technorati has done with blogs (that’s why I think buying it and putting it out of its strategic and technology misery would be the neighborly thing to do). It could then release an API (as it has done for Sidewiki) that doesn’t draw the conversation into one place but enables anyone to put up the conversation. So rather than starting another conversation, Google organizes it.

So I could finally put the broader conversation about the ideas in Buzzmachine on Buzzmachine, adding functionality that let my readers follow links and authors. So I could create a consumer site tracking what people are saying, good and bad, about, say, computer makers. So I could use apps to track conversations about topics that mattered to me. So I could track authors and what they comment about across the web.

Google would add value to the conversation – as I firmly believe it adds value to news – without competing with its creators. That is what I argue to news creators: that Google doesn’t want to become one of them but instead wants to succeed by helping them succeed. It’s a great argument, so long as it stays true. Books bring the same opportunity and challenge for Google.

In a sense, Google thought too big, bigfooting the conversation everywhere. But the real problem, ironically, is that it thought way too small, creating a new conversation instead of trying to organize the conversation that is the internet itself. That would have been so much Googlier, don’t you think?

: LATER: I neglected to cover the question of the toolbar app itself. If Google doesn’t create a separate conversation, then there would be no means to add comments via the toolbar. I’d suggest that a toolbar app could display content about a site or its topics; there’s nothing to stop Google or any toolbar or browser plug-in maker from doing that. This still means that malicious content could be associated with a site but Google wouldn’t be in the position of enabling and hosting it, only displaying it. I would suggest, however, that anyone who thinks they can use this to display advertising associated with a site atop that site should look up the Gator link in my post below: danger and lawyers await.