What should Google do?

I’m about to give some WWGD? advice … to Google.

When I’m asked about Google’s weaknesses – and they do exist – I list its lack of transparency in certain areas of its business, especially advertising (even as we all need to be transparent if we want to be found in search), its policy toward China (where it should be a better defender of free speech), its size (just because government and competitors soon see too much success as a problem), the other frontiers it has not (yet) conquered (the live web, the social web, the local web, the deep web), and its sometimes unilateral power over its ad partners. The fact that Google ad rates are set by auction in the market insulates it fairly well from claims that it could use monopoly power to set prices. But the fact that Google decides who may and may not use AdSense does leave it vulnerable to accusations of misuse of power.

See Aaron Greenspan’s saga about his $761 small claims fight with Google about canceling his account. There are other such cases in the court. I don’t know the specifics of Greenspan’s others’ claims sufficiently to take sides in the disputes. Doesn’t matter. The point for Google is that it can’t win by holding the power itself. It will be accused of ruining little guys’ businesses (though in many cases, those business are spam blogs — and I wish Google would work harder to get rid of more of them faster) or of wielding a monopoly.

So what should Google do? What Would Google Do with Google?

I suggest that Google should hand over the power of adjudication of such disputes to the community of publishers and advertisers. It is in their interests, like Google’s, to maintain a credible marketplace that is not ruined by spammers and click-fraudsters. Google should still use its automated systems to eliminate them, as they pop up like zits on a geek. But when there are disputes, wouldn’t Google be wiser to hand the matter over to a wise council – whose members could be elected by Google’s community of business partners, small and large – to rule? That way, Google cannot be accused of being unfair and acting with unilateral power.

That, I think, would be the Googley thing to do. To paraphrase some of the rules in my book… It would hand over control to Google’s public. It would exhibit trust in that public. It would rely on the generosity of that public. It would be transparent, doing business in public. It would open-source the process. It would take advantage of the network Google already has and distribute the task. It would be a way to elegantly organize the community and its needs and rules. It would be a recognition that Google can make mistakes. It would be a case of doing what you do best and linking to the rest.

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  • Hi Jeff!

    I’m new to this blog and new to becoming Googley! I’m enjoying your book WWGD? and even commented about it in my blog (startingfreshcoaching.com/blog) – thank you for responding to my shout out.

    I love your book and I love what you are doing to spread the concept of transparency and collaboration. And I was amazed to read the article about the guy that’s taken Google on when I turned to huffingtonpost this morning.

    My hope is that someone at Google pays heed to your suggestion. I look forward to seeing what others think as well.

    Thanks for bringing me into the 21st Century!

    Melanie Keveles
    Career Coach and Author of Scrappy Startups

  • I think it’s important to distinguish between kinds of weaknesses that will hurt them in a business sense (are they secure in their position and profitable?) and in a personal sense (do people love them?). It seems that the latter is what most concerns you.

    It has not yet conquered many frontiers, and I don’t see this as a weakness ,unless it’s the fact that there could be a rival. Google already has tons of niches. I cannot see them expanding to the deep web, for example. That isn’t what they are.

    The “community of publishers and advertisers” seems unrealistic, though. This also does not seem like what they are either, and I can easily see this community taking advantage, as this would abdicate a lot of responsibility.

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  • This comment is mostly evidence-free, but it’s still an intuition that may match what others experience:

    Sometimes Google is pretty creepy.

    Whether it’s the China issue that Jeff rightly identifies or the heavy-handedness with advertising, sometimes they just seem a little creepy.

    And nobody likes creepy.

    That may be a vulnerability over the years if it grows, but like I said, nearly evidence-free and hardly rigorous analysis. Still, I bet I’m not the only one who has that intuition.

  • I think it’s a great idea in theory, Jeff. But with all Google’s success there’s just not much impetus for it to be that accountable if it doesn’t have to be.

    By the way, in reference to your, ahem, creative simile, I’m a major geek with very clear skin, thank you. :)

    Bridget Brown

  • Google is a strange phenomenon, on the one hand a generation has grown up with it and the infamous ‘google it’ phrase pops up at home, work and when with friends (yep I have kinda weird friends).

    The great thing about google is that it is one of those companies that it truly innovative, it pushes the edge of everything it does. The sad thing is that innovation comes at a price, the world is changing and google is helping create a new landscape, at least on the internet. Innovation is a fantastic capability, it’s shaking up the rest of the industry and I have to admit I do applaud them for doing it. This power does come with a degree of responsibility though. We are a UK based ISV with responsibility and integrity coming out of our ears so Im sure if a company as small as ours can do it, then the biggest ISV in the world should be able to do it a little bit better than us.