Monday, March 22, 2010

Book Club... And Then Some!

What would Google do?
by Jeff Jarvis

Book Review by
Richard L. Weaver II, Ph.D.

I found this book fascinating simply because it challenges you to think. Jeff Jarvis has numerous credentials. He is on the faculty of the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He was the creator and founding editor of Entertainment Weekly. He writes the new media column for the Guardian in London.

What would Google Do? has three parts, and if I was asked which part I enjoyed the most, I would be hard pressed to give an answer, and here’s why. I have always been intrigued by Google, and the first part of the book explains its philosophy in a set of 40 rules divided into 10 categories. For example, his opening section, “New Relationship,” includes 4 rules: 1) Give the people control and we will use it, 2) Dell hell, 3) Your worst customer is your best friend, 4) Your best customer is your partner. This is just one example, of course. But I found great information in the rules, “The link changes everything,” “If you’re not searchable, you won’t be found,” and “Simplify, simplify.” There are many more.

The second part of the book, “If Google Ruled the World.” Jarvis simply applies the rules discussed in the first part of the book to a long list of businesses: media, advertising, retail, utilities, manufacturing, service, money, public welfare, public institutions, and exceptions. In the third part (only 10 pages long) called, “Generation G,” Jarvis focuses on social implications of the new power structure, dramatically democratized by Google's solutions. In one review, B. Mann writes, “While many companies were sleeping, the rules of business changed, at least as it pertains to business built on, or enabled by, the internet. Or maybe not all the rules changed (e.g. Wal-Mart, the big dog, will remain the big dog), but a new set of rules has been layered on top (e.g. small is the new big).

With those new rules (plus, admittedly, luck), Google has become a behemoth, cyberly speaking. In the process, Google helped redefine the fundamental nature of the relationships between seller, buyer, advertiser, and the "middlemen" whose value in society is rapidly evaporating.”

Although there is a bit too much of Jarvis in this book, it is still a worthwhile read. It is not a book about what Google does, but a book of what we can do with Google. And, furthermore, it is not a practical book, a well-organized book, or one that offers a deep understanding, but I think it offers a preliminary look at the way Internet-based relationships fuel a new business model, and I found it enjoyable simply because it is speculative. It makes you think!

Reinventing Knowledge: From Alexandria to the Internet
by Ian F. McNeely with Lisa Wolverton

Book Review by
Richard L. Weaver II, Ph.D.

In this delightful, well-written, and fully documented 276-page (of text) book, with 25 pages of notes, you will discover a wonderful, fully absorbing, history book that, in my mind, completely and satisfactorily answers the question the authors set out to answer: How does history help us understand the vast changes we are now experiencing in the landscape of knowledge? Further, what are the pivotal points of institutional change and cultural transformation from the classical period to the present?

With Reinventing Knowledge you must enjoy an intellectual challenge, it is true, but if you are interested in the key institutions (i.e., the library, the monastery, the university, the republic of letters, the disciplines, and the laboratory) that have shaped and channeled knowledge in the West, this is certainly a book that will both dazzle and exhilarate your senses.

Because of my background in speech communication, I was particularly drawn to the early section in which they explain the public arenas of democratic Athens where competitive speech and writing took center stage, but were considered an inferior path to truth. There was, then, a shift to knowledge as written then, in another shift, to libraries that could produce Homer’s epics as well as the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible — which made knowledge portable. In yet another shift, monasteries arose as key knowledge institutions to not just preserve written culture of the ancient past but create new frameworks for understanding as well.

It was with the creation of universities that knowledge was again embraced and there was an emphasis on performance, use of the spoken word, and the questioning of texts. This is how the authors proceed through the book, and it makes for fascinating reading.


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