Is Google Google-y?

Interviewing  blogger Jeff Jarvis about his recently published book, “What Would Google Do?“, Nick Summers asks:

Are there any areas in which Google itself doesn’t act very “Google-y?” Not disclosing its advertising revenue splits, for example.

Jarvis answers:

Right. There are areas where Google doesn’t act very Google-y, which are mainly about transparency. It can’t be transparent about its algorithms and how they operate, because then they will get gamed more. And those are special sauce. I wish Google were more open about its advertising arrangements and splits, so we had a better sense of the value of the market; I wish it were more open about the sources that it puts into Google News.

I’m glad to see Jarvis recognizing this lack of transparency, which I’ve occasionally railed about on his blog. Read the rest of the interview at Newsweek.

By Daniel Tunkelang

High-Class Consultant.

9 replies on “Is Google Google-y?”

I have a basic question about this: Is being Googl-y what made Google successful?

If so, then what aspects of Googly-ness lead to that success?

I remember in 1998-1999, the buzz around the web was that to be Googly meant to not show any ads. Then in 1999-2001, the buzz was that to be Googly meant to only show relevant, text based ads. Then in 2005-2006, you could be Googly if you showed non-relevant banner ads, just not on Google properties.


So what does it really mean to be Googly?


Along those same lines, being Googly used to mean focusing on one thing, and doing it really well (search).

Nowadays, we have Googly mobile phone operating systems, Googly 3d virtual worlds, etc.

So does being Googly mean focusing on a lot of different things, and doing them all very well? If so, why did that used to be anti-Googly?

I guess I’m saying that I really don’t understand what “being Googly” really means.


I think the neologism is supposed to mean doing thing in the way that morally, technically, and obviously right. In other words, being on the side of the angels. And even Jarvis seems to concede that being google-y / googly implies a degree of transparency that Google does not provide. Perhaps he’s reading my comments on his blog after all. 🙂


But the angels at one point said “no ads, of any kind”. And then the angels said, “ok, but only if they’re relevant, text-based, and unobtrusive”. And then the angels said “well, graphical ads are ok, now, too”.

Since the angels keep changing, I guess I really don’t get what Google means by Googly.

Oh, that reminds me.. another “Googly” angelic principle is that Google does not self-advertise. At least that is what I heard, for many years. Then the night before I went to SIGIR 2008 — actually a few hours before I left for the airport — I went to a SF Giants baseball game. Being on my way to SIGIR, I had my camera with me.. so I was able to snap a few pictures of the 150-foot display advertising boards.. which were covered with Google Maps / Google Transit advertisements.

That struck me as very unGoogly, at least in terms of what the angels had previously said.


Hey, even angels have the right to change their minds! But seriously, I think it’s silly to fixate on implementation details (e.g., their change of heart about horoscopes – ). Furthermore, I am not quite as concerned with what they do as with why they do it–or at least what credible justifications they offer for their actions. Morality isn’t just a collection of actions; it’s what should provide the basis for those actions.


Furthermore, I am not quite as concerned with what they do as with why they do it–or at least what credible justifications they offer for their actions. Morality isn’t just a collection of actions; it’s what should provide the basis for those actions.

Oh, I absolutely agree. And what I am saying is that the credible justifications that they offer for their actions are getting shakier and shakier. And in some cases, when you peel back the layers, you see that there was no credible justification at all, other than the Dollar Almighty.

Perhaps part of that is related to transparency. Perhaps there really are credible justifications to many of their actions.. they just can’t or won’t tell us the true justifications, because they have a pattern of non-transparency in the way they operate?

I really don’t know.


..what I mean is.. I would really like to understand the underlying, unchanging principle to which the angels are consistently adhering, even as they change the surface implementations of what they are doing. I feel like I am no closer to understanding that now that I was a decade ago, when their company first started.


That’s a fair question. Stay tuned–I’m preparing a blog post about this, and I don’t want to steal my own thunder by short-changing it in this comment thread! I’m sure you’ll like the upcoming post. 🙂


[…] I perhaps deserve credit (responsibility?) for inciting the mob by asking the first question, suggesting that Google was the opposite of transparent (one of the most “Googly” qualities in his enumeration) and that, if we were to learn anything from Google, it was that success is best achieved through benign dictatorship. In fact, I told Jarvis that I thought he’d already seen the light on this issue. […]


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