Jeff Jarvis Comes Clean

The other day, I attended a launch party where Jeff Jarvis talked about his now best-selling book, “What Would Google Do?” I came back and assembled my reactions in a post entitled “What Would Google Do? / What Does Google Do?“. One of my strongest objections to Jarvis’s shtick is that he extols transparency as a particularly “Googley” attribute.

But now, in an interview with Steve Rubel from Micro Persuasion, Jarvis seems to accept that this really isn’t the case:

Mr. Rubel: You also talk a lot about transparency. Google, however, isn’t the most transparent company. What does the ad industry need to change here?
Mr. Jarvis: Google is not perfect. It expects us all to be transparent — so we can be found in search, so we can benefit from our Googlejuice. But Google is not sufficiently transparent about its ad splits or its Google News sources. So, as our parents would say, this may be a case of doing what Google says more than what it does.

Amen! I’m not saying Google is evil, or trying to incite a round of accusing Google of not living up to its ideals. But I am glad to see Jarvis coming clean on the point I found most objectionable in his presentation. Now I’m at least open to finding out if I should actually get the book and read it.

By Daniel Tunkelang

High-Class Consultant.

4 replies on “Jeff Jarvis Comes Clean”

The ad revenue splits or the Google News sources are the least of Google’s non-transparency woes.

There are even more important aspects of where Google is not transparent, such as (1) what the objective function is that Google is trying to optimize w/r/t its organic search, and (2) what the decision and measurement criteria are for mixing ads in with the organic results, for example:

(i) How does Google decide when to show ads (on the right) and when not to.
(ii) How does Google decide when to show ads (on top) and when not to. And how much does that confuse the user to have ads coming and going on a per-query basis, dynamically changing the location of the first organic result.
(iii) When optimizing for the user, how did Google decide that it was better to put ads on the right and query suggestions on the bottom, rather than query suggestions to the right and ads on the bottom?

And that’s just a start. I can think of a dozen other design and algorithm decisions that are anything but transparent, and make my interaction with the search engine, and my ability to understand what it is trying to do for me, and when I should and shouldn’t use it, that much more difficult.


Jeff, I beg to differ. I admit that I haven’t read your book, but I did attend the launch party and I’ve also followed much of the buzz online. But, lest I be accused of quoting you out of context, I’m embedding your own video preview for the book in its entirety, where you call Google “open and transparent” within the first fifteen seconds.


And Jeff, to be clear, I agree with what you said during the interview with Rubel. Google’s mission statement, like many religious texts, has some great rules to live by. But you talk about Google as a company, and not just googleyness as a platonic ideal. Retro as it may sounds, I’m just being a good investigative reporter, trying to keep you honest and the world informed.


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