Google, Facebook, crowd-sourcing, nonprofits, piracy & more
Regular readers know that in between consulting projects at Socialmedia.biz and Socialbrite, I sneak in the occasional book review. My schedule has been more hectic than usual, but this is a good time to slip in some short writeups in advance of summer reading season.
Books still matter — whether in print or on an electronic reader. These are all worth a read. You have your own favorites? Please share in the comments below!
‘The Googlization of Everything’
1What an interesting premise for a book!: the notion of Google writ large as a metaphor for how the public is being enticed into a new set of online realities and cultural norms that happen to dovetail perfectly with the search giant’s bottom line. Writes Siva (an old friend whom I’ve lost touch with): “Tracking Google was never my goal; instead, I seek to explain why and how Google tracks us.”
It’s a worthy effort, particularly in such public policy areas as Google Book Search, a byzantine legal case that is still winding its way through the courts. Vaidhyanathan, one of the giants of intellectual property law, makes a strong argument that we ought to be digitizing a universal library of knowledge, not a pay-as-you-go bookstore with Google as the gatekeeper — though he and others have never convincingly explained who exactly will pay for this effort and how it will be coordinated across the myriad myopic groves of academe. At a time when the House of Representatives wants to defund public broadcasting, it’s unfathomable that funding could be found for a Human Knowledge Project, as praiseworthy as the idea of a global public sphere remains.
Other arguments are less convincing, as when he characterizes Google’s pullout from China as “an empty and counterproductive gesture” (page 10), yet pages later argues that “Google has contributed to censorship in China” when it was operating there (page 74). And his suggestion that the Great Firewall of China does not exist (page 125) because many technically minded people can skirt it would strike many pro-democracy activists there as a startling claim. (This website, among countless others, is censored in China.) Siva, meet Rebecca MacKinnon.
“The Googlization of Everything'” is a welcome antidote to the spate of rah-rah cheerleading books about Google by authors who should know better. But a greater problem with this book’s premise is the significant shift in the technology landscape that has taken place over the past year. To my mind, here on the edges of Silicon Valley, a more needed tome today would be one focusing on Apple’s attempt to slip us a perfectly made mickey so that we prefer its walled garden of techno-fantastia over the open Web. This is how quickly things change in the Valley, where Apple is now the second most valuable company on the planet — and wants to exert much greater control over our lives.
Still, one doesn’t pick up a book like “The Googlization of Everything” expecting to agree with everything in it. Rather, the value comes in having a big thinker poke at our lazy assumptions with elegance and intellectual heft, challenging our “blind faith and worship” of all things Google.
2I briefly collaborated with the author a few months back on a four-part series I wrote here on how to take charge of Facebook’s news feed. Dave seemed to be one of the few experts out there with a handle on Facebook’s enigmatic, fast-changing EdgeRank algorithm as well as other tricks that come in handy for the 600 million of us who spend way too much time on the world’s top social network.
“Facebook Me!” manages to stay fresh and current, even as Mark Zuckerberg keeps changing things up every couple of months. It’s a fast, breezy, fun read, as Awl takes us through the basics (skip this part if you’re not a newbie), discusses privacy and security (including phishing, Trojans and “clickjacking“), how to grow your audience as a brand and how to engage your friends as an individual, how to manage the multitude of add-ons at your fingertips, how to advertise on Facebook and much more.
If you’ve been wanting to learn more about the ins and outs of Facebook, start with “Facebook Me!”
‘A Guide to Open Innovation and Crowdsourcing’
Advice From Leading Experts
Edited by Paul Sloane
Publisher: Kogan Page
$17.48 at Better World Books
3Crowdsourcing, for those not in the know, refers to harnessing the skills and enthusiasm of those outside an organization who are prepared to volunteer their time contributing content or skills and solving problems. And we have only dimly begun to discern the outlines of this revolution in the making.
In this anthology solicited from leading thinkers chiefly in the U.S. and Europe, the book explores how to use the power of people outside of your own business or organization to inject innovative new ideas and approaches. The trick, of course, is finding the right group of people, and the right set of circumstances, so that the contributions amount to more signal than noise. The chapters here are a bit uneven, with some occasionally straying into dense academic fog, but that’s more than made up for by solid case studies, as with the chapter on Threadless, a T-shirt design shop that represents a new breed of company whose success hinges on the wisdom of its community.
Buy “Open Innovation” and understand the upheaval heading our way.
‘Welcome to the Fifth Estate’
4Geoff Livingston (yes, another friend) is one of the nonprofit sector’s true thought leaders, spinning out his takes on marketing, philanthropy and national events on an almost daily basis on his personal blog. And he has been a longtime provocateur, gadfly and voice of reason in the conversation about citizen media and social media (a still nascent movement that I dubbed “the personal media revolution” in my 2005 book “Darknet”). In recent years, nonprofits, businesses and marketers have discovered that the media world has changed, and Welcome to the Fifth Estate is a splendid guide to the new realities.
Geoff’s book covers the basics, but it goes deeper than other books have in delving into strategy: the whys that go far beyond tactics and campaigns. The book thoughtfully lays out four kinds of social media strategies and describes how your day-to-day activities should reinforce the organization’s overarching goals. It offers a wealth of case studies that exemplify how businesses and nonprofits are using social media effectively to create a new conversational dynamic with their constituencies. It provides a great tutorial on how to set up a metrics program for your social media efforts. And it ties it all together with a clean, thoughtful style that’s missing from many books that tackle the subject only half as well as this one does. Nice job, Geoff!
Update: Geoff Livingston says, Publisher shorted the run. More coming, steer readers toward the Kindle http://amzn.to/jVYQii
‘Changing the World on a Tuesday Night’
By Tammi DeVille
Publisher: Lumino Books
$24.95 hardcover, buy it
5As a general rule, I don’t meet many authors at conferences who impress me. Tammi DeVille at last week’s NVCS gathering in New Orleans was the exception, and I’ve already read through most of her captivating tales of volunteers who are changing the world in their spare time — Tuesday night or otherwise.
The concept here is drop-dead simple, but beautiful: a hardbound book of short narratives of people, ages 16 to 70, who perform service in their communities in a multitude of ways: shooting portraits, creating marketing pieces, protecting neighborhoods, coaching girls, feeding children, tutoring dropouts — you get the idea. Each mini-chapter contains a short portrait of the volunteer, a great photo and a top-rate design that carries you through these stories of hope and transformation. Nice.
‘The Future of Nonprofits’
Innovate and Thrive in the Digital Age
By David J. Neff and Randal C. Moss
$29.70 new on Amazon.com
6Those of us who’ve worked with the nonprofit sector know that change comes slow, and that’s a special disadvantage in today’s fast-moving social media landscape.
The authors, movers and shakers in their own right, offer more than just a generalized blueprint for workplace innovation or discussions of strategy at 30,000 feet. “The Future of Nonprofits” lays out nuts-and-bolts steps that nonprofits and other organizations can take to implement a practical approach to becoming a more nimble, forward-looking, social organization. It smartly encourages nonprofits to seek out internal champions and employees with an entrepreneurial streak to become community ambassadors. And it peers into the future of fundraising and communications/marketing trends and concludes: Behold, there’s hope after all for those who want to move forward into the new world that’s emerging. Frustrated at the pace of change in your organization? Pick up “The Future of Nonprofits” and consider the possibilities that can be grasped.
How Internet Pirates Get Free Stuff
By Chris Fehily
Publisher: Questing Vole Press
$17.48 new at Better World Books
7“Cancel Cable” is not a book for middle-class consumers who subscribe to Netflix, purchase software from Adobe, download songs from iTunes and buy e-books for their Kindle. Chris Fehily won’t exactly call them suckers, but he will show them — as well as college students, crackers, digital anarchists and others — the Pirate Way.
My 2005 book Darknet posited that for the rest of our lives the digital marketplace we’ll see a duopoly — one part legal commerce, with media companies coming late to the game, and one part digital bazaar consisting of free goods sought by those who can’t afford, or don’t have access to, the digital wares they so fervently desire.
“Cancel Cable” is a how-to guide for the latter camp, showing folks how they can get stuff — music, TV shows, movies, games, software. But it’s also valuable to a wider audience looking to understand the world of peer-to-peer networks and BitTorrent. For many readers, it will be a walk on the wild side. Go ahead, call up the torrents site Demonoid.me, or do a search on Google for torrents of Super 8. Careful, don’t freak out!
While fascinating, one also can’t help but wonder: Is the world of “Cancel Cable” necessary, or merely convenient, now that there are legal (if not always reasonably priced) alternatives, more often than not.
How Retraints on Nonprofits Undermine Their Potential
By Dan Pallotta
Publisher: Tufts University Press
$15.48 used, $25.59 new on Better World Books
8Dan Pallotta’s shot across the bow of traditional philanthropy came out in 2008, but I just came across it and found that its central thesis still holds true: that our society’s nonprofit ethic creates a mindset that drives talented people to the private sector and penalizes those who can help dramatically drive forward progress in the sector.
Pallotta’s challenge is a big one: to transform “the very meaning of charity itself,” to question “what we have been taught — every rule, every constraint, every sacred cow — everything and anything that stands in the way of our ability to eliminate suffering and need. The nonprofit sector is being suffocated by a morality imposed from the outside and reinforced from within. It is based on methods instead of outcomes …”
And this: “We allow people to make huge profits doing any number of things that harm the poor, but prohibit anyone from making a profit doing anything that will help them. Want to make a million selling violent video games to kids. Go for it. Want to make a million funding the ure for childhood leukemia. You are a parasite. The illogic is breathtaking.”
Strong and provocative words. Does he make the case? Mostly, yes. But it’s hard to come at this subject with all the cultural baggage that we bring as readers. Your mileage will vary, but it’s worth the fascinating journey.
At last week’s National Conference on Volunteering and Service, Brian Reich gathered two dozen thought leaders around a table who agreed there was too much duplication of efforts and not enough collaboration. We might have begun by reading from “Uncharitable” (page 114): “We can achieve tremendous economies of scale by joining forces. We don’t need hundreds of fragmented approaches to the same problems. We don’t need fragmented and redundant fundraising models.”
Also on my Reading List
• In the Plex, by Steve Levy
• Enchantment: The Art of Changing Hearts, Minds, and Actions, by Guy Kawasaki
• What’s Mine Is Yours: The Rise of Collaborative Consumption, by Rachel Botsman and Roo Rogers
• Nonprofit Management 101, by Darian Heyman
• The Pollyanna Principles, by Hildy Gottlieb
• A Survival Guide to Social Media and Web 2.0 Optimization (2nd edition), by Deltina Hay
• Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other, by Sherry Turkle
• We First: How Brands & Consumers Use Social Media to Build a Better World, by Simon Mainwaring
• Do More Than Give, by Leslie Crutchfield, John Kania, and Mark Kramer
• 10 socially conscious online bookstores (JD Lasica at Socialbrite)
• Reviews of two books: A new era in media: Steve Rosenbaum’s “Curation Nation” & Dan Gillmor’s “Mediactive”
• Review of ‘Social Marketing to the Business Customer’: Paul Gillin and Eric Schwartzman offer meaty, real-world examples of how to grow your business using B2B and B2C strategies and tactics.
• ‘Dragonfly Effect’: Small acts create big change: Review of the new book on mobilizing social causes by Jennifer Aaker and Andy Smith.
• Reviews of five books: Clay Shirky’s “Cognitive Surplus“; Beth Kanter’s “The Networked Nonprofit“; David Kirkpatrick’s “The Facebook Effect“; Jeff Saperstein & Hunter Hastings’ “Bust the Silos“; John Hagel, John Seely Brown & Lang Davison’s “The Power of Pull”
• Review of ‘Open Leadership’: Winning by letting go: Charlene Li’s latest look at social marketing deserves a place on your business books shelf.
Image at top by KOMUnews on Flickr
J.D. Lasica was, among many other things, a former book editor at the Sacramento Bee. As always, these reviews are released under a Creative Commons license and may be republished with attribution. JD Lasica, founder of Socialmedia.biz, is now co-founder of the cruise discovery engine Cruiseable. See his About page, contact JD or follow him on Twitter or Google Plus.