June 15, 2011

8 books for your 2011 Summer Reading List

Google, Facebook, crowd-sourcing, nonprofits, piracy & more

JD LasicaRegular 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’

googlizationAnd Why We Should Worry
By Siva Vaidhyanathan
Publisher: UC Press
$10.30 used to $21.98 new at Better World Books; $13.20 Nook

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.

‘Facebook Me!’

facebook-meA Guide to Socializing, Sharing, and Promoting on Facebook
By Dave Awl
Publisher: Peachpit Press
$18, soft cover (second edition) at Better World Books; $9.99 Nook

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’

A Guide to Open InnovationAdvice 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. Continue reading