Monday, 8 September 2008

Ten Years, Five Lessons

Google is 10 today(ish) and has just pushed it's digitisation programme even further. After a decade of ubiquitous multicolour rule what does Google's success teach us? I've listed five quick lessons which libraries can draw from Larry and Sergey's approach:

1: Services not Products

Google has taught us that you don't actually need to sell a product to make money, only a service. It's especially good if this service is advertising. In fact, selling a simple service (Ads) through multiple services (search, email, calendar, etc) greatly increases both your revenue and your respect in the community. 

Libraries are already ahead of the game in this area as we're all about fantastic services aimed directly at our customer, what we have to remember is that we should avoid attempts to comodify those services into 'products' which limit our users and they way in which they can interact with them.

2: People Are Interested - if you are too.

Ever heard a rumour about a 'new' Google product? Or closed beta? The reaction from Android developers is a prime example of how keen people are to use Google's technology. The public are willing to invest time and energy into testing incomplete products primarily because they think that their feeback might be listened to and lead to a better results at the end of the day. 

The lesson here is simple - listen! It's easy enough to pay lip service to user feedback but true user engagement requires concerted effort but yields real results, we should always be happy to receive comments and suggestions, take them seriously and give credit where it's due.

3: Give Your Staff Space to Develop

Google is famous for being a great employer, and part of their approach is to give staff '20% time' in which to pursue their own projects. This doesn't mean slacking off, staff have to present on this work and take comments from colleagues. 

Libraries know full well that training is key to keeping staff providing great service but how much time do we give our staff to explore their own work-related interests? Let's not pretend that any of us have Google's capacity or funding but the lesson still stands - great staff need space to develop themselves and we should encourage that development whilst also ensuring that it's relevant by providing an environment where staff can present their work and comment on others'.

4: Employ Creative and Driven People

Ok, now here's a no-brainer - Google employs a large number of PhDs because they feel that they're creative and driven. Because their entire service portfolio is built around a core of information searching creativity is key, and new ways of working are essential to preserving their edge - the technology and development are essentially just adjuncts to the core information base. 

Libraries still need to pay attention here - it's just not about hiring chartered Librarians, it's about recognising the need to hire and develop creative people who are driven to work with information.  Because it's information, and we providing creative ways of working with it, that is at the centre of our business and everything else is adjunct

5: Change, but Don't.

Isn't it great that Google offers new services all the time? That the homepage logo reflects different events and that your gmail space is constantly ticking higher and higher? But deep down, under this ever changing fascia, is a stable core. A large part of the respect Google has is because it hardly ever compromises on it's central values. 
Now this is tough for any public institution - not least libraries. We all have to deal with changing wider strategic frameworks which sometimes make it hard for us to pursue our own long-term plans. However, we need to make sure that we retain our integrity whilst adapting and evolving to meet new challenges. 


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