I'm looking forward to reading Jeff Jarvis's new book, What Would Google Do? I've enjoyed meeting Jeff at a few conferences, and the excerpts he's been posting on his site have demonstrated he's got a good outsider's perspective on how Google approaches opportunities. He's going to be at Google HQ next week, which should make for some interesting discussions.
But I'm writing to share a very minor, but nevertheless interesting, little case study on what is normal here that would probably seem a bit odd to friends of mine working at less Googley (yes, we actually use that term at Google) companies.
A couple weeks back, someone on our team saw a video over at Everything TypePad that showed how to add your blog's feed to Facebook so that your posts get imported as a Facebook "note". (This is one of those "duh" things that if you have a blog and you use Facebook, you should absolutely do. I started doing it a couple years back, and immediately noticed an uptick in traffic as my non-geek friends suddenly became aware of the fact that I had a blog and occasionally wrote stuff that was interesting. Occasionally.)
Now, TypePad is a competitor to Blogger: they offer a paid service that a number of my friends use and love. Instinctively, I think most people would tell you that highlighting your competition is a no-no. But here's the thing: in the video, Andy Wibbels (the guy on the video) actually showed users how to do this not only for TypePad but for Blogger and for WordPress (another competitor) as well. He didn't have to do it. But no doubt had he shown only TypePad in the video, someone would have shown up in the comments screaming about how he was misleading users, and why didn't he point out that you could do this with any blog?
OK, fast forward a couple weeks. We agreed that this was information that would be useful for Blogger users. We could have put our own video together, but why bother? Andy's was great, he actually does talk about how our users would do it, and it's already out there. So rather than duplicate effort, Brett posted a link to the post "from our friends at TypePad" on Blogger Buzz. That got automatically posted to Blogger's Twitter account, and within minutes there were several appreciative replies (here's an example).
A p.s.: I posted a quick note about this on Twitter last night, and within an hour, Andy at TypePad had responded, thanking me for linking to the video.
Our users want to know that we're looking out for them, that we're going to help them get more out of Blogger. They don't want to think that we're keeping info from them just because it's coming from a competitor. Is there a risk that a user might see Andy's video and decide to give TypePad a try? Sure. (That's no doubt one reason they included Blogger and WordPress in the video.) But our success depends on our ability to make Blogger easy to use and our users effective at using it. Hoarding information doesn't get us any closer to that goal - and if users started to sense that we were nervous about admitting we had competition, they might go look for themselves to see what we were so afraid of.
I have friends at both Six Apart (the company that makes TypePad) and Automattic (the company that makes WordPress). I'm a pretty competitive guy, and I want to ensure that Blogger remains the largest blogging platform seen by the most people in the world. But that doesn't stop me from actually helping a high profile blogger migrate off of Blogger when it's the right thing to do. In the end, our users will remember those actions: they'll remember that when given the chance to say "sorry, not my problem, best of luck" or "yeah, I can help get that bug fixed so you can export your data", we didn't hesitate to help them out.
If you won't point to your competition when they do something right, won't help your users do the right thing even when it means you'll lose them, you're sending the wrong message. It means you don't value their trust, and don't want to build a long-term relationship. How seriously do we take this at Google? Take the Thomas Hawk migration I linked to above: not only did we fix a Blogger bug that meant he could finally export his entire blog, but a separate group at Google released an open source library that helped convert his blog from Blogger to WordPress, which Thomas used because WordPress's own importer could not import the Blogger exported file. (Completing the counter-intuitive circle: releasing a product that helps people move off of Blogger actually makes people more likely to use Blogger.)
This is just one of many examples of why I love working at Google. I expect our users to hold us to this standard - and I expect us to realize when we're not living up to it and do something about it. It's a daunting thing to realize millions of people rely on the service you're responsible for managing. But it'd be overwhelming if the only reason they were there was because they felt they didn't have a choice.