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3 best Web books of 2008

Looking to capitalize on the Facebook revolution? These must-reads show you how.

By Jessi Hempel, writer
December 26, 2008: 10:05 AM ET


NEW YORK (Fortune) -- This was the year that businesses finally embraced the social Internet, setting up blogs, wikis and other Web 2.0 services. But for all their experimentation, relatively few companies have figured out how to be strategic about these new technologies.

Here's the best of this year's literature for companies obsessed with how to get social media right:

What Would Google Do? By Jeff Jarvis (Collins Business, January 2009)

Three years ago, new media impresario Jeff Jarvis posted a blog entry under the headline "Dell Sucks" in which he described his new laptop purchase and the accompanying four-year in-home service. "The machine is a lemon and the service is a lie," he wrote.

His post sparked an online uprising among a cadre of angered customers. A couple of months later, Jarvis posted an open letter to founder Michael Dell, giving him a primer on customer service in the digital age. He urged Dell to "join the conversation" its customers were having.

A year later, much to everyone's surprise, Dell (DELL, Fortune 500) did just that. The company launched a blog, Direct2Dell, where Dell customer reps spoke frankly about their products and services.

Early last year, Michael Dell launched IdeaStorm, a digital suggestion box for product development that has led to new Dell products. Customers, for example, wanted the Linux operating system and Dell obliged on some computers.

The best and worst of Jarvis' efforts are embedded in this anecdote. What Would Google Do? is teeming with real life examples of the Internet's impact on business, among other things. But Jarvis manages to drop more than a few names along the way, making sure to explain that he later ran into Michael Dell at a party at the World Economic Forum in Davos.

If you can get past this, the book offers a great overview of what all businesses across nearly every industry have learned about the way the Web changes what they do.

The Numerati By Stephen Baker Houghton Mifflin, August, 2008

Baker, a BusinessWeek writer, believes that a world broken down into ones and zeroes - the tools of mathematical algorithms - can be reassembled to offer rich and useful portraits of its inhabitants.

The "Numerati" he describes are the computer experts, analysts and statisticians able to sift through the mounds of data we produce every day when we surf the Web, chat on our cell phones, and shop.

The idea is to use mathematical modeling so bosses will get the most work from us. Retailers will make sure we see the most effective advertising. Pollsters will be able to predict with great accuracy who we will vote for.

In punchy chapters with titles such as "worker" and "voter," Baker chronicles the most forward thinking of the Numerati in their efforts to make an impact.

In one of the more provocative sections, Baker pays a visit to IBM's Thomas J. Watson Research Center where a mathematician is building a database of the company's employees. It breaks each worker into a set of skills and knowledge that will help IBM match people to work in much more efficient ways.

In another section, Baker and his wife sign up for an internet dating service, logging in interests and desires to see if they will be matched.

The implications may sound a bit Big Brother-esque, but Baker believes we have as much to benefit as to risk. He hits privacy concerns hard, and explains that with time, we can use these tools to our advantage. And he leaves readers with a curious desire to study math.

Groundswell: Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies By Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff Harvard Business School Press, April 2008

Should my greeting card company have a presence on Facebook? Why does no one post on our internal wiki? To blog or not to blog?

There's absolutely no hype in this manual written by Forrester analysts Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff. They deconstruct Web behavior in great detail and use real-world examples to explain how businesses from Best Buy (BBY, Fortune 500) to Ernst & Young are taking advantage.

Before Li and Bernoff published their definitive guide for the business world on how to take advantage of social media, they spent more than a year posting their insights at

Li has launched an independent consulting business while Bernoff continues to post on the blog. The blog still yields some of the best data about how people use the Web, and what businesses can do to interact with them online.

In a recent post, Bernoff deconstructed the 90-9-1 principle, which holds that, in any given online community, 90% of Web visitors read the content, 9% comment on it, and only 1% create it, writing blog posts or posting videos. To top of page

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