The Google Lovefest

Dave Winer put forth some thoughts about trusting Google on his blog. Another article by ZDNet includes some additional thoughts and some background.
It is absolutely fascinating to watch a company like Google craft an image that is founded upon goodwill and hugs and kisses. As far as I’m concerned, I just don’t buy it. Here’s why…

First off, Google is a company, not a charitable organization. While it would be great and wonderful if they could make tons of money and be altruistic, the real world is a bit of another story. I remember reading an interview with Craig from Craigslist where he talked about doing good and making money at the same time. I mean, if you can pull that off, great.
Google reminds me of the free-for-all that infected so many start-ups in the late 90’s. The ingredients: a lot of cash, an idealistic view of the world, no accountability to investors (at least for a while). The result? “We’re gonna change the world and make a difference, and oh yeh, eventually, we’re going to make some money.”
Now Google today is unique in some ways. It’s already making money. As to whether the money it makes (and promises to make) justifies it’s share price? I’ll leave that for others to debate.
I think Google’s strategy today is similar to the Internet start-ups of the 90’s in that they’re trying everything and are more interested in usage, adoption and brand-building over tangible returns.
Just yesterday, Google announced they’re gonna swallow whole and make searchable the libraries of some major universities. No doubt a potentially great public service that we’re all assuming is going to be free. Index and search your desktop? Free. News alerts as they happen in your email? Free. Search Google with your cell phone? Free. Email account with 1GB of space? Free.
Let’s face it folks, this stuff ain’t free because Google wants to turn the world into one big hippie festival. It’s free because (a) Google makes money through a solid ad-based model and (b) they’re using that money to build their brand in other areas that today don’t make money at all.
I don’t think a Master Plan is in place at Google HQ. I think there’s a “We’ll figure it out later” mindset. For now, just try to innovate and put out some neat, free stuff.
As to their altruism, I try to be optimistic when it comes to people, and cynical when it comes to businesses. They are a public, widely-held company and their master is not some idealistic charter. It is those shareholders.
A few months ago, Google tried to drop support for RSS on their Blogger application in an attempt to position ATOM, an alternative and lesser-known syndication standard. There was all sorts of wrangling, and eventually Blogger brought back support for RSS. That doesn’t sound so altruistic to me.
In the end, I think it’s really early in the Story of Google book. There’s a ways to go before it becomes clear that Google can succeed and do no evil at the same time.

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