Apologies, dear reader, for neglecting you, but there have been some tough times recently. Baruch has been rather depressed, as he faces what he thinks will be a quite nasty environment for stocks next year. Living in the present, however horrible it is, is much more fun than looking forward to 6 months, maybe even 12, of gloom, a narrowing market, and the inevitable short-covering rallies which will blow up the index put positions he uses in a futile attempt to keep the wolf from the door.
Yesterday was his last working day of the year. Although his Epicurean Dealmaker-blocking evil deep packet inspection spyware position blew up and had to be put out of its misery, it was actually pretty good, a fitting end to Baruch’s wildly successful 2007. He is on holiday! Now he can devote himself entirely to you, his adoring public.
To the matter in hand. You know I hate Apple. Now I want to tell you about how I dislike Google.
Bento, I know you are not one to bite the hand that feeds, but the more I think about it there is something deeply creepy about Google. The hubris of the people who work there puts me off, for one. Their crazed diversification, and the concomitant lack of discipline and focus does too (now they are going to become a mobile operator, I understand), and the fact that they are permitted to get away with this by infatuated fund managers and supine analysts — it drives me insane.
There are 2 things that are more serious than this, however:
Firstly, they are commercialising that which should resist commercialisation, namely knowledge, by dominating the media by which it is shared. Commercialising knowledge is dangerous, as it can bring in bias, and naturally tend to exclusion, or the de-emphasis, of knowledge which does not agree with that commercialisation, or which pays less. Spinoza himself gave up business in order to follow philosophy, seeing a contradiction or difficulty between the two. Google has so far been enabling. It created the best extant search engine, for which we should be grateful. It has monetised it, for which we should admire it, and buy the stock, even. But there is a limit to which the ad-driven model can be taken — I for one would pay to avoid having my mobile blitzed with adverts, however spuriously targeted at me they may be, and I am not a curmudgeon. In furthering this business model, Google to me resembles nothing more than an aggressive, hegemonising swarm.
Secondly, they present themselves as something new — “don’t be evil”, wheras their motives are as old as business itself. “Don’t be evil” is Blairite in its meaninglessness, one of those damnable, early 2000s lies; presentation rather than reality. We all know how well Blair turned out; while Google hasn’t yet achieved that type of depth of wrongdoing, surely the point is that is very possible to do evil while being well-meaning. Spinozists know that it is works, not faith, which make the difference in the world, that charity towards a neighbour, the tolerance and freedom to philosophise we allow to others, is much more important than what we think others think, and what they really hold in their hearts.
Both these points are enunciated very clearly in an excellent post by Anil Dash (via Felix), prompted by Google’s latest attempt to move in on Wikipedia’s turf with the awful Knol. I simply don’t see what added value comes from Knol, how it will improve on Wikipedia. To be sure, we will know who wrote what; it will, I suppose, attempt to lend “authority” to postings, for instance in the sample “knol” on Insomnia we are treated to the wisdom of a Stanford professor on the subject. “Knols” will be graded by readers, and (worryingly) by Google itself. But surely the anonymity of the Wiki is an advantage, providing us the content in a context-free manner. This sounds bad but it isn’t. In most cases there are 2 or more sides to an issue, often tightly held to by their partisans; a thesis and antithesis. A “knol” would likely be one or the other. The genius of the Wiki is its ability, via a similar mechanism to price clearing in a market, to achieve some form of filtered synthesis — likely abridged and excised, to be sure, but what remains is the stuff which people can grudgingly agree to agree or disagree on. Allusions to one side or other of a controversy can remain, but they invite further reading and investigation.
No, Knol to me seems more hegemonising behaviour by Google; part of the old Ellison-Jobs-Gates etc etc Silicon Valley power games we of the econo-bloggy-firmament love to comment on, and which Google, for all its presentation of itself as something new, has enthusiastically joined in and intensified.
The key to this slightly disfunctional behaviour lies I think in a possible truth about Google as revealed by Fake Steve Jobs in a fictional exchange with Google’s CEO, who says (or rather, didn’t say).
“Seriously, Steve, you think this search monopoly is going to last forever? Have you ever read Andy Grove’s book, the one about how everybody wants to kill you? Our industry is full of companies that used to be great. Look at Sun. And Novell. They used to be huge but they couldn’t invent a second act for themselves and now they’re dog shit.”
I’m like, Dude, didn’t you kind of run both of those companies?
He’s like, “Next question. Fact is, if Google doesn’t come up with something else, we’ll be road kill too.”
Well I’d never looked at it that way. But maybe he’s got a point. The fact is, Google might seem rich and powerful, but in fact they’re in danger. They’ve got a CEO with a wobbly track record and an army of high-IQ oversexed teenagers with severe ADHD running wild in a Montessori pre-school of a campus.
It may even be deeper than that. You know what? I have only twice in my life clicked through on an internet ad on purpose. Just twice. And I don’t think I look at them much the rest of the time. What about you?