Saturday, September 13, 2008

Google - Hiding Behind Technology

I’ve always admired Google. I still do. I wish I had been certain enough in my admiration to bid on their Dutch auction IPO. But I wasn’t, so I didn’t.

I love their company values and their “Do No Evil” mantra – in the battle against Microsoft and other tech giants, it was the rallying cry of a scrappy innovator with a mission and a purpose. But as the dominant player in numerous categories and businesses, including online advertising, I have a hard time seeing Google as David against all of those Goliaths anymore.

Today’s NY Times story about Sourcetool is the latest installment in the story of Google's growing arrogance. Like Sourcetool, everyone with a web presence tries to optimize it so that it comes up high in Google’s natural language search results. The lore about what Google’s algorithm is looking for is passed from one entrepreneur to another. There is no handbook and the algorithm itself is a closely guarded secret.

The latest accusations against Google’s algorithm remind me of the movie “Wanted”, which came out in June. In the movie, Morgan Freeman leads a team of assassins whose targets are “written” in fabric woven by a loom – the loom of fate - that has been endowed with mystical powers. Of course, in the end we learn that Morgan Freeman himself has been calling the shots (literally) by reinterpreting the “assignments” to protect himself as well as some of the assassins, whose names supposedly came up in the loom’s binary code.

Using “The Algorithm” as the guardian of the customer experience gives the people of Google plausible deniability when those of us outside the company don’t like what happens. It’s time for Google to grow up and take responsibility for its actions and their consequences.

The sequel to “Wanted” is already in the works. I can’t wait to see what new lessons it holds for Google, and the rest of us.

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