July 23, 2002
5:20 PM   Subscribe

In a word, Google's goal is to do important stuff that matters to a lot of people. In pursuit of that goal, we've developed a set of values that drive our work, including one of our most cherished core values: "Don't be evil." We already know that Google can deliver the goods when it comes to services -- so what do you guys think? Is it possible that a company could actually be worthy of our trust?
posted by tweebiscuit (29 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
My two cents: it's the first time it's happened to me since I became a slave to Nintendo in elementary school, but in my mind Google can do no wrong. Their services are perfect, their innovations are genuinely ground-breaking and brilliant, their importance on the internet brings to mind late-90s era Yahoo, and they've done it all without pop-unders, sell-outs, or other associated "evil". Is this or is this not the greatest company on the internet?
posted by tweebiscuit at 5:23 PM on July 23, 2002

But how long will it last?

How long until Mr. Google thinks, "Y'know... selling search result placement to major corporations for their registered trademarks isn't too evil... and we could use the profits to do great things!"

And once that door is opened...
posted by whatnotever at 5:35 PM on July 23, 2002

I'll trust Google far, far less if and when the company becomes publically traded and beholden to outside shareholders. So long as Google is privately held, they have more than a little of my loyalty.
posted by majick at 5:37 PM on July 23, 2002

Even if you believe that the current Google is not evil and can be trusted, that does not imply that the future Google will not be evil. A company is an entity independent of whoever is in charge and their current corporate philosophy.

I mean we all thought Yahoo was going to do the right thing? As long as they are a for-profit enterprise, beholden to their investors or shareholders, they will continue to have to prove to us that they are not evil.
posted by vacapinta at 5:44 PM on July 23, 2002

No wonder so many people on Mefi don't believe in the concept of "evil" when we imbue search engines with the mantles of "good" and "evil".
posted by owillis at 5:47 PM on July 23, 2002

Full disclosure: my sister's husband is Google's head lawyer, and so that part of my family stands to profit pretty heavily when (if?) they go IPO. (because of stock options, ones that are actually likely to be worth something).

That said, I think they kick serious ass. I hope they aren't acquired by someone who corrupts them.

I don't think that's likely to happen, however. The founders seem to be really amazingly clueful people who have hired a great team who really believes in what they're doing and does it well.

They have set a standard for excellence for internet companies that is difficult to exceed.

And it will continue to be hard to exceed as long as their cool factor remains high and legions of geeks would just about *kill* to work there. They can cherry-pick the absolute best because they are continuously drowned in resumes from the brightest minds around.

I've visited the place, and it is quite truly amazing. If I ever run a company, I'll borrow a lot of the ideas for how to run it from them.

And the food in the cafeteria is _excellent_. The chef used to cook for the Grateful Dead.

Anyway, no matter how great they are now, they have to maintain that reputation in order to be able to continue to bank on it in the future. So far they've done a great job. I hope they continue to do so in the future.
posted by beth at 5:48 PM on July 23, 2002

Is there any company in history that has not become a fallen angel? What does this say about capitalism, the notion of starting a non-evil company seems doomed from the start. Power corrupts and oh-how-powerful Google becomes. The bigger they are the harder they fall. [insert cliche here].
posted by stbalbach at 5:50 PM on July 23, 2002

I tend towards the (uninformed) opinion that as long as there are people at the helm (often this does mean privately held) who hold a vision for the services itself and not just the 'how can we make the most money with what we have so far', they're a pretty good bet. I look at the integrity of Matt here at Metafilter as a leader sticking to his vision of what he wants this place to be, and also the fact of how Ev held fast to his vision of keeping basic Blogger free, even during times of financial 'challenge' as excellent 'proof' of my (uninformed) opinion. Having a vision often means making what business people would consider "bad" financial decisions in the short run, but integrity is a lot more powerful, IMO. :-)
posted by thunder at 6:03 PM on July 23, 2002

Apple's recent policies announced are a good example of how far a company has to change to survive. In the google vein.
posted by bittennails at 6:10 PM on July 23, 2002

Is it possible that a company could actually be worthy of our trust?

No, don't be silly, they make you turn in your soul when you sign the incorporation papers. Everybody knows that!
posted by kindall at 6:16 PM on July 23, 2002

Unless, unlike Apple, Google continues to innovate in ways that massive numbers of people appreciate and that many will pay for. Not that Apple was ever a master of ethics. (Disclosure: I love my Powerbook. Doesn't mean I like Steve Jobs.)

Of course they could screw up later, but for now, Google seems to me to be the only company that has really lived up to the promise of the dot-com. They do great work, they get paid, they hire great people (and have throughout this economic plague), and they have a record of excellent business and ethical decisions behind them. Consider me a cheerleader.
posted by blissbat at 6:26 PM on July 23, 2002

double post aside, google is a wonderful company that i hope doesn't corrupt itself at least until something better (if that's possible) manages to come along... plus, the ease of use in opera (type "g blah" in address bar to search for blah) makes it all a combination for the ages!
posted by lotsofno at 6:50 PM on July 23, 2002

Interesting, beth... they list "free gourmet lunches every day" as one of the perks, and I guess they mean it.

I fear stbalbach is right; it's hard not to be corrupted once your shots are called by the institutional investors. In the meantime, though, Google is a damned fine service, and I don't think there's any way another search engine could get my attention right now.

Google is cool enough that I would give them my email address. But they're so cool that they've never asked for it...

posted by Mars Saxman at 7:50 PM on July 23, 2002

well put, Mars....

As far as businesses go, Google is my hero. And what I wouldn't give to be this guy!

This doesn't mean I have 100% faith in their long-term good will, but any place that is run by Ph.D.s instead of M.B.A.s is off to a good start.
posted by LuxFX at 7:59 PM on July 23, 2002

There is a very simple model which Google could adapt which would assure the survival of their corporate service values: journalistic ethics, and the editorial / business firewall that journalistic ethics demand.

These have long served some of the most voraciously capitalistic and profitable companies very well. As much money as Case and Parsons want AOL Time Warner to want, they know that very few people will still pick up People if they feel that it won't give an honest review to Harry Potter 2, or report upon the latest security issues on America Online.

A simple decision that "Search Results are Editorial" and that "Editorial" owns the real estate of the screen not expressly dedicated to clearly identified ads, will make everything good. It will also avoid the constant need for negotiation and reinvention which web companies face and give a nice long history of practice and precedent to bolster their performance. Also, it creates a separate career track with highly eminent positions (e.g., "Editor in Chief") and avoids the problem now of only the least management-savvy or management-interested of geeks having a real vested interest in the integrity of the algorithms.
posted by MattD at 9:32 PM on July 23, 2002

Jerry ate that food.
posted by websavvy at 9:37 PM on July 23, 2002

FYI: Neither of Google's founders has a PhD. Both Larry Page and Sergey Brin dropped out of Stanford to start Google.

...not that I'm saying this is a bad thing (most of the people I know with PhD's are pricks), just a fact. Another fact: the CEO does have a PhD.
posted by bradlauster at 9:38 PM on July 23, 2002

I think the comparison between Yahoo and Google is interesting. They have similar origins -- both were originally started by graduate students who decided to profit off their ideas. The difference is that while Yahoo is barely recognizable from its beginnings as a simple Internet "yellow pages", I started using Google when it was still a Stanford project, and nearly everything about its core service has remained the same. What ads they've added have not only been unobtrusive, but even innovative.

Most importantly, Google seems focused on, above all, providing a service that is useful, that is genuinely better than its competitors, rather than trying to get ahead via advertising, image creation, and brute-force market domination. (Just think if this were Microsoft's attitude!)
posted by tweebiscuit at 9:56 PM on July 23, 2002

By the way, lotsofno, even though the previous post was indeed pointing to the same page, it was addressing a different issue -- the link is titled "Google seems to be recruiting. I on the other hand was specifically referring to the phrase "Don't be evil.", and opening up discussion on that. The link isn't new, but the topic is.
posted by tweebiscuit at 10:11 PM on July 23, 2002

FWIW, even after I got a "Cease and Desist" email from Google's legal department, I still think they rock. If such an exchange could ever be described as amicable, it certainly was - which speaks volumes to me, since so many copyright confrontations are so negative. Left me feeling pretty good about them after the fact. (whole story here, self-link)
posted by kokogiak at 11:21 PM on July 23, 2002

It seems everyone looks up to Google for being the kind of organization we admire, yet we're suprised because we know the current market mechanism works against the values that make Google admirable.

The market creates organizations that value their assets above the wellness of individuals or groups. Our distrust of the market stems from our knowledge that it is willing to damage us in the pursuit of wealth for itself.

The market economy has already transformed our society into something not very capable of democracy. On some level, though, we are all reluctant to give up our myths, powerfully woven by the various authors of "the American dream", concerning democracy, good and evil, and success. We want to believe the present system is really not so bad after all. I guess that explains this outpouring of love for Google, which seems a bit too enthusiastic. Why not just say Google performs a worthwhile service and is not doing any harm in the process, and leave it at that?

The challenge facing the world's best thinkers is how to get out of this mess, not how to build a better search engine.
posted by maniabug at 11:38 PM on July 23, 2002

The fact that a company simultaneously claims to be about the freedom of information, and about the avoidance of evil, makes me uneasy. "Don't annoy your customers with pop-up ads" is nice. "Don't be evil" is a sentiment that Ashcroft would no doubt claim is also part of his personal credo.
posted by bingo at 1:52 AM on July 24, 2002

Don't be so serious, bingo. They're obviously not using the term in its strict, moral, religious sense, but are making a joke, albeit one they take seriously. Everyone knows what "evil" means in the computer/internet industry, because everyone has Microsoft as an example.
posted by tweebiscuit at 6:26 AM on July 24, 2002

Even Ben & Jerry sold out eventually.

The disappointment, when it comes--and it will come--will be crushing.
posted by rushmc at 8:46 AM on July 24, 2002

yes - I'm sure they mean "evil" in something more like the hackish sense of the word. It's only a moral judgement in a playful sort of way.
posted by Mars Saxman at 10:50 AM on July 24, 2002

See, here's my thinking about the sell-out: Google obviously employs some of the best engineers in the business -- people who are justifiably proud of their work. (The existence of Google Labs is probably the best evidence of both the caliber of their engineers and the care and respect the company treats them with.) Now I don't know much about information patent laws or customs, but if any of Google's much-guarded algorithms are under the ownership of their creators, I can't imagine them letting all their brilliant, innovative work go to waste on a sleazy, Yahoo-esque company. What seems most likely is a mass exodus, much like the Apple engineers who started Be. (A company of the best and the brightest which produced a genuinely superior product. Unfortunately, it's a lot harder to gain OS market-share than search engine hits...)

I mean, hell, the founders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, were the ones who developed the software in the first place, and their engineer's attitude of focusing on developing the best product possible is obviously still the driving force behind the company. If, for instance, Google had an IPO and began to move in different directions (again, Yahoo's path is a good example), it seems unlikely that Larry and Sergey would watch their baby be destroyed -- instead, I'd expect them to pick up the baby and leave. This, of course, would ruin Google, since it has no brand-name or image to back it up -- its popularity and reputation is based solely on its reputation, which is based on its software and engineers. Cut off the head and the body dies.

What am I getting at? Oh, yes: Let the engineers run the world.
posted by tweebiscuit at 11:34 AM on July 24, 2002

yes - I'm sure they mean "evil" in something more like the hackish sense of the word.

Thanks Mars -- that's exactly the definition I was looking for.
posted by tweebiscuit at 11:35 AM on July 24, 2002

Ah, I just found Google's own definition of "evil":
Advertising on Google is always clearly identified as a "Sponsored Link." It is a core value for Google that there be no compromising of the integrity of our results. We never manipulate rankings to put our partners higher in our search results. No one can buy better PageRank. Our users trust Google's objectivity and no short-term gain could ever justify breaching that trust.

posted by tweebiscuit at 12:20 PM on July 24, 2002

I hope they never become like Walt Disney and Disneyland. 'Uncle Walt', loved by millions of kids was an evil FBI snitch and Disney will stop at nothing to maintain and expand its' power. 'Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men'.
posted by Mack Twain at 12:58 PM on July 24, 2002

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