… or is the GOP just buying stuff from Google and bragging about it?
|As Official Innovation Provider, Google Inc. will enhance the GOP’s online presence with new applications, search tools, and interactive video. In addition, Google will help generate buzz and excitement in advance of the convention through its proven online marketing techniques.|
|“As more Americans go online to learn about elections, we’re pleased to work with the Republican National Convention to give citizens around the world easy access to convention information and new ways to engage in the event,” said David Drummond, Google’s Senior Vice President of Corporate Development and Chief Legal Officer.|
|“This year, YouTube will bring a new dimension to this landmark event by enabling GOP visitors to share their unique experiences with the world through the power of online video,” said Chad Hurley, YouTube co-founder. “We look forward to working with the convention committee and watching the action unfold.”|
This would be pure PR jive and nothing more if the release were restricted to the first paragraph. But when two high-level Google Execs, including its Chief Legal Officer, provide sales blurbs to just one side (so far) of a partisan political battlefield, expect Serious Questions to follow.
To help answer those questions, some context.
First, Nick Carr’s new book, The Big Switch, makes clear at least one strong trend in computing that is being led by Google (along with Amazon, Yahoo and others): Cheap, utility-supplied computing will ultimately change society as profoundly as cheap electricity did. No, personal computing won’t go away, but much of what we need, from storage to applications and raw compute power, will be available (and increasingly relied upon) as utility services. As utilities, these are going to be as free from prejudice about usage as are electricity, gas, water and waste treatment. (That is, not totally free, but sensibly so.) Looking at what the GOP says it will do with Google utilities, I’d say that’s the case here.
Second, it’s important to study how utility providers such as Google engage with large customers (and whole countries) that some find objectionable. For a view on that, check out the recent talk by the dissident Chinese journalist Michael Anti at the Berkman Center. Ethan Zuckerman has a long and helpful write-up. So does David Weinberger. From the latter:
|Q: (colin) Anything that international companies can do?|
|A: If Congress banned Google from doing business with China, what would happen to gmail? If Microsoft left China, what about Messenger? For Congress, it’s easy to be black and white. But the Chinese people depend on these tools to communicate about freedom and rights. The real cost is Chinese freedom. (Yahoo is different. It’s “a real bad thing.” It “didn’t do any good to China.”) The Chinese authorities want to embrace the Internet, to be part of the international community, not like North Korea. So we should encourage them to do more with the Internet and to continue to say that the Internet is good. The outside world should encourage as well as blame the Chinese government. The Chinese people don’t like blame and don”t like being told what to do.|
Somewhere in there (not sure it got on the podcast) Michael said that Google had great leverage through a single simple fact: most people working for the Chinese government use Gmail. Leverage isn’t always something that is actively used. In fact, in many (perhaps most) cases it doesn’t need to be brought up at all. It’s simply a fact that must be recognized.
Whether one likes or dislikes Google’s engagement with China, or the GOP, at least it’s engaged. For some things it may be in a better position to make a positive difference than if it were not engaged.
As for Yahoo, Michael said that the company had completely lost face in China. Never mind that, as this TechCrunch post puts it, Yahoo owns only 40% of Yahoo China. And that Yahoo may have “been made a scapegoat for the flaws of US foreign policy”. The fact remains that Yahoo, according to the International Herald Tribune, “provided information that helped Chinese state security officials convict a Chinese journalist for leaking state secrets to a foreign Web site…”
There is no doubt that Google has been far more successful than Yahoo in dealing with China. Is it just because Google has a “don’t be evil” imperative and Yahoo does not? I don’t think so. Rather I think that Google has been smart and resourceful in ways that Yahoo has not. Specifically, Google has stayed true to its roots as a tech company with specific and easily understood guiding principles. Yahoo had those too, and for longer than Google. But Yahoo broke faith with those principles, and lost its integrity, when it decided to become an entertainment company and hired Terry Semel as its CEO. In doing so Yahoo ceased being a flagpole and instead became a flag — one that soon will be flying from somebody else’s pole.
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