Posts tagged ‘business’

Don’t Be Evil

John Batelle’s “The Search: How Google and its Rivals Rewrote the Rules of Business and Transformed Our Culture” describes how Google’s unofficial motto is “Don’t Be Evil.” Before I read this book I would have unequivocally said that Google was abiding by its motto. But The Search made me think a little harder about the capacity for a company with so much influence and reach to be evil, perhaps without even knowing it.

Batelle recounted the story of Neil Moncreif, a small business owner based in Georgia who sells big shoes – size thirteens and over. It’s hard for a niche business like Moncreif’s to remain viable in any one geographic location. People with big feet are spread throughout the world and don’t cluster in Georgia, or any other one location for that matter. (See Life in the Long Tail for more on niche markets.) So Moncreif launched www.2bigfeet.com and did a pretty brisk business without ever having to place an ad. Until November 14, 2003, that is, when Google tweaked its search result algorithms, which dropped www.2bigfeet.com from the first result on the search “big feet” to below the hundredth result. The economic – and, ultimately, psychological – impact on Moncreif and his family was huge.

So while Google may have had noble intentions when it tweaked its algorithms, it broke it’s motto about not being evil when it came to a small business owner who sells big shoes.

I wonder if it is even possible to be a company as large and powerful as Google and not be inadvertantly evil every now and again? Moreover, is it sometimes necessary to do some evil for the greater good? The Search described how Google bent to the Chinese government’s wishes and eliminated controversial links from its results (perhaps evil?) so that it could provide the Chinese people with its valuable service (perhaps a greater good?).

So should we all be afraid of Google? I think Moncreif’s experience shows that yes, we should be afraid of Google if we depend upon it too much. And I think more and more people are starting to feel the same way. A recent article in The Independent, “Discontent flares over Google’s ‘dominance’” describes critics’ concerns that Google is the “overwhelmingly dominant force on the internet.” A recent Washington Post article, “Will 2008 Be Google’s End of Innocence” starts, “2008 may be the year that Google’s innocence ends, as media and governments start to cast a less forgiving eye at the behavior of the company that controls 60% of the search market and perhaps as much as half of all online advertising revenue.”

With prominence and power come a lot of scrutiny. That, above all else, might be why I’m not yet losing sleep over Google’s dominance.

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June 18, 2008 at 1:58 am Leave a comment

Press Credentials for Everyone! (Response to We the Media)

My first blog assignment is to identify what I think is the most important point in Dan Gillmor’s “We the Media” and explain why. But first, a quick word on Gillmor himself because I think it’s relevant. Gillmor spent years writing for mainstream newspapers including the Detroit Free Press and the San Jose Mercury News. More recently he founded Grassroots Media Inc., a project with the goals of “enabling grassroots journalism and expanding its reach.”

Gillmor’s personal journey echoes part of the progression of media that he describes in his book – the movement from the “big business of journalism” to grassroots journalism written for the people, by the people. I think the title of Gillmor’s book says it all: We the Media. The most important point he makes is that all the technology and innovations that fall under the umbrella term “new media” have cracked opened journalism so that, in Gillmor’s own words, “people at the edges [can] participate in the news gathering and dissemination processes.” In other words, it’s now incredibly easy for users or consumers of news to become producers of news. For example, anyone with an internet connection and a laptop can start a blog. Projects like OhmyNews, an online news service in which citizens act as reporters, epitomize the possibilities.

We the Media goes on to describe the implications of this transformation for business, newsmakers, and big media, among others. Given my role as a communications professional, I was particularly interested in Gillmor’s thoughts about how the public relations sector can harness new media to communicate smartly. He makes interesting points about how new media like chat rooms, discussion boards, blogs, RSS feeds, etc. enable pr professionals to listen and learn from their publics, create transparency, open lines of communication, solicit feedback from customers, distribute information widely, and engage in more fine-grained pitching.

One other observation – I think We the Media is particularly tough on business. Perhaps Gillmor’s years as a journalist has made him a bit cynical. The good thing is that instead of simply railing against companies for their shortcomings, Gillmor provides good examples of how business can (and must) use new media to learn from their customers and become more open and truthful. 

In short, the key point is that business, journalism, public relations, and politics can all be made better by listening to and enabling the participation of the average Joe.

June 8, 2008 at 10:04 pm 1 comment


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