I was following a thread today talking about some of the legal wrangling’s related to Google and their Google Books project. The message that made me laugh was a series where someone had commented that Google had long since forgotten their ‘do no evil’ philosophy and have become pure evil. Of which, someone said it was a tie between Microsoft and Google, and then asked the question: What would happen if they merged? The end of civilization as we know it?, which put a smile on my face.
However, it did get me thinking — why do folks view Google in such a positive light? Or, better yet, how did Google convince libraries (large academic libraries) to essentially give away their content for virtually nothing. Well, I should qualify that — Google is spending a great deal of money digitizing library content — but the costs of digitization pale in terms of the total value of the collection itself and the value of the collection in terms of the collection development decisions that went into building a library’s materials. In putting up some capital, Google is able to catch up as a cultural archive on nearly 200+ years of purchasing and collection management decisions and will have surpassed some of our finest academic libraries in terms of content and breath of collection. Not a bad deal for them.
But I’ll digress since that’s a different discussion. I’m really fascinated by Google’s image and how they have been able to maintain their image as a socially conscious company that’s open for integration by others and open as in friendly to open source. However, if you really think about it — that image doesn’t fit reality. Google has in effect cultivated this image of “open” by making available bread crumbs into their systems. Folks have often been able to do very cool things with these bread crumbs (Google Maps, Search API, etc) but these really are only a small part of the Google machine. While Google offers api it also is, without a doubt, one of the most propriety companies that I’ve ever seen. Their answers in fiscal filings are difficult to pin down (that’s just about any large corporation though) and they vigorously (actually, that’s an understatement) guard their search algorithems. Folks should make no mistake — they are a big business and they act like any other business, but they’ve just somehow been able to wrap themselves in a cloak of openness. In fact, I’ve started to wonder if Google isn’t the ultimate leech. Now, leeches aren’t bad things. They’ve used them in medicine for years — but leeches don’t produce anything — and lately, I’ve been starting to wonder what exactly Google has produced. There is their search engine — which while still wildly popular, is no longer my first choice for all types of searches and then their add placement. And while innovative in their time — even these services don’t really produce anything. Outside of that — I can think of a lot of places where Google is taking other people’s content and repackaging it (or using it to sell versions of it) or are swallowing technologies and assimilating them into the collective. Maybe that should be Google’s new motto, “Resistance is futile”, well, maybe not.