I Need Help!
Well, besides simply stating the obvious, the title of this missive is an S.O.S. to the Web world to seek the wisdom (and emotional/technical/editorial bandwidth) of the crowds for three website projects that I’ve been kicking around, that I feel some emotional investment in, but I simply don’t have the energy to pull-off on my own. This is my message in a bottle. My candle in the wind.
Will you answer the call and help me get fan these website embers into flame? Or will the deafening silence of the blogosphere snuff out these flickering wicks?
Website Idea 1 – AccessOfEvil.org GoogleWatchers.org
At ConvergeSouth, I was told by Patrick O’Keefe of the iFroggy Network that AccessOfEvil.org was a really horrible domain name. But I’m sticking to my guns on this one (despite the truly horrible pun), because (OK under duress I’ve caved to popular opinion and jetisoned AccessOfEvil in favor of the kinder, gentler name GoogleWatchers.org) it fits the overall premise of the site perfectly:
Google’s self-proclaimed mission is to “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.”
So, that’s the concept: The Google Watchblog. And with it, the idea that there would be a Google watchdog community supporting the site, feeding it with content (e.g., reports on nefarious Google activity), launching email campaigns to Google to lobby them for better practices/policies, etc.
It’s a big concept, but also a completely untapped “market,” if you will, based on my (ahem) Google searches for any other watchblog sites, which turned up virtually nothing. And Google is the proverbial 10,000-pound gorilla, the elephant in the room that’s only going to keep getting bigger and bigger and harder and harder to hold accountable, unless we start now and get organized fast, which the Web makes possible is so many ways, using so many tools, not all of which are controlled (yet) by Google.
Two things this week reminded me of the enormity of this idea—and the urgency for it:
- Google is ranked #1 for corporate responsibility, according to the Top 50 2008 Corporate Social Responsibility Index (CSRI) rankings released this week by the Boston College Center for Corporate Citizenship (BCCCC) and Reputation Institute. But, you’re thinking, “Wait, that’s good, right?” Well, yes—and no. By digging a little deeper into this story, you’ll discover that the CSRI is based on “the combined average of people’s perceptions of a company on three institutional performance indicators: citizenship … governance … and workplace” (emphasis added).Did you catch that? Google is not ranked #1 because it is the most socially responsible company. Google is ranked #1 because we all believe Google is the most socially responsible company. So, I’m not trying to start any conspiracy theories here, but what if Google is not so squeaky clean? Or what if they cannot maintain these high standards they’ve set for themselves, and they start to do “evil” stuff? Right now, we’re pre-conditioned to think Google is as lilywhite as its homepage. That could be a very dangerous assumption to have as our starting point …
- Next week, NPR is hosting an Intelligence Squared debate on the subject “Google violates its ‘don’t be evil’ motto.” According to the online poll (at the time of this writing), 41% agree with the statement, 34% say they “Don’t know,” and 25% say the statement is wrong about Google. My media guru Jeff Jarvis is participating in the panel discussion (on the defense of Google side), and today he writes, “Google should be presumed virtuous until proven evil. Just because it could be evil does not mean it is. Just being big and powerful does not make it evil. In this country, we tend to value success until one becomes too successful, and then we become suspicious. How much success is too much? That is our problem, not Google’s.”Jarvis rattles off a long list of Google’s virtues, and concludes, “We would do well to ask ourselves, what would Google do? Google is not evil. Google is an example to us all.”
But in the midst of his praise, Jarvis does concede, “Google could be better,” and calls its vow not to do evil “the height of hubris.” He even jabs, “Google is undeniably arrogant.” And while discussing Google’s “power and influence,” he ominously notes, “[Both] are greater than even it seems to know.”
“Google is now out there strong-arming public officials to keep tax-funded-deals quiet; they’re playing ball with the Chinese government to profit in that market; they have raised some questions about monopolistic practices with proposed deals and sheer market share; their secretive search formula—a competitive necessity—can seem arbitrary and unfair; etc.
“Does that make them evil? Again, not by Biblical standards, or such non-slogan-worthy definitions as not cooking the books or telling children that cigarettes are healthy. But by the standards of the game they’re playing, not being evil may not be an option.”
So who’s with me? Anyone out there in the World Wide Web want to take on this big idea and make it happen? Post a comment, send me an email (yes, it’ll go into my Gmail inbox, FAIL!), or friend me on Facebook (not owned by Google—yet), and we’ll connect and devise plans to keep the world safe from a Google-gone-evil.
Website Ideas 2 & 3 will have to wait for a later blog post. Until then, thanks for reading and for posting your thoughts/reactions in the comments!
Jeff Jarvis has responded (in the comments on his blog) to my proposition for a Google watchblog community, “Couldn’t hurt.” And he adds, “Learning from Google – I think the thing to do is to organize distributed comment on Google rather than trying to get people to come to one address and brand to create that comment. That comment could come from anywhere.” I agree with Jarvis (as I usually do), and I appreciate his thoughtful advice and feedback.
Ed Cone has also responded with a longer meditation on the question of whether Google violates its “Don’t be evil” policy. He says it “depends on what you mean by ‘evil'” or, rather, “what you think the motto means” (and, thus, how it should be applied). Cone writes, “If one accepts not being evil as defined by not acting like a typical big corporation, then I’m not sure Google’s stated aspiration was possible once it went public. … By the standards of the game they’re playing, not being evil may not be an option.” Again, I agree with Ed, also.
The harsh rhetoric implied by the name AccessOfEvil.org has been criticized by a number of people, so I’m relenting on that point and giving this a new name (and ditching my old site for a new network on Ning) – check out GoogleWatchers.org and join the movement (ahem, me … and a few other people, who’ll be on there soon, hopefully *wink wink*).
The NPR Intelligence Squared debate is tonight starting at 6:45 p.m. EST. You can listen online at IntelligenceSquaredUS.org.
The Intelligence Squared debate on whether “Google violates its ‘don’t be evil’ motto” is now over. The New York Times Bits blog has a recap of the debate, “It was a spirited discussion, mixing substantive talk of Google’s market power, privacy practices and its censorship in China with tongue-in-cheek attempts to compare the search company with Pol Pot, Lucifer, Dr. Evil and other dark icons.”
Here’s the transcript to the debate (PDF). The audio of the debate will be available on iTunes soon and will also be broadcast on many NPR stations over the coming weeks. Here are some interesting points from the comments on the Bits blog:
- “Google tries to stiffle competition and overreaches into too many venues.”
- “Better question: Is Google in a position to do evil whenever the mood strikes it?”
- “They are an ADVERTISING company mining your data and flooding your eyeballs. Everything else is a trail of candy to get you into the store. Enjoy being catalogued & indexed & OWNED. We are not a ‘citizen’ any more you are a ‘consumer’ to be marketed to relentlessly.”
- “‘The line separating good and evil … runs through every human heart.’ Applying this to a corporation, Google, I’d say that it’s some of both, and the fraction of good is currently very high. (But let’s keep our eyes on it.)” [Great idea!]