Google’s Amoral Greatness?

Update:  A Googley View of the matter:   Google speaketh o Copyrights

Often the weekend brings the best internet philosophy discussions and one is brewing today about whether Google is the good or bad guy in the content equation.    The answer in my opinion is that it is pretty nuanced and best seen as a series of  inevitabilities rather than points about fairness or best practices or who is doing what for whom.

Over at the Guardian the argument is that Google’s gotten out of hand and is running roughshod over anybody who stands in their profitable path:

…. one detects in Google something that is delinquent and sociopathic, perhaps the character of a nightmarish 11-year-old. This particular 11-year-old has known nothing but success and does not understand the risks, skill and failure involved in the creation of original content, nor the delicate relationships that exist outside its own desires and experience. There is a brattish, clever amorality about Google that allows it to censor the pages on its Chinese service without the slightest self doubt, store vast quantities of unnecessary information about every Google search, and menace the delicate instruments of democratic scrutiny. And, naturally, it did not exercise Google executives that Street View not only invaded the privacy of millions and made the job of burglars easier …

Meanwhile Mike Arrington disagrees – more accurately lashes out at the Google detractors,  suggesting:

Let’s all be clear here. What Porter and Bragg want is a subsidy from Google. A sort of welfare tax on a profitable company so that they can continue to draw the paychecks they’ve become accustomed to. That isn’t going to happen, and all this hand wringing isn’t helping to move their respective industries toward a successful business model. They either need to adapt or die. And they’re choosing a very noisy and annoying death.

Some truth to this but also pretty harsh given how disruptive Google’s been to the whole show.    Mike overlooks that the *single most disruptive act* in internet history was Google’s launch of Adsense, which monetizes content for all websites and more than any other single factor has led to an explosion of the spam, mediocre content, and some excellent content that has accelerated (though I think has not caused) the demise of legacy content providers like newspapers.

I said over at TechCrunch that:

Mike I’m not sure I agree with the analysis but here you’ve pulled together the “Google Goodness” argument about as cleverly and succinctly as it can be done.

I think a bigger perspective on this is far more nuanced.   The rise of Google search aggregation has in most cases diminished the average profitability of premium content.   It has slightly (but only ever so slightly) *raised* the tiny profitability of non-premium content such as the ocean of mediocre blog posts, stupid pet trick websites, and made for adsense efforts.    Something is gained as we move to a very democratic global publishing paradigm but also something significant is lost in this equation.   David Brooks of the NYT writes some brilliant stuff we need to hear in these challenged times.   He refuses to use Twitter.   Like hundreds of other bloggers  I write some political stuff too but few of my pieces are as informed as Brooks’ analyses.

However I’m happy to use Twitter and work for free.   I may win, but we all may lose something after the blogging and Twittering and Adsense dust settles.

TechCrunch 50 – winners or losers?

You won’t know what these companies are up to from the names, but soon most of the TechCrunch 50 startups will be online:

Thanks to live streaming of the conference it’s almost like I’m watching / listening right now.

I still think that the startup ecosystem is wildly unpredictable, and more like an evolutionary process where the losers drop out and winners bubble up as a result of processes that effectively swamp out factors under the direct control of the players.    Google, Yahoo, Myspace, Facebook and most of the huge success stories with online technologies not at all the product of tight, rational, “follow-your-perfect-biz-models”, instead their success were the product of social forces as much as technological ones or tech implementations at the companies.    I think this is even more likely as the number of new internet companies has mushroomed from hundreds per year to tens of thousands.

Of course the TechCrunch 50 is not simply a selection process.   By exposing the companies to key players representing billions in prospective venture capital, it is a surprise that virtually all of these companies don’t enjoy at least modest success.   This is only year two so it’s not clear how last year’s companies will fare ove time though early indications seem to suggest … not that much better than other startups.

Beijing Olympics Coverage basically rocks – so stop whining!

I’m really tired of people criticizing the technology behind the Olympics coverage, which has been spectacular on almost all fronts given NBC’s unprecedented “all events online” approach.

Sure it’s unfortunate / frustrating to have some events delayed – especially here on West coast, and I’d guess NBC will change some of this for 2012, but the idea, for example, that CNN should not report results without a “spoiler” note is just asking too much.

Noted over at TechCrunch today:

People need to stop whining while the quirks of social media effects on global events get worked out. Overall the coverage by NBC has been nothing short of spectacular, with real time multiple event coverage online and off. Sure it would be nice if everything was live, but Beijing’s time is very inconvenient for most TV watchers.

People have been whining about tape delays when they could be watching online, and now this absurd idea that CNN should be *delaying the reports* to conform to the NBC delays not to mention the people who are over there *watching the events live*. You want them to shut up until you see the show? Sheesh – do you want me to use a tube TV, too?

Facebook, Facebook Get Ya Facebook Shares at 80% off

TechCrunch is reporting that an insider at Facebook is shopping his shares at 80% off the normally quoted (and probably absurd) 15 billion dollar valuation.   TechCrunch is also suggesting that even Mark Zuckerberg is willing to sell shares at a price consistent with a 6 billion valuation for the company.

Like Arrington, I’d also like to take one share of Facebook.  For me please add a Coke and a Cheeseburger.

The 15 billion never made any sense, and as it becomes clearer that social networking won’t monetize well their perceived value may quickly drop below a billion, though that would still be one heck of a payday for Mark Z and the gang.

Buy before the rumor, sell before the news?

One of the really intriguing aspects of the blogOspheric chatterfest is how the big markets tend to react to rumors from key business related blogs.    When TechCrunch reported yesterday that talks between Microsoft and Yahoo had resumed Yahoo stock increased, only to fall after several other blogs reported the rumors as false or weak.

Although I have no reason to believe that Mike Arrington or Henry Blodget are trading options based on their market-moving blog reporting, I’m not at all clear it would be illegal for them to do so as long as they were reporting “real” rumors.

Henry answered at his blog that posting a false rumor to manipulate for investment purposes would likely be seen by SEC as a violation but this leaves a lot of gray areas open for an aggressive options trader/journalist. 

Here’s what I just asked Mike Arrington over at TechCrunch:
Mike just to set the record straight the ValleyWag poster “Mike Arrington”, who claims to have made 10k trading on Yahoo rumors, is fake … right?

More importantly I’m very interested in your views on legality/ethics of trading Yahoo options based on the rumor mill. Let’s say you heard a solid rumor that MS was about to offer $37 for Yahoo and Yahoo was going to sell. Could you legally trade on that before you posted it? One second after?

What if you emailed *me* right before you posted, I think I could legally trade based on current SEC rules, right?

P.S. What kind of Single Malt Scotch do you like? : )

Although I have no plans to manipulate any markets, it is reasonable to assume that if a market can be legally manipulated it *will be* manipulated, and soon. 

Mike Arrington, Chris Anderson on Charlie Rose

TechCrunch’s Mike Arrington is on my favorite show tonight talking about the future of technology along with Chris Anderson of Wired.   (not to be confused with TED conference coordinator Chris Anderson).

Here are the videos

Ha – just got a Tweet from Mike that he hasn’t even seen himself yet since it’s not on in CA yet.    

Chris Anderson:
On sharing his next book before it is even out:   “Open Source” the idea, leading to a flood of more ideas, which in turn enrich everybody.   “Google doesn’t show up on your credit card bill”. 

Anderson’s provocative points are about how “free” is becoming a key concept in the digital economy, and may trump

Where does the some $360,000,000 that Craigslist saves the economy go?    Back to us, says Chris.   Hey thanks for the fish Craig Newmark!

Commodity information “needs to be free” vs unique information which may need to be expensive.

Radiohead as using digital economics for what it’s good at, and stimulate demand for the scarce thing – seeing the band in person, endorsements, and T shirts.

You cannot erase yourself from the web.    Shifting from privacy to self-promotion. 

Anderson:  Yes, MS will get Yahoo.    

Google as algorithms, Yahoo as a people business.   Google and the “machines first” culture are winning.    Microsoft, a pre-web culture, believes in software.   Their success kept them from being hungry, but now they are.  

Tech Bubble of 2000 was different.   Softer landing this time?

Facebook:  We’ll see narrowing of social networks (a GREAT point!).    NING model may prevail.  e.g. Chris’ own    What is the right level of granularity? 

Chris: “Everything I believe is written on the back of an iPhone”: 
Designed in California, Made in China

Mike Arrington
Big issues:
* Net neutrality.
* China.   Sites are filtered and slowed rather than outright deleted from the network.   Companies are not happy with the policies, but reluctant to leave 187,000,000 internet users to the competition.
* Mobile space.   Fundamentals are changing such that USA can compete now with other countries in the mobile space.
* Identity theft.   US has done too little to fight this.  Even Sen John McCain had his ID stolen a few years back.
* Education, computers, and internet access for schools.    Government weak in this area, but also true that computers are often an educational distraction rather than enhancement. 
* Economic implications: TV ads suck (great point Mike!), so internet ad share will increase.  However also we’ll see TV and internet increasingly converge.

Mike’s online “about 100% of the time I’m awake”.     TechCrunch startup database is one key focus.    “We’re not worth 100MM”.   (for more on TC valuation issues see the excellent Yahoo Tech TV interview with Mike).

Microsoft won’t back down and be embarrassed by the Yahoo deal.    MS failed in search and fell off the online map.    All the major search engines are roughly equivalent (great point Mike!).  But Google has lots of publishers and lots of action at their own pages.

Amazon – transitioning to a services model.    Renting services in the cloud is eliminating yet another high cost business barrier by providing high level infrastructure at low cost. 

Startups and entrepreneurs:    Modern day pirates.   Gamblers.  They value risk cf risk averse folks.  YouTube’s 1.65 Billion sale as a surprise.

Can Facebook have their “Google Moment”, which for Google was figuring out pay per click advertising.     Facebook as more innovative than Myspace.   Can they invent something to generate a LOT of revenue?   If yes, another Google is born. 

Facebook’s friend based advertising model may be illegal because it’s implying an endorsement without the consent of the person. 

BBC as a great site to review the condition of the world.   Blogs as taking page views from the ‘big guys’.    Comments as important.    Blogs following Silicon Valley as a “trainwreck”, but blogs in general on the rise.

Is privacy an illusion?   Harder to get email address than SSN (hmmm – I don’t think so…).

Obama fan.   Tech potentially will make our lives much better.  3rd world education as exciting.    Worrying about Virtual Reality.   What happens when people want to spend all their time in VR? 

Scoblegate? No – Scobleizer ads are NOT a sellout.

Mike Arrington, hanging in Davos with the global power elite, has a great title today with “Scoble Sells Out“, a fake jab at his pal Robert Scoble who is finally putting ads on his hugely popular blog (and is also lounging in Davos with the power elite!).

No big deal in my view – Scoble has been good about disclosure and perhaps even more importantly is a basically stand up guy, so I hardly worry that he’s going to start misleading readers in favor of sponsor B.S. 

That said, the blogging community would be well advised to develop disclosure standards if people want to maintain credibility and avoid the huge ethical gray areas that come about when socializing, economics, and blogging come together as they have over the past few years.

My view on corruption in politics (and blogging is similar) is that the challenges don’t come from basic dishonesty or payola – there is some of that, but the key problem is  more subtle.     In systems where economic support flows to those who *already* share the set of opinions with the money folks you don’t need any dishonesty to have a major distortion of the process in favor of those groups that can fund the people who share their ideas.    Often people wrongly suggest that votes are “bought”, when this is rare.  Rather support flows to the candidates who share the views of the supporters.     This system would actually work OK if the contributions were small, but loopholes have allowed certain groups to have hugely disproportionate impact on our system.    

This is why the conversational marketing model is bogus.  Bringing businesses into the conversation is a good general idea.  But if it only involves those businesses who can afford to buy a conversation  it’s just a step away from basic advertising, yet disguised as real dialog.   That isn’t corruption, but it is distortion. 

Why Blogs are better than Google.

Today, as I searched for some breaking news and technology insights, I was struck by how much better informed you tend to be after reading a few blogs targeted to a topic (and following related links and sites and ask questions) than when you simply search Google (or Yahoo or MSN or, if you enjoyed the silly and short lived TV campaign, ASK).    

Don’t get me wrong – I like the search engines and I love the way you can quickly winnow through billions of pages down to the handful that are relevant and good for your topic.     But I’m noticing how increasingly I wind up turning to blogs *first* for the best news, links, and insight.    I’m beginning to understand why I’m doing that, and why it’s a big deal.

There are the obvious advantages to blogs over websites.   They are fresher (ie recent and new content) – especially compared to Google searches that often yield so much old content.   They usually offer some community components so you feel like you are “where the action is” on topics.   This is usually true for major blogs.  TechCrunch is a key watering hole for startups, for liberal political folks, etc.

However these advantages are secondary to the fact that as blogs mature they offer an excellent “human powered search engine” for your niche of interest, and as we all know humans still beat out computers in terms of understanding what information is most relevant to our inquiry when it is a broad field of interest.

Again, the TechCrunch Technology blog is a great example of this.  A search in Google for “startups” or “technology news” or “venture capital” will give some good results, but even a careful study of those results won’t give you nearly the insight you’ll get from a one hour session at TechCrunch.     Even a Silicon Valley startup new arrival – or distant silicon startup wannabe, could sound like a veteran if they simply kept up with the parade of posts from Mike Arrington and his clever crowd at TechCrunch.

I think this blog advantage breaks down as you move into very specific topics, but it’s going way up as an advantage in the study of general topics as blogs explode and gather traction and community.     Of course there are caveats to this.   Learning in any form takes time, and you would never simply stuble into a blog about a topic without checking other blogs and sites related to that.   But my point is that once you find “the key blogs” about a topic, even if it is a contentious one, you’ll find through those blogs links, references, breaking news, and a community of other interested parties.   This complex, interactive, cross referenced community experience is how humans learn best, and the internet is making that type of learning exponentially easier to obtain.