DOING THE RIGHT THING IN CHINA

Interesting article by Jesse Eisinger in this morning’s WSJ, which echoes my Weekly Standard Google piece. What Eisinger adds, however, is that Google isn’t alone in turning a blind eye to the ideological whims of the Beijing Maoists. Yahoo and Microsoft are no better and, in the way that they are willing to reveal the identity of bloggers on their platforms, they might in fact be even more hypocritical than Google.

Eisinger writes that Amnesty International plans to use Google’s annual shareholder meeting next week to call on the company to “stop cooperating with censors in China.” I’m curious about Amnesty’s argument here. Will they argue that intellectual freedom in China outweighs Google profits? Or will they tell shareholders (who presumably care most about Google’s bottom line) that there is some longer term economic upside to disconnecting with China.

The interesting question is which technology company will be the first to actively pursue an ethical policy that costs them real cash. Google had its chance in China and blew it first time round. Authentic capitalism provides the ethical cover that enables Brin and Page to justify anything. But these guys are smart enough to recognize their own moral hypocrisy, especially in China. They know they are wrong. The Google Guys should listen to Amnesty. They do the right thing and pull out of China.

GETTING INFORMATION -- GOOGLE STYLE

LogoI strongly recommend Clive Thompson's carefully researched and richly informative "Google in China: The Big Disconnect" in last Sunday's New York Times magazine. Thompson, who I just interviewed for afterTV, reveals the story behind Google's customized search engine for the Chinese market, a product that has given Google access to the 100 million Internet users in China today.180pxflag_of_the_chinese_communist_party

It is a peculiar story, even by the radically peculiar standards of Google.

What Google has done in China is part Orwell, part Kafka. After the Chinese government blocked the Chinese language version of Google in September 2002, it became clear that for Google to participate in the Chinese market, it had to censor its links in accordance with government ideology. But, according to Thompson, the Chinese government wouldn't give Google a list of inappropriate sites to block from the new Google.cn. So Google built its blacklist from sites already banned by the Chinese state. In other words, Google mimicked the Chinese censor. What the Beijing government censored, so Google censored. Google has become, consciously or not, an official arm of the Chinese Communist Party.

How did the Google guys justify this move? According to Thompson:

"Sergey Brin said he thought it would be years before Google would make much if any profit in China. In fact, he argued, going into China "wasn't as much a business decision as a decision about getting people information. And we decided in the end that we should make this compromise."

GETTING PEOPLE INFORMATION?

Brin is only getting Chinese people information that is approved by the Chinese government. The other information -- on Tibet, on the Tiananmen Square massacre, on Falun Gong -- is censored. So, according to Thompson, a search on Google.cn for Tiananmen Square:

"Omitted many iconic photos of the protest and the crackdown. Instead, it produced tourism pictures of the square lighted up at night and happy Chinese couples posing before it."

Remember Page and Brins's prescient open letter to potential Google investors in their April 29, 2004 IPO filing:

“Google is not a conventional company. We do not intend to become one.”

Google has certainly never been a conventional company and will probably never be one. But for Google to consciously and actively partner with the Chinese government in censoring its Internet users is beyond unconventional. It isn't good. It might even be evil.

MASHING UP DABBLE

The Web 2.0 vocabulary is jammed with meaningless c words such as community, collaborate, commonality, creativity. Collectively, these c words add up to a single c word: cant.

The most corrosive c word is collaborate. It is dripping with selflessness; the word oozes the quintessential piety of Silicon Valley’s digital correctness movement.

A couple of weeks ago, I attended a networking Silicon Valley dinner where I met a young lady called Mary Hodder who is launching a Web 2.0 venture called Dabble. Hodder, to quote her blog, is “an information architect and interaction designer for several web service companies with social media sites." Sounds very Ministry of Truthish, eh? Especially the "information architect" bit.

It gets worse, I’m afraid. What happens when you “mashup” (to use a particularly fashionable Silicon Valley term that Hodder repeated, ad nauseum) information architect and interaction designer and social media together? You arrive at that corrosive c word: collaboration.

From what I can understand, Dabble offers software that “empowers” intellectual collaboration. Dabble says it has built software that allows us to "share, manage and explore your information over the web." Hodder is in the remix business. Her new online software play is one big mashup.

Mashed_potatoes2_1 But what’s so great about collaboration? I don’t want to share my information with anyone. It’s mine. I don’t want explore the information of strangers. I don’t want people to remix my writing or my photos. And I don’t want to share The Great Seduction. It’s mine, mine, mine. I’m the Great Seducer around here.

Hodder told me, not without pride, that she was a colleague of John Battelle, the supreme collaborator, the ultimate Quisling, of the Web 2.0 movement. She talked up Battelle’s book about Google – The Search: How Google and Its Rivals Rewrote the Rules of Business and Transformed our Culture. Hodder told me it was a good book because Battelle wrote it in collaboration with the users of his blog. It was a democratic effort, she said. And that’s why, Hodder concluded, it is a must-read book.

Wrong, Mary. Battelle’s book is unreadable precisely because nobody wrote it. It is SO bland -- like one of those mashed potato style American cars concocted by a kitchen full of Detroit apparatchiki. It has no author, or rather too many authors and thus is a mustn’t-read. The Search is instantly forgettable because it contains no individual spirit, no one intellectual voice.

A collaborative book, one written collectively by the remixers and the mashup artists of Silicon Valley, is, I am afraid, for dabblers. So by all means play with Hodder's new Dabble service or enroll at this week’s Mashup camp in Mountain View (say hi to Mary, if you see her there). But if you want to create something of real value with real words, don’t collaborate. Instead, author your work alone.