Photo: Dylan Love
There’s a lot of handwringing about Google’s move to present paid listings—oh, heck, let’s just call them advertisements—in places where it used to provide pure, unpaid search results.It’s understandable that people are making a big deal about this.
Google wasn’t the first search engine, but it aimed to be the best. Google cofounders Larry Page and Sergey Brin believed that other search engines’ practice of charging companies to be included in search listings was, well, evil.
That’s where the whole “don’t be evil” thing came from.
Then again, Page and Brin weren’t exactly big fans of advertising at the beginning. (They thought Google could make more money by licensing search technology to enterprises. Ha!)
Nowadays, Page is in charge as CEO.
Brin, when he had an active executive role as co-president, was Google’s moral compass.
“Evil is what Sergey says is evil,” then-CEO Eric Schmidt told Wired back in 2003, before the company had even gone public.
That compass is now off wearing augmented-reality glasses while riding in a self-driving car with the president of Turkey. (And good for him! Being a moral compass is exhausting!)
When Google went public, it warned shareholders very specifically about its aversion to evil. It specifically highlighted paid shopping listings as an example of something it would not do.
Nowadays, it’s getting paid to sell airline tickets and hotel rooms and, yes, products in the space it used to reserve for unpaid search results.
It might make as much as $250 million a year from its recent changes—pocket change compared to its $40 billion a year in annual revenues.
Similarly evil: Google’s attempt to put results from its Google+ social network in search. That wasn’t evil so much as a waste of space. Google has largely replaced those results with its new “Knowledge Graph” summaries. But that move wasn’t motivated by providing great search results: It was motivated by wanting to screw over Facebook and Twitter.
And you know what? It may be healthy for Google to get over the whole “don’t be evil” thing. It’s not like anyone was buying it.
Even Googlers. Especially Googlers.
All the free-speech advocates have decamped to Twitter, where former Googler Dick Costolo now runs “the free-speech wing of the free-speech party.”
The open-sourcerers have joined startups like Cloudera or HortonWorks.
The get-rich-quick crowd—sorry, people who want to make the world a more open and transparent place!—left long ago for Facebook.
Google’s a nice place to work if you like the free food, predictable hours, and humongous gobs of data. But it’s not like anyone’s naive enough to think that joining Google these days is some kind of statement against evil, are they?
If you believe that, I’ve got a paid listing for a bridge to sell you.
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