Do no evil: Google’s business model

Some more great reporting about Google from non-emergent Andrew Orlowski got me thinking about Google’s business objectives. At first, I wondered how long Mozilla would keep distributing anti-advertisement add-ons to Firefox such as the Greasemonkey, Customize Google or Adblock extensions. On second thought, they probably will, because it’s good for them.

It can be hoped that the open-source nature of the software will ensure the continued availability of such indispensable public service tools (which are a significant part of Firefox’s appeal, in my opinion), but this conflict of interest might surface at some point.

While Google’s products can generally be commended (sheer technical excellence made useful by hard work and a constant concern for usability), Orlowski’s description of Google as an “ad broker” is terribly accurate. To be successful, the company relies on ads, not on good services. It’s the ads that happen to rely on the (perceived) quality of the services. This makes quality merely a side effect of their business model. (Think Warren Buffet candidly touting the Buffalo Evening News’s reputation for editorial quality because of its positive business effect.)

Other side effects include legal gesticulation, corporate posturing, lobbying, efforts to modify consumer behavior, and encouraging mindless but verbose content creation (to increase the output of a noria effect, you can improve the efficiency of your device, but increasing the flow of the river is also useful!!).

In fact, they should attempt anything that can ensure more ads are paid for.

At this point, I am wondering whether allowing some people to view fewer ads (through Google’s support of browsers that easily suppress them) is not actually positive on balance for Google. It generates significant goodwill from opinion makers, and might even protect some people from overdosing on web ads, people who are significant producers of content, vectors for Google ads.

It might be argued that Google is, in fact, allowing the emergent, content-producing, opinion-making crowd to shield itself from some of the negative sides of their emergent world, keeping it viable. Not only through ad-suppressing plugins, but also by lending credibility to our cherished illusion of being free of corporate chains.

Indeed, while ads make people’s online “lives” miserable, corporate domination of various markets also hurt our sense of freedom. If Google owned Mozilla, it would very soon look like another Microsoft. By subsidizing a non-profit, grassroots-powered, open-source organization, it looks like it actually welcomes and embraces diversity and non-domination. The outcome is however quite similar.

All in all, I don’t think it would be fair to charge that Google is actively “doing evil”, but it certainly is not interested in quality for its own sake, nor in freedom, nor in paying taxes, nor in open-source. That is, not unless it is actually worth something to their business model.

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