[Foundation-l] In defence of Google

George Herbert george.herbert at gmail.com
Fri Jan 19 22:49:33 UTC 2007

On 1/19/07, Anthony <wikilegal at inbox.org> wrote:
> But I don't even remember what search engine I used before Google.  I
> think it was Yahoo.  Do Wikipedia pages rank high in Yahoo?  Ah,
> Yahoo, I remember when *that* used to be the corporation that everyone
> loved and praised.  Now they're helping the Chinese put people in
> jail.  I wonder how long before Google does that little bit of evil.
> AFAIK they haven't actively helped the government put people in
> jail...yet.

The whole question of how does an enlightened, open information
society engage with a closed, top-down one in which information is
controlled by a somewhat hostile dictatorial government is both
interesting and the subject of much hand-wringing and hyperbole.

1980s and 90s assumptions were that governments would ultimately be
unable to balance in the middle, and information would either flow
nearly completely freely, or not at all.  China has shown that there
is a middle ground that their government can balance in.

The mere existence of a viable middle ground is a challenge for both
the theory and practice of open information, as conceived in the 1990s
by the "Open *" movements.  A lot of "Open *" zealots are trying hard
to put their head in the sand and refuse to reopen the fundamental
ethical issues in light of an apparent paradigm failure.

A lot of companies staffed and led by "Open *" people who have gotten
somewhat more practical and pragmatic are engaging with China, in ways
which are to some greater or lesser extent annoying to "Open *"
zealots.  However, with the terms of engagement being "Play ball, or
don't play at all", it's not clear that the ultimate ethics and goals
of the "Open *" movement aren't better served by playing ball for the
moment and keeping the unwanted but functional middle ground's
ultimate demise as a goal in our hearts.

It's also not clear that playing ball IS ultimately the right answer -
the question has not been adequately addressed.  In most venues, it's
not even being brought up or phrased properly.  Not having met the
"core" WP people in person or attended the conferences yet, I don't
know the degree to which that discussion happens elsewhere, but on the
mailing lists so far it's not being addressed here much better than
anywhere else.

If you fault Google for their policy, and Yahoo for theirs, that's
fine... but for all of our sakes, don't just go around harshing on
them on the Wikipedia foundation list.  If you are going to bring up
the question, bring it up in the context of what's really wrong here
(nobody understands the "right" thing to do about it) and how WP can
participate in fixing that (figuring out the right thing).

This is not the place for merely bagging on the corporations.  It's
one of many places where real serious discussions could start on what
to do next.

-george william herbert
george.herbert at gmail.com

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