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Reading Wired 11.01: Google vs. Evil “Newbies flocked to the site, grateful for a simple search engine that […]

Reading Wired 11.01: Google vs. Evil

“Newbies flocked to the site, grateful for a simple search engine that was both powerful and intuitive. More sophisticated techies came to appreciate Google’s computational elegance and its willingness to shun the “portal” model that crammed ecommerce down their throats.”

What’s funny is everything I know (I do have access to some research data most folks don’t) says the opposite. Early google users were hardcore techies who wanted nothing but undecorated data. Later on the newbies started coming, as the early-adoption “taste-makers” such as slash-dot got the word out, and the general media picked it up and spread the knowledge google existed to newbies.

I hate it when the news presents what appears like a logical conclusion as fact.

As for the rest of the article, it’s really very interesting. I love and admire google– they not only power Yahoo, but they are our competitor and thus inspire us to innovate (and interesting conudrum, the in-bed-with-the-enemy syndrome). They also make a lot of good fun stuff. But “Don’t be evil” is overly simplistic attitude. some things are easy to recognize as evil, such as a KKK site. But if you censor those sites, then you keep people from being able to research them to form arguments against their ideology. Is censorship evil, making google evil when they stop evil things? Good and evil are for first graders. Grown-up life is far more complex.

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  1. 2

    Post hoc ergo propter hoc, indeed! In fact, this sort of logical fallacy runs rampant in media stories…and is used as justification for far too many agenda. I so agree that the lack of simple fact-checking screws up what otherwise would be interesting articles. For example, this article ( is an interesting topic maps discussion…but it pains me that the author never mentions information architecture. Omission is often as bad a sin as commission.

  2. 4

    Christina, I think maybe you misinterpret the meaning of “Don’t be evil”. I get the impression from watching Google over the years and from the article you point to that when Sergey Brin says that, he means something along the lines of “We are here to serve the users. Anything that we do that is not in their interests is evil. Don’t do anything that is not in their interests.” So you get Google refusing to sell banner ads or placements in search results, because they see those as not being in the interests of their users. Particularly, they don’t want to mislead their users. I don’t think “Don’t be evil” has anything to do with whether they point to the KKK or censor sites.

    I think Google recognizes that censorship is evil in that it doesn’t serve the interests of users. But legalities get in the way of that, and so they censor as a result by removing them from their database because the lawyers say they have to. But then, because it would be evil to do so and not tell users, they post about the fact that they’ve removed from the database over on the Chilling Effects site. That site tells people which links were removed. In fact, if you read the article, you’ll notice that instead of removing completely, they point you to the Chilling Effects site instead, which reports the fact that said URL has been removed. It seems to me a clever hack of the legal system to live up to the demands of an odious law while working around it in such a way that they remain true to the best interests of their users. And oh by the way, by forcing Google to censor this URL, mean nasty litigous entity, you’ve just made a lot more people aware of said URL. Very clever on Google’s part.

    I think “Don’t be evil” is a great philosophy for Google to have. The expression is perhaps a little facile, but I think the intent is good. It seems to be grounded in a user-centered view of the web universe, and that’s something that I think IAs should embrace.

  3. 5
    Jared Spool

    I know it’s redundant for a man to tell a woman she is right, but you are correct in your research and recollection of history. When Google was a Stanford student project, it was most popular with the hardcore geeks. The AOL Generation wasn’t clued in at all…

    At the time, it was mostly competing against Alta Vista, who had just spun itself off as an independant institution, having previously been run by Digital/Compaq.

    It wasn’t until Yahoo thru out Alta Vista and replaced it with Google that it came into the mainstream.

  4. 6

    Actually, Yahoo thru out Inktomi, i think— not sure if we were ever powered by AV. And yes, Yahoo’s adoptation of Google was their key to the mainstream– their numbers went through the roof at that moment and stayed there.

  5. 7

    Yes, Yahoo switched from Inktomi to Google during June 2000.

    To defend the article, I did not interpret the article as implying that “newbies” used Google before techies. While the articles does mention newbies’ satisfaction with google first, it doesn’t imply that they used the site before more advanced Internet users did. The article didn’t say that “More sophisticated techies then came to appreciate Google’s computational elegance …”

    Maybe this is my forgiving nature speaking, or maybe a have a naive belief that not all journalists fail to check facts or slept through logic class :).

  6. 8

    I just knew that I’d never be able to sleep unless I researched this. 🙂

    A Search Engine Watch article lists the services that Yahoo has partnered with.

    They are:
    Open Text (that one brings back memories)
    Altavista (Starting in mid-1996)
    Inktomi (Starting in mid-1998)
    Google (June 2000-)

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