Why did Google cave in to Chinese censorship? Because of American accounting principles. In the US (and, increasingly, elsewhere) a listed business reports to its shareholders every 90 days. The next quarter’s results are all that matters. Anything that ‘impacts’ three or more quarters into the future is not the legitimate concern of Google’s management. Google’s cooperation with the Chinese Government makes sense only in this very short-term view – and Google’s share price will, I’m sure, reflect this.
In the long term (three, five, ten years or more) the wise decision would have been to side with the Chinese people. They will, after all, one day be in charge in China and they will remember Google’s (and Yahoo’s and MSN’s…) decision to side with the miserable old men who run the place now. Google and the others may have bought themselves the short-term approval of their shareholders but, I like to think, they have also bought the very long-term disapproval of a largish proportion of 1.5 billion increasingly-wired Chinese consumers.
Will a Google takeover of Wikipedia be a good thing or a bad thing? Don’t ask me. I’m more interested in what Google‘s offer says about the company’s persistently geeky culture. I may be wrong but I’m about 90% sure that it hasn’t occurred to anyone at Microsoft to host Wikipedia (this would be more their style). Wikipedia – and Wikis in general – are a good analogue for the net itself, an expression of its technically distributed and socially collaborative nature.
Wikipedia’s intelligence lives, necessarily, at its edges. In fact it barely has a centre at all in the old-fashioned sense. Most businesses find that sort of thing pretty alien, which, presumably, explains why the poor, benighted (but still awesome) Encyclopaedia Britannica actually survived the net’s first big attack only, by the look of it, to be completely broadsided by bottom-up knowledge sharing. Google‘s culture, though, evidently still thrives on funky, open, edgy phenomena like Wikipedia. Absorbing Wikipedia (which would, presumably cause barely a ripple in Google’s Ocean of CPU and bandwidth) might be commercial nonsense but it shows that the brand is alive and well.
Azeem explains Google’s acquisition of a search tech business called Applied Semantics. He also seems to think I should understand this well enough to provide some kind of commentary. Sadly he is wrong. Anyway, Applied Semantics sounds like something from a William Gibson novel.