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I happen to believe that Google is primarily motivated by what +Peter Kasting calls its "hopelessly naive" ideals to make the world a better place. The evidence strongly suggests that from its founding to now, most of its decisions have been made to change the world for the better, with "how can we make this product incredible?" trumping "how can we make money on this?"

I personally think this comes through loud and clear from all the executive interviews and speeches I've watched to high level managers at conferences and on panels all the way down to personal interactions with a lot of people at Google. I have NOT seen this kind of idealism at other large and fast growing high-tech companies. There is definitely something unique and special about Google's mission and culture.
Peter Kasting originally shared:
 
Internet fame is amusing. Responses to my post ( https://plus.google.com/114128403856330399812/posts/9dKsD7Mi7JU ) yesterday (on G+ and elsewhere) included such gems (paraphrased, here) as:

* Several people claiming my post was filled with "marketing speak" while others said that it was a good thing I'm an engineer and not in marketing. (So which is it?)
* Multiple people inviting me to stop "believing the lie I'd been fed" about Chrome's mission -- when I was involved in the discussions five years ago about whether and why to build Chrome. (Perhaps I'm feeding myself lies.)
* Many people asserting that Google builds Chrome to collect more data on its users, when we've noted multiple times that this isn't the case; I especially liked one guy supporting his argument by linking to a page about "Chromium vs. Chrome" that explicitly noted that the only additional "tracking" in Chrome is an off-by-default option to send us anonymized data (like "number of times you clicked a toolbar button") and crash reports. (Maybe he thought if he just provided a link, everyone would assume it supported him and no one would actually read it.)

The overall thrust of those who thought me disingenuous (or just misled) seemed to be that my position is hopelessly naive and idealistic. I want to respond to that in general -- not specifically in regard to the question of Google/Mozilla financial arrangements, which I'm not privy to and frankly was never trying to comment on in the first place, but in general, about the worldview of Googlers, in the same way that my post yesterday was intended to be interpreted in general, about the worldview of the Chrome team, and not as a hard-nosed claim about a particular business deal.

What seems impossible for non-Googlers to fully comprehend is that Google as a company is, in a way, "hopelessly naive and idealistic". We Googlers are idealists who want to change the world and naively believe we can actually make it happen. To cynics this seems a facade, and to others full of arrogance or hubris, but the sort of idealism that can dare to make "don't be evil" a corporate motto is precisely why I accepted Google's job offer years ago. It wasn't the pay, the perks, or even the particular work I'd be doing; it's that I wanted to work for a company who, while inevitably making some mistakes, was really committed to doing The Right Thing. It was that, after interviewing on site, I concluded that most people at Google actually believed those ideals, actually tried to uphold that motto, actually wanted to change the world.

This kind of naive idealism runs straight up the management chain to the founders, who wrote the audacious mission statement "to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful". Seriously? All the information in the world, to everyone? Come on, now; that's hopelessly naive and idealistic!

Let me be clear: I'm not denying that Google makes money, or claiming that isn't a factor in decisions. But the "realists" (as multiple people proudly declared themselves to be yesterday) are so busy patting themselves on the back for "seeing through" Google's actions to expose what they think is the short-term, exploitative focus driving everything that they completely miss the possibility that people in for-profit corporations can actually care about humanity, the world, ethics, doing the right thing, or hell, even long-term strategic planning. You don't have to be an idealist to see why, for a company that benefits when people use the web, making the web better is a good long-term move; or why a company that wants its users' trust and loyalty would benefit from not secretly spying on everything they do.

Fellow Googler and HTML5 spec editor +Ian Hickson wrote in a comment yesterday: "I get the same kinds of blank looks or active denials when I try to explain that my goal as spec writer is to make the Web better irrespective of Google's short-term interests. It's sad that as a society we have reached a stage where it is so unlikely that a company would be willing to invest in humanity (or even to invest in its own long-term benefit) that people become actively hostile and accuse one of lying and deceit when one does so." (emphasis mine)

I'm sure I'm not convincing the skeptics out there -- they're so wedded to their point of view that, just like the guy linking the Chromium vs. Chrome article I mentioned above, they'll treat arguments that flatly contradict them as supportive. My post here will just be more evidence that Google management has completely pulled the wool over my eyes, more proof that those Google folks are expert manipulators and prevaricators. Our corporate charitable gift matching policy is clearly just another perk, not an expression of interest in humanity. Our support for clean energy is aimed solely at profit, it has nothing to do with concern for the environment. The people at Google who work on accessibility don't care about the disabled and the handicapped, they just want to tick up a few more users and make a few more bucks.

So it's only to the rest of you that I can suggest that, if you're wondering why Google is doing some thing, you try imagining it from the perspective of a few tens of thousands of hopelessly naive idealists; try imagining that, when we make some audacious claim, we're crazy enough to believe it; even try imagining that, when we screw up, Hanlon's Razor might apply and it might be due to honestly making a mistake rather than some sort of malicious attempt to get away with something.

Yeah, the Kool-Aid is strong here, but maybe that's because as a company we hire people who already believe.
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39 comments
 
I'm becoming more and more of a Google Groupie every day. :P They just seem to make products that are designed to help us do stuff, without worrying about how to "force" us to use their stuff or what not.

They also seem to be primarily staffed by people who are tired of only reading about the awesome future stuff in sci-fi books.
 
Comparing Google with companies like Microsoft, Apple, and Oracle is very much like comparing day and night. I think they are pointing us in the right direction, too. Somehow we have to collaborate rather than drive everybody away.
 
+Paul Allen, I agree the evidence for what you are asserting in this post is there. However, I am curious why you think Google is a market leader with respect to its desire to change/save the world? Steve Jobs' had a similar motto that has been well published.

I worked for Progressive Insurance for several years and they had a very similar culture to Google. *I speak for my view and they might disagree with me!

I guess I'm trying to say that many corporations tend to have some element of "save the world" in their mission statement.

Great post!!
 
+Jerry Johnson I think there is a big difference though between mission statement, and actual actions.
 
+Jerry Johnson please cite what Apple's contributions to making the world a better place ? launching better music player/tables doesn't really do that IMHO.
 
Improvement of the web and the world isn't a hopelessly naive notion. Considering the present quality of the worldwide web, and of the world, great progress is quite plausible. And in any case, naivete isn't necessarily negative if its counterpart is pessimism or hopeless skepticism.
 
I guess I am trying to say that it's not a bad business strategy to have the welfare of the greater community/world in mind when running a corporation. I look at Google, Apple, etc.'s desire to do this as a good thing that can on occasion turn into a bad thing.
 
It is a little early to tell. But I think where some other tech companies went wrong is where they use their near-monopoly at one thing to force people into using their other inferior products. Google has done this a little, but greatly improves the inferior product to where you actually prefer using it. I think Google will have trouble in the years to come because it is a publicly traded company. You can´t just be profitable, you have to be more profitable than last year.
 
I believe being a bit naive is a good thing, it fall into the same category as being open to new ideas, concepts and directions while still thinking 'out of the box'.
 
+Peter Sedesse , not a problem in this case, the Google founders have enough voting power to avoid the immediate pressures of Wallstreet.
 
... and that may actually work in the advantage of shareholders since their focus is more long term.
 
My respect for +Paul Allen just shot through the roof (and it wasn't low before). Yes! This is what I believe; that Google's over-riding mission is to make it possible some day so that every person can efficiently connect with any other person or people to share, collaborate, and invent! IMHO this is huge because a big part of "moving ahead" is working together. As the probability of [me knowing someone on the other side of the world has invented a piece that fits in a puzzle I'm working on] increases, so does the aggregate benefit to the world!
 
And along with that benefit is the less tangible benefit of the cloud becoming more prevalent, acceptable, and utilized. And when I say "cloud" I mean more than just storing our data on non-local servers. It's a slow - and I think wonderful - movement toward more sharing and more transparency. Which brings me to privacy! Ah! I wonder if before we die we will see a time when people share more and hide less? The benefits far outweigh the cons.
 
+Paul Allen, I am embarrassed to confess I misread your post the first time through. The "hopelessly naive" term is what threw me. My apologies. Now +Louis Gray's +1 of the post makes a WHOLE LOT more sense to me. :)

I completely agree with your post. If you would delete my original comment, that would be fine with me!
 
One more thing that I see as a huge benefit of the world being more connected: sharing of ideas not just for inventions but for self-policing. When you can Google search a company name and find articles of customer abuse or customer satisfaction, that is such a huge thing because, for one thing, we need less costly government help. Remember, governments were created at first primarily just to discourage and punish criminal behavior. When all is easily known, will criminal behavior not drop drastically?
 
+Vardhman Jain Funny but I am not sure how Google Docs, Gmail, or Google search makes the world a better place? We had search engines before like Alta Vista, we had web mail before like Hot mail.
If making really good products means making the world a better place then I would say Apple bringing the GUI down to the level where people can buy it and making the smart phone an every mans device did every bit as much as Gmail, Google, Docs, and Android has. I like Apple and Google. They both make good stuff and Google may be a bit more idealistic which is a good thing IMHO.
 
+David Siebert - while you are naming Google applications, throw in YouTube. The common link is connection/communication. See my posts above.
 
+Scott Swain Apple created the Apple II, the Mac, the Iphone. Desktop publishing really started on mac, Apple II was used in how many research projects? And how much video on YouTube was shot on the iPhone? As I said both are good companies. Both have contributed a lot to changing the world. You could throw Commodore for making the 64 and bringing computing to the Masses and Microsoft from bringing us really cheap PCs. Google is first and formost and advertising company. If you forget that you are just fooling yourself.
 
I try not to be anyone's fanboy -- I know that Google also has its warts and bad behaviour -- but Google does seem to be both quantitatively and qualitatively closer to what I consider "good" than any other big company I've come across.

I guess that's a convoluted way of saying, um, "+1".
Tom Lee
 
+10 to your post +Paul Allen. I really believe that Google is all about building the best fantastic products first then the money will come later and use that money to build even better and more superior products. By concentrating on continuing innovation they would not fall into the same mistakes as Microsoft which the money is first before anything else.
 
Yes, jeneraly, Google is a good kompani, but in reesent years the imaj has begun to fade bekus of Google's questionable copyryt polisis, such as the remooval of auto-kompletion for pirasi sites.
 
+David Siebert They may make their money "first and formost" from advertising, but when a user things of Google, it is hardly the advertising that comes to mind. It may pay the bills much of the time, but hardly seems the major driving force in what they do. If anything Google has historically downplayed advertising far more than most other providers.
What comes to mind when contemplating Google are all the things they have developed that have made some great advancements possible. I agree with +Paul Allen - their idealism does come through loud and clear when using their products and all the things that have been made more possible because of them. +Scott Swain's comments show what the attitude change had done and is doing for us. It is not the applications themselves, but the hope for cooperation and innovation across the larger community. I absolutely applaud Google for taking the big steps they have towards a more open nature among us.
 
As another Googler, I 100% agree with Peter's original posting. We're held to make our system cost effective and part of a generally profitable platform, but the people around me are too busy trying to make our stuff that much more awesome to really pay too much attention to competitive analysis and if we make another dollar more or less. It does take a lot of pressure off that search ads are so profitable...

And on the data gathering question: there exists an army of Googlers who will find and beat down on anyone who misuses user data. Yes, a lot of data is potentially available. No, it's not available to just anyone. No, we're not keeping it forever. Yes, we use the data to make the services better. No, we don't peek at your data unless we're trying to solve a problem related to your data.

This is only true because of that naive idealism which says that to keep user data forever or to read your private emails or your search history or to abuse your data at all isn't just betraying one user's trust, it's betraying the trust of everyone who I have to sit with and talk to and run into in the halls every day.

If the culture of Google ever shifts to where I can't trust my coworkers to do the right thing, especially when nobody is looking, or even worse, where they stop expecting me to fulfill that trust, well... Google will have two weeks notice and I'm finding another place to work, because that won't be the company I love working for today.
 
I think you're all being hopelessly naive if you genuinely believe a publicly traded corporation does everything it does for purely altruistic reasons. Google has a legal obligation to maximise profits for its shareholders, and no amount of idealism is going to explain some of its recent product updates that can only be interpreted as pure, unbridled greed.

Keep in mind that Google's users are NOT its customers - they're its product. Advertisers are its customers. Google knows this.
 
totally agree. Their idealism is main reason I love Google.
 
+Barry Adams , You can be idealist and profit seeker at the same time. Late Steve Job is a great example. He usually made overpriced products (until ipad) but no doubt, he never gave up his principles in product engineering and design.
 
+Aung Thiha very true. And like Apple, Google also has its share of fanboys possessing a blind fanaticism bordering on religion. I'm not saying Google is a purely evil corporation - it most assuredly isn't - but viewing it exclusively through the rosy lens of idealism is just as flawed as viewing it exclusively through the murky haze of capitalist greed.

I find that the rosy idealist view is much more pervasive than the murky capitalist view, so I feel somewhat obliged to balance things out. :)
 
+Barry Adams wrote "I think you're all being hopelessly naive if you genuinely believe a publicly traded corporation does everything it does for purely altruistic reasons."

The view you're attacking feels like a straw man. I don't think I've seen it much in this comment thread -- the people here seem to be able to distinguish a publicly-traded company from a foundation. Basically, commenters are saying that for a big company that maximizes profits for its shareholders and pushes ads for its customers, Google comes across as surprisingly less evil than its peers.

"... some of its recent product updates that can only be interpreted as pure, unbridled greed ..."

I disagree with some of Google's recent changes (especially the elimination of "+" in searches), but Google has both technical and business explanations for those changes; I just happen to disagree.

If I were appointed Grand Dictator of Google for a year, I'd restore "+", but I probably wouldn't go back and reactivate any of the old, experimental services they've cancelled -- the company needed to free up talent to work on services that people actually use. I might command Google to open source some of their core Android apps, though (e.g. Gmail, Google+, and the Android browser). I'd also push them to complete the hashtag implementation in G+.
 
+David Megginson "Google comes across as surprisingly less evil than its peers." That is exactly the fallacy I am talking about. Google may come across as less evil, I genuinely believe it is on a par with any other large multinational corporation in that regard. Google avoids taxation, pushes competitors out of the market by (ab)using its own market power, maximises its profits at the expense of its users, and does many more things that every other publicly traded corporation does. It is no less evil - and, admittedly, no more - than any other big company out there.

But Google is very good at giving the impression that it's less evil. Unfortunately, many of its fans buy in to this clever marketing tactic hook, line, and sinker.
 
+Barry Adams It depends on how you define evil , if u satisfy any sides, others will perceive as being evil. So evil argument is invalid, I think. I dont find things you mentioned to be evil. But the evil for me is their openness of Android is mainly focusing on manufacturers and carriers, less on customers. But if Google doesnt allow carriers and OEMs to tinker with OS for the sake of customers , they will say google is evil in controlling as Apple.
 
+Barry Adams "less evil" isn't the same as "altruistic".

Google at least initially went to court to stand up to the Patriot Act when other big IT companies rolled over and secretly gave user information to the U.S. government without so much as a court order. Google goes out of its way to promote Pride Month on its main sites and takes loud public stands on marriage equality, risking expensive boycotts from powerful American religious extremist groups. Google risked losing the world's largest market (China) on a point of principal. Google not only open-sourced Android, but made it possible for competitors (like Amazon) to set up their own competing marketplaces (can you imagine Apple allowing competing App Stores?). Google rarely censors its services for any moral agenda, unlike Facebook's blocking of breastfeeding pictures, or Apple's frequent moralistic censorship (including initially banning a Project Gutenberg app, and designing Siri not to give any information about abortions). And perhaps most importantly, Google innovates instead of using patents to try to shut down competitors (hello Apple, Oracle, and Microsoft!).

OTOH, Google is generally slow to provide good public APIs to its services. Google spies on its users to collect information for advertisers. Google doesn't open-source some of the key apps that make Android useful (like Gmail). Google launched the Galaxy Nexus in the U.S. initially through just one carrier. And Google has no tech support worth mentioning, even when you pay for its services.

So no, Google isn't altruistic or unambiguously "good", but I believe that being less evil is more than just a marketing ploy.
 
I disagree that Google is naively idealistic. To me most of the things that it does make perfect business sense for one particular reason: The most most valuable thing a company can achieve is to make itself a desirable place to be. That is desirable as a place to work, desirable for other companies to work with and desirable for consumers to use its products or more generally inhabit its ecosytem.

By being a desirable place to be it will continue to attract the best people in the world to work for it. It will have a huge advantage in growing its platforms like android and its products will continue to be used and loved by, let's face it, most people in the world. For this reason I'm pretty certain that Google will still be around long after Apple and Microsoft have bitten the dust.
 
+Barry Adams "I genuinely believe it is on a par with any other large multinational corporation in that regard."

I have worked at AOL, Disney, Texas Instruments, and several smaller companies you've never heard of. I am currently working at Google and I love working at Google precisely because you're 100% wrong (TI was/is cool too, for similar reasons). Pretty much everyone inside Google is rabidly pro-user, pro-better-world, anti-big-brother, anti-market-abuse, pro-good and anti-evil in a way that no other company in my experience has managed to be. Part of that culture is that a shocking amount of decision making doesn't happen by management at all, but by the individuals sitting at a workstation and figuring out the best way to solve the problem. Highly distributed decision making that is spread out to people who are almost always worthy of that trust.

"Google avoids taxation, pushes competitors out of the market by (ab)using its own market power, maximises its profits at the expense of its users, and does many more things that every other publicly traded corporation does."

On taxes: I trust 100% that Google follows the law and that our books would pass any audit.
On competitors: Google is a strong competitor, which means that some of the competition will fail. You may be referring to the fact that our services appear in our search results when the algorithm calculates they're what the user really wants. This has been discussed at length by others, and I don't believe for a minute that the search team would compromise the quality of their search results. Those guys are fanatical to a degree you can barely imagine about providing the most useful result to the user (so that users keep coming back). I'm certain that they would stand up to Larry and Sergey in order to avoid compromising their goals, but I'm equally certain that they don't have to.
 
+David Megginson "Google is generally slow to provide good public APIs to its services."

I do wish we released those earlier. I know a better G+ API is coming, and I find it frustrating that early releases aren't already out.

"Google spies on its users to collect information for advertisers."

I think you have incomplete information here. Advertisers complain that we hide everything important from them. And they're right. We track statistics and provide those to advertisers, but actual user data is sacrosanct. The ads algorithms choose which ads will show up based on the specific user action, all the advertisers can do is buy into an auction.

"Google doesn't open-source some of the key apps that make Android useful (like Gmail)."

Not sure why this is good or bad unless you'd like to be able to examine the code to verify that Google isn't sending anything naughty home. Which you can do with network tracing tools.

I do agree that the Android permission model contains multiple avenues for abuse. Apps ask for huge lists of permissions, but almost nobody actually reads them during the installation process. And that's completely separate from your assertion.

"Google launched the Galaxy Nexus in the U.S. initially through just one carrier."

I'm not seeing any sort of good/evil assertion here. I'm pretty sure that technical issues and business/regulatory issues are responsible for different rollout times. It looks like the GNex will be available on all US carriers within a few months of initial release, which I think is pretty extraordinary given that the iPhone also has yet to appear on all carriers.

"So no, Google isn't altruistic or unambiguously "good", but I believe that being less evil is more than just a marketing ploy."

We do our best. Sometimes there is no decision that will make everyone happy, but I trust everyone around me to be doing their best to make the best decision for users and for the very long term, even when it's really hard to do so.
 
Thanks for the response, +Ross Bagley - I believe that the good things I listed in my posting comment outweigh the evil ones by at least one order of magnitude, but I also agree that "good" and "evil" are highly subjective. In my world view, open source and marriage equality are both "good", while carrier lock-in and personal-information collection have at least the potential to be "evil", but others will (obviously) believe exactly the opposite.

So I guess what I'm really saying is that Google's world view is pretty close to mine in most of the things that matter, but I thought it was important to be fair and list the few areas where it isn't.
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