The "Is Google Evil?" debate is one big Christmas gift that keeps on giving for bloggers, pundits and aficionados.
The latest offering comes from Google CEO Eric Schmidt and Google co-founder Sergey Brin's jaunt to New York City this week, where they spoke with reporters for nearly 90 minutes at Google's Chelsea office. The topics were wide-ranging.
TechCrunch and The New York Times quoted Schmidt dispelling the idea that Google has gone evil by saying, "We have not yet found the evil room on our campus." If I were Schmidt, I wouldn't even joke that there is such a thing.
Somewhere, bloggers with artistic bents are Photoshopping their take of what Google's evil room looks like -- something Kafkaesque or Stephen Kingsian. Flesh-eating computers with hairy legs and other nightmarish visions.
But seriously, Search Engine Land's Danny Sullivan brought up a great point when he noted that Google gives away free applications, such as Google Analytics, to get data others can't. The idea is that Google is perpetuating some infinite, closed loop.
Schmidt and Brin disagreed, and I agree with their disagreement. We're not bound to Google for search, or these other free Web services. Google just makes it really, really hard for us to want to leave. I'm not sure we should ding them for that. Although people are dinging Google for doing just that, it's not criminal.
As consumers, we have a hard time arguing Google is evil, though we curse Google when Gmail goes down.
Conversely, with free applications such as Google Voice, or free suites of Web apps like Google Voice, Google is making it easier for other software rivals such as Microsoft, Apple and telcos to view Google as evil because it disrupts their businesses.
In his Times piece, David Carr hits on the very notion of why Google appears evil to businesses. Schmidt said:
""Google is an innovator, and innovation on the Internet is going to create collisions" -- with Mr. Brin adding that it sometimes seemed that all of the disruption to business models created by the Internet was laid at the feet of Google, in part because the company presents an easy, short-hand target."
Well, that and because Google is the search god, but let's look past the easy target of search, first at Google Apps. Microsoft sees this suite of word processing, presentation and spreadsheet (and many other apps) as evil, Web-based incarnations of programs Microsoft created two decades ago.
Google wants to eat Microsoft's lunch on productivity and collaboration apps, and eventually it wants to eat Microsoft's Internet Explorer market share with the Chrome Web browser. Next year, Google will bid to eat up Windows with its Chrome Operating System.
The holistic computing world has a hard time arguing Google is evil because it is open sourcing the Chrome products, embracing the free software ethos and etiquette to make themselves the gentleman of the Web. But if you're Microsoft, you see this effort as Google's bid to use the increasingly sharpened blade of open source to cut its throat.
This begs another question I don't have an answer to: Does offering a product via an open-source license exempt you from being evil in that market? There seems to be a perception that companies that open software have carte blanche, or get a free pass. That's for another debate in another post.
Now over to Google Voice. As consumers, we love this Web calling management service because its rings all of our phones. Apple and telcos like AT&T despise it. Google Voice duplicates Apple's iPhone dialer and blocks calls to rural areas with no recriminations, which AT&T loathes.
In a perfect world, Google would love nothing more than to replace the existing, good ole boy phone system in certain situations with Web-based calling, and to bring ads to consumers through Android phones.
At some level, all carriers must fear and loathe this even as they, including Verizon this week, embrace the Android mobile OS, yet another hat Google rests on the open-source peg.
There is also the notion that Google is offering free apps now but will begin charging later when the company has more market share, i.e., becomes too powerful to resist.
As long as 97 percent of Google's cash cow comes from ads, I don't think the company would be brash enough to begin charging for its existing free Web services.
If it did, consumers would certainly perceive it as evil and revolt; there are myriad other free, similar services to use for word processing, chat, etc.
Today, Google is simpatico with most consumers, but companies like Microsoft, Apple and IBM have the ammunition to argue that Google is evil because it aims to detonate the very foundations that they built their businesses on.
Maybe it isn't that Google is evil so much as its way of doing things -- the Web way -- looks and feels a lot better to consumers than the old, siloed, this-application-is-tethered-to-this-computer-or-this-phone way.
Perhaps businesses should continue to adjust rather than crying foul. Adapt or die.
What is that old adage? The consumer or always right? Right.