Why Google is Like John Kerry

By Steve Bryant  |  Posted 2006-09-27 Print this article Print

Throughout most of its eight-year history, Google has taken the high road when it comes to criticism and debate. When Google has been criticized, whether by click fraud watchdogs or copyright mavens, the company has remained relatively quiet. But in not responding to accusations in a timely manner, Google sometimes let public opinion get away from them. There weren't any swift boats involved, but Google was pulling a John Kerry.

In the last few months however, Google has begun to defend itself and its policies vigorously and visibly, via both public statements at conferences and, perhaps more interestingly, via its official blog.

To wit: Google's recent post on their approach to content, their response to the Belgian court ruling, a post criticizing click fraud statistics and a post about mischaracterized comments from CEO Eric Schmidt. Now I know Google has posted steadily about various lawsuits and about its position in China, but it seems to me the frequency of posts about its position have increased.

Given Google's burgeoning interest in everything from copyright to government technology policy to ethanol-based fuels and computer power supplies, it's not surprising that you find the search engine's executives in a more visible and vocal role. Their recently-formed political action committee is probably the best example.

But there may be another reason for Google's change of forensic heart. I think they made an internal decision to begin engaging the public. After all, nobody knows better than Google that the Web can be a cacophonous echo chamber of opinion. Hear one thing enough times -- click fraud is 30 percent! -- and you start to believe it. (Not even Picard could resist that type of brainwashing.) I think Google has discovered, eight years on, what politicians have known for years: Silence isn't a virtue. You have to defend yourself.

That's why I say Google has been, for most of its history, like John Kerry. From their standpoint, their critics' attacks are truly baseless. They're surrounded by an entourage that shares that point of view. And yet every day, they see more and more evidence that their stoic resolve has failed to convince. So they dropped the Kerry routine.

Google's blog posts explaining their positions on copyright and content help the tech community understand how Google thinks. The posts also helps Google, like John Battelle said, demonstrate to their partners that they're truly not out to undermine anyone's business.

Will it help in the courtroom? Maybe, maybe not. But it will help Google engage the public and help mold opinion. Now, if they'd only allow comments on that blog.

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