in the US capitalist system, it will naturally tend toward certain negative behaviors.
At the same time I don't want to take the position that big automatically equals bad, or that anyone (or anything) who is successful must be regulated, reduced, resisted, removed for fear of abuse. Excellence should be rewarded, and that's certainly how Google started out. If that's no longer the case, then things should change over time, but I still find Google's search and other services to be pretty much top of the heap. If nobody has solved the spam problem yet, it's hard to be mad at Google alone for that.
I think you could exchange 'Google' for multiple corporations in that post JavaJones.
Still have to watch out for the smaller companies as well, in any business
*Exactly* I'm not arguing against healthy skepticism toward corporate motives, I'm just a little tired of it being so focused on Google who I think are a more reasonable balance (at this point) of power, profit, and public benefit. I'm personally more concerned about Apple because their lock-in is much more real, enforced, and explicit.
As far as Google being driven by profit as a public company, I do really wish they had never gone public! I think they could have achieved similar success without it. They waited a comparatively long time already to do it, and were already successful and profitable by the time of their IPO. Sure they made more money as a result, higher valuation, but in terms of the actual ongoing revenue stream, and their technical potential, it did nothing but yolk them to a bunch of profit-seeking investors with little care for "do no evil" mottos.
mouser, I think parts of your model of Internet success are a somewhat fair assessment and it does bother me as well, but I still see huge innovation, from 0 to 100 miles per hour (i.e. no profit, bootstrapping, to millionaires) in a short time, so there still seems to be room for "the little guy". In my opinion there will always be disruptive technologies, innovative thinkers, and as long as companies aren't actually creating hard lock-in, new innovators have a chance. Even Facebook, "evil" as they are, now has an option to download your entire profile, making it theoretically easy to migrate to a new social network service if you wanted to (and if that service had an importer, which any sensible service will).
But I do have to disagree with a few points. First of all, Google's *lack* of "marketing clobber" is actually a distinct and notable thing. They do very little marketing compared to most of their major competitors - Microsoft, Apple. The only exception is Facebook, which also does minimal marketing. So Google is not clobbering by marketing, they're clobbering by innovating, by actually providing something people want, and - yes - by providing it free and/or cheap. Facebook is doing the same thing. Microsoft and Apple, not so much. Neither has very many free products (though MS is increasing in that of course).
Google also is not that aggressive about product bundling, much less lock-in, particularly as compared to their immediate competitors *including* Facebook. Most of Google's services have gotten popular just because Google merely puts them in front of people's facessince they already have their attention from the search engine use. Is that wrong? I don't really feel it is, but I could see argument that it is, if you see it as similar to MS's bundling of IE with Windows (which I still have a hard time really seeing as "wrong"; MS used other tactics which *were* wrong though). Most of Google's services also have good import/export support, not true of Microsoft, Apple, or Facebook. Google's lock-in is minimal and not well enforced, if at all. Migration is easy. If you're frustrated that competitors haven't succeeded againt Google's popularity, blame human nature, not Google. I don't think they (Google) have come anywhere close to binding people in to using their services.
It's also important to recognize a few things that contradict the reflexive fear about "where does the money come from!?". It's been commonly said that Google is an advertising company (note: distinct from a *marketing* company), because this is how they make the vast majority of their money. And it's important to note that they *do* make money. Here and now. On the ads they already have. So there is not necessarily any coming "bait and switch" nightmare where what was formerly free suddenly costs a million dollars because all major competitors are gone. Money is already being made here, a lot of it, and it's arguable whether they would make more money if they charged. It's an odd concept, making more money from free, but it has a lot of recent (and not so recent) evidence behind it.
It's interesting too that Google's ads continue to be some of the least obtrusive in the industry, despite fierce competition from in-your-face pop-up flash ads and other ad networks that allow graphical banner ads, audio, roll-over games, and more. Yet Google is still the most successful advertising company, taking in tons of profit every year. Their business model is already in place. And you know what? I don't mind it. If you look at a Google search results page and the ads annoy you so much you don't want to use the service, then I guess it doesn't work for you, but for me what they've created is an incredibly good balance of content and advertising, especially when you weigh it against historical context (which I'll get to in a moment). If you'd rather pay for a service like that, I guess that's your choice, but if it's a reality that they can make enough money off the current setup to sustain, even grow, continue to innovate and expand, I'm fine with that.
Now would an entirely advertising supported world work? No, of course not, things that are advertised *must* cost money because there needs to be money coming in somewhere to pay for the ads. But here's where important historical perspective comes in. The Google model is *not new*. Radio and TV have been doing this for decades. Newspapers have been doing it even longer. Advertising-supported business models are *old news*, and they *work*. The only thing that's happening now is that older ad-supported media with higher overhead (newspapers and other print, radio and TV) are going under, while lower overhead, more agile and innovative businesses like Google that also rely on very similar advertising models are thriving. They're taking business away from the "old guard" in the advertising business. But the model has existed for many years before Google, and there's no reason to think it shouldn't work as well for the next 50 years on the Internet, just as it did for radio, TV, print.
So mouser, I disagree with your "thought experiment" as it doesn't reflect what's actually happening online. What you're suggesting is also illegal in the physical goods world, but there's a good reason for that: physical goods *do* have a "natural" price. It costs money to produce something. Try measuring the cost of a Google search result (just 1 search by 1 user), vs. the price of shoe or even just an apple. Can't be done. The apple at least costs 19 cents. The search? Negligible, really. You can only start to measure the cost of it when you get into measuring millions of searches at a time, and then only in electricity, bandwidth, and manpower (to create and maintain the system). Digital is a different world and it works very differently. This is why copyright in the digital age is such a challenge. When someone can "copy" a digital file and share it with someone for essentially zero cost and effort, as compared to the cost of media and effort to even burn a CD (much less copy a tape, god forbid a record), it's a whole new ball game and needs new rules.
Regarding the banks and their giveaways, convoluted systems, and obscure "monetary instruments", I absolutely agree with you, and I don't think Google is doing anything of the kind. I'm definitely not a fan of what most banks have been doing (see: credit crisis), but I consider those to be very much old-world institutes, and certainly to be more worthy of suspicion and disgust than most Internet companies (except Zynga
). In fact, banks and the setup of the financial system are exactly what lets Google get away with the kind of financial trickery that lets them avid some taxes; worse than that, the financial system and its configuration is in some ways *responsible* for Google doing what it does tax-wise, because the system allows for it *only* because large corporations are the biggest lobbyists and they keep such laws around. I can guarantee you Google did not invent that system of accounting, and they didn't create it through lobbying. That was in place long before Google, and larger, older companies are responsible.
So ultimately I don't see the inevitability of a dystopian future, at least not one caused by Internet-driven forces, and I don't see Google as the primary threat in a coming dark age. If anything Google is, generally speaking, working toward more potential good than most companies. Even though they're getting their hands into more and more systems and services, I have yet to see their many interests and projects producing truly negative effects, and I think it's unfair to constrict any entity (human or corporate) with sufficent resources and innovation to one area of function simply out of fear of what they *might* do. It seems to me that it's usually not hard to see malicious activity at work.
I'm more fearful of Apple, or the RIAA/MPAA, or the US government (or any government) for that matter. I'm much more afraid of censorship, surveilance, and disasterous consequences of government policy than I am of Google or any other modern digital/Internet company. Issues like net neutrality, web censorship (see recent legislation being considered in congress), and the continuing expansion of Internet monitoring are all driven by external forces, by governments and old-world media companies, not by any company that is actually successful with the Internet.
Not to mention that, as others have mentioned, companies like Monsanto, Haliburton, and others are doing far scarier and more destructive things. Just because other companies are worse and doing more genuinely "evil" things in real-world (physical) contexts doesn't excuse anything Google might do of course. But still I have a hard time worrying that much about Internet search or other service dominance when the world is being strip-mined, when companies are patenting genetic material and suing farmers for keeping seeds between growing seasons (or for having patented plants growing on their land without contract, which happened because they bordered a neighboring field), or genetically engineering everything from plants with pesticide resistance to fish with faster growth rates (and incredibly high incidence of body malformation), to massive oil spills caused by negligent corporate practices, and on and on.
Now granted, the Internet world is "my" world, the one I've shown the most interest in and ability to succeed within, at least in a business/financial context (I love the outdoors, but I don't plan to make a living off the sweat of my brow). So digital concerns are very real concerns for me. But again I see other much more important threats...