Monday, February 1st, 2010

Google isn’t Evil. Flash isn’t Dead; Thank god the Open Web doesn’t have a single vendor

Category: Editorial

The following post is a reprint from my personal blog. It is editorial in nature and even delves into random politics. I apologise. You can deal with it though :)


Steve Jobs didn’t hold back when talking about Google and Adobe. That is great. Life is so much more fun when people speak their mind. I remember hearing a story when Sir Steve was asked why mac keyboards where the way they were. He grabbed a PC keyboard and started to rip out “stupid keys” (print screen, F keys, and the like) and swore a lot.

We love to paint with broad black and white brushes these days don’t we? Whenever I hear people talking about Google being “evil” or not…. I sit back and think about how interesting it is that companies become “people”, especially in this country.

It makes sense when you look up Corporation:

Corporations are recognized by the law to have rights and responsibilities like actual people.

That may have been a convenient (and often almost genius) abstraction by lawyers, but it is screwed up. It feels like the times when you use inheritence in a way that isn’t a ISA relationship, but it does kinda make the code nice. We have all done that, until we learned to favor composition. Corporations ISA Person? No. They are composed of them though.

I have been thinking about this ever since the recently surprise court decision the other day that “allows corporations and unions to pour unprecedented amounts of money into elections.”

Lawrence Lessig had some interesting commentary:

The court decision does feel totally wonky to me. Right now, $ has a direct bearing on elections, and allowing multi-nationals (who have the money) to rain it down makes no sense.

Fun aside

My renaissance friend Graham Glass talks about how corporations can be considered a single conscious in his series on “the mind”.

The issue with the vast number of corporations is that they are profit driven entities whose charter is to bring financial reward to shareholders. While you could argue that we as a species are driven by the selfish gene, corporations are driven by profits. Duh. Capitalism.

Google is a company. It is driven by this same goal. Now, there are various paths to a particular goal to make profits. Some companies sell things that kill people (weapons, cigarettes, etc). Others offer medical devices. All companies are not equal. Having spent time at Google, I do feel like the place isn’t just an evil cult. The people that make up the consciousness were very driven strong willed people that cared about the company mission (universal access to information and all that) more than just the $. Sure some folks are focused on that. Also, although the wool could be placed over your eyes, the guys at the top of the chain have their hearts in the right place. While Larry and Sergey are there, decisions will be made that aren’t solely based on profit. They want to create a different kind of legacy and company.

That being said, I think it is quite easy to fall into a trap such as:

If we do something here to block competition, we can make more $ and since we are Good Guys we can do better things with that money!

Google will sometimes do things that could be considered “evil” by some. That is life.

The good news with Google is that their search and ads business deals in a trust economy. It doesn’t take much to switch from Google to Bing. Google knows that. Even though they have some HUGE advantages (technical [data centers, talent], brand, etc) the low barrier to change is huge.

Not all corporations are profit driven

I had the huge pleasure of working for Mozilla, which is a mission based corporation. Wow does that make life different. While you have to sustain yourself, it does mean that you think of the world very differently. You would rather go out in a blaze of glory doing something great for the mission, than just slowly die not doing much. Every choice you make …. you think of the mission.

It was interesting to work there knowing that I actually wouldn’t want Firefox to be a 90% browser. You can fall into the similar trap as above and think:

We are mission based! If we had that domination we would use it for good!

But, not having that power in one hand is even better. Imagine working somewhere thinking “in my wildest dreams, the market would be shared somewhat evenly with the competition.” The Open Web is amazing in that there is NO SINGLE VENDOR. If we are able to keep a decent balance between browsers (and thus the platform as we know it) then we have a balance of powers. Sure, in some ways you can’t move as fast as a dictatorship, but there is a reason we don’t want dictatorships in our government (even if the trains run on time!)

And, this brings me to the Adobe half of the Steve Jobs equation. Flash isn’t dead. HTML5 is slowly going to put a dent into it if we ever get some of the use cases just right (e.g. video), but Adobe has a good penetration and can move at the speed of a dictatorship. The iPhone/iPad combo not shipping Flash will have an interesting dynamic here too, hopefully helping the HTML5 video cause. There is still much more work to be done. Flash and browser plugins have had a long history at forging new paths, and the Web can come in behind them and standardize. May that continue.

I do watch for single-owned platforms such as Flash, Silverlight, or now the Apple platform (even though they do great work on the HTML5 side of the house). I don’t want any of those vendors to have too much power. The thought of a Web that required the use of their technology makes me shudder (we have a piece of that with Flash video). Right now I can turn off those plugins and life moves on. Sure I can’t Hulu or Netflix, but that will change. I would miss some of the Flash sites that my kids use, but they could even be partially ported over to HTML5 these days.

I don’t want to “kill” these other platforms as they offer competition and spur on the industry. I just don’t want any one of them to take over. It may seem like the world would be better if we all just used Macs and iPhones and iPads, but would it? Do you think Steve would be a benevolent dictator?

Erm, no.

And thus I find myself torn. I really want to go out and by that iPad……. but when is it “too late”. Surely I have a few years right? I can enjoy the shiny new toy? :)

Faruk Ate? also has a nice post on where he see’s Flash going which is bolder than mine :)

What do you think?

Posted by Dion Almaer at 9:38 pm

3 rating from 24 votes


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I think the point of the Selfish Gene was rather different than what you attribute to it in the post. My interpretation of it is that evolution works on the level of genes rather than individuals so a lot of the things that jeopardize the survival of the individual but help the gene are actually selected for. The selfishness of an individual doesn’t enter into it — that’s an entirely different sort of selfishness.

Comment by leonsp — February 1, 2010

I’m having trouble reading this post; it’s more of a stream-of-consciousness rant than any sort of structured article. You could probably remove the entire corporation paragraph, since everyone can agree that corporations exist to make money; it’s no great insight that needs reinforcing.

As an aside, did you even bother to read the Wikipedia page on “The Selfish Gene” that you linked to? You might want to remove the sentence in question, as it doesn’t add to your argument, and only serves to bolster a popular misconception that is used to trash Richard Dawkins.

Comment by Will14 — February 1, 2010

I do agree with your “companies are not people” but Google really is evil. Even their CEO has admitted that they could use your private info wrong but don’t want to do it because it would make them less popular. The world’s largest database of private information plus capital raging in billions, now that’s not something that should exist at all. Usually when people say “Google is evil”, if they know what they are talking about, they are talking about the future. Google is behaving at least some way right at this moment but I really don’t feel comfortable knowning that all that keeps Google’s evilness in bay is that they are popular at the moment. Google could be done without actually saving any personal identifiers with the search data and still serve ads based on keyword. But because the real product Google is selling is their users (right now to the advertisers), it has all the reason in the world to keep data identifiable. Who knows how much the data dumps are worth if company hits rocky waters at some point.

It’s funny that you say that web should have “power balance”. That is the exact opposite of Google’s goal. Their goal is that every piece of information on the web goes through their data centers. This will lead to information favoritism like it has already. Unless you are prepared to do some leg work, the truth is what Google’s top 3 results say. Adjust those results a bit and you got a lot of people who form opinions based on the information you gave them. Don’t think this is possible? Google just made huge PR stunt by refusing to censor results in China. Now tell me how were you able to tell in the first place that sites were missing or results were odd with censored keywords? Can you see when Google manually adjusts results because of somebody gamed their algorithm? Nope.

And regarding your comment about Google’s employees. Well of course it’s all goody good over there. It’s not the employees, they are brilliant and obviously working great with current way of doing things. They help spreading “do no evil” message which makes it easier to do “necessary” steps to put the pieces in place to ensure monopoly over certain things. Individual puppets never know what the puppet master does. Larry & Sergey are pretty much powerless if the majority of the board votes for something so their thoughts really don’t matter.

Comment by Johnnyda — February 2, 2010

Flash, google, and apple are all necessary evils to get us to the real Open web.
Apple vs adobe (vs google) = greater webkit html5 coverage for flash equivalence.
Html5 marks the beginning of the true open web, both from a cooperative spec development and an implementation standpoint. Anyone noticed how fast the W3C moves these days?
Flash was initially a trailblazer, but will increasingly be relegated to “shim for IE” status. HTML5 + device api + modernizr detection with flash shim fallbacks for each feature preserves view source and gives us write once run anywhere.

Comment by rdza — February 2, 2010

Completely agree except with that “in that country” people don’t like corporations! Actually if “that country” means the USA, don’t think different about the entire world. Nobody likes corporations I think.

Comment by stoimen — February 2, 2010

@Johnnyda: larry and sergey are majority stockholders (based on voting weight). They have absolute power over google. They’re building down their stock, but they’re not planning to relinquish control any time soon. I guess the question is: do you trust larry and sergey with your data.
This problem has to be solved on a different level. We need strong privacy laws. See for example the EU data protection directive:

Comment by Joeri — February 2, 2010

Agreed – but please don’t use the “selfish gene” metaphor, as it has nothing whatsoever to do with organisation at the species level.

Comment by kissmyawesome — February 2, 2010

I’d like to see HTML 5 replace Flash too, but it sounds like Steve Jobs needs to lighten up a little.

Comment by WillPeavy — February 2, 2010

WillPeavy, you try to relax when your latest creation was dubbed iTampon :D

Comment by Johnnyda — February 2, 2010

Couldn’t disagree with this “article” more.

First, my thoughts echoed Will14’s while I was reading; this is more of a stream of consciousness than an article. I understand where you wanted to go with this piece, but you seemed to have crafted a simplified version of the old “corporations are bad, monopolies are worse” argument. The problem is your thinking is flawed when it comes to for-profit corporations:

“… The issue with the vast number of corporations is that they are profit driven entities whose charter is to bring financial reward to shareholders… “

There is no issue with companies being driven to make a profit, and by stating that as a fact you betray the rest of your argument. Corporations aren’t some giant single entity, they’re a collective group of individuals working towards a similar goal(s). And while tax laws in the US might seek to label companies as individual entities – for the sole purpose of collecting additional taxes on those “evil” profits – the reality is corporations pay no tax, we their consumers do. Companies simply produce a product or service consumers want; they deliver to market and sell at a price that enables them to produce more of their product or continue offering their service while ensuring they can pay their employees, overhead, taxes and end the quarter with a profit for their investors (read: shareholders).

There is nothing insidious about corporations, but since individuals can affect change and steer a company’s goals you could have made the argument that some companies can appear “evil” based on the decisions made by their executive board or CEO. Instead you leave the impression that for-profit companies in general are bad, but Google – which is a for-profit company – really isn’t in the same category because they do some altruistic work on the side. Sorry, that is a false premise as most for-profit companies participate in various charitable works in their community including supporting local arts venues and schools. To say that Google isn’t “evil”, as Steve Jobs suggests, is probably accurate (we really don’t know his exact words or the context in which he made them at the Apple town hall) however I would suggest that any company’s CEO would view a rival competitor’s actions or an uncooperative supplier as potentially harmful and hence consider them in a negative light.

As for Flash, you’re right it’s not dead, but I think the future of the Flash platform is currently being shown off at Lee Brimelow’s The Flash Blog in the form of the new CS5 Pro iPhone API.

Comment by smfoushee — February 2, 2010

HTML5 video has a long way to go before it replaces Flash video. I agree that HTML5 is the future and as a web designer, I can’t wait until I can comfortably use its features along with CSS3. I can’t wait until a number of things that Flash does well can be offloaded onto the browser without having to load a plug-in. But the problem is the openness of the standard in the first place because it moves slow. All the browsers should already be fully supporting the spec on HTML5 and CSS3 right now! And without the vendor specific crap on all the CSS so I can write it once to be shown on browsers that support it. They can’t even agree on simple stuff like a stupid video codec for the much hyped video tag. But the glaring issue with HTML5 is IE and without that one vendor it would mean I will probably never make my company’s website HTML5 because then upwards of 80% of our viewers would be unable to see it correctly. I can’t sell that to the guy who signs the checks. Therefore, it will be years before HTML5 is mainstream at this rate and by then Flash would have already moved on to other bigger things that we’ll have to wait for HTML6 to help us with.

Comment by travisalmand — February 2, 2010

2 good articles about Flash vs. HTML5: Sympathy for the devil, The word is moving to HTML5 – everybody should read it to understand better what is going on…

Comment by millermedeiros — February 2, 2010


None of us should think we know what Steve Jobs said exactly in that town hall meeting. I’ve read that his statements were taken out of context and the wording changed (see Gruber’s blog).

The overall effect of the altered statements is to make Jobs sound harsh and unsympathetic, traits which Apple bashers are quick to latch on to.

Undoubtedly, the Linux, Mozilla, and Adobe communities stand to gain by pushing this distorted view of Steve Jobs.

Comment by HG — February 2, 2010

The only benevolent dictator I trust is ME!

Comment by sroussey — February 2, 2010

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