The Magical Kingdom of Larry and Sergey has laid off 100 full-time recruiters, a tipster tells us. Inevitable, given the economy. But a crushing blow to Google's self-image as a kinder-than-thou employer.

In the last dotcom bust, Google's managers quite deliberately kept hiring while almost every other tech company shed staff; they were a legendary beacon of hope for Silicon Valley's unemployed engineers. And when Google filed to go public, cofounders Larry Page and Sergey Brin made grand promises about treating their employees well — upping spending on perks and pay over time, rather than cutting them.

Page and Brin have spared their employees by firing contractors by the thousands, from Google's free cafeterias to its in-house tech-support kiosks. But the pain of the economy has at last hit Google's staff. (Google has only had one previous staff layoff of note, eliminating superfluous employees after acquiring DoubleClick.)

The recruiters are surely the first wave of layoffs. Some analysts estimate that Google, which has spent freely on frivolous side projects, could run its business with a quarter of the employees it has now; the sheer profitability of its search-advertising monopoly has hidden its inefficient experimentation for years. Google's first real layoff will not be its last.

Update: And sure enough: Google has closed an engineering office in Austin, five months after it opened with a lavishly catered party, as well as others in Norway and Sweden. It is also, quite sensibly, shuttering little-used products including Jaiku and Dodgeball, two services similar to Twitter but without its adoption.