The Height of Google's Hubris

Jonathan Rosenberg, a top executive at Google, has let loose with a 4,492-word treatise on the future quoting presidents and deriding "the faceless scribes of drivel." It is the best window yet into Google's egomania.

In the piece, Rosenberg, who oversees Google's product management, says little that is surprising about Google's strategy:

This means that every fellow citizen of the world will have in his or her pocket the ability to access the world's information. As this happens, search will remain the killer application. For most people, it is the reason they access the Internet: to find answers and solve real problems.

What marks the essay is the pervasive reek of superiority — that Google knows best, and that Googlers can impose their values on the world. Take Rosenberg's discussion of "content," as Googlers are apt to call creative expression in text, video, and images:

Of course, the greatest user experience is pretty useless if there's nothing good to read, a truism that applies not just to newspapers but to the web in general. Just like a newspaper needs great reporters, the web needs experts. When it comes to information, not all of it is created equal and the web's future depends on attracting the best of it. There are millions of people in the world who are truly experts in their fields - scientists, scholars, artists, engineers, architects - but a great majority of them are too busy being experts in their fields to become experts in ours. They have a lot to say but no time to say it.

Systems that facilitate high-quality content creation and editing are crucial for the Internet's continued growth, because without them we will all sink in a cesspool of drivel. We need to make it easier for the experts, journalists, and editors that we actually trust to publish their work under an authorship model that is authenticated and extensible, and then to monetize in a meaningful way. We need to make it easier for a user who sees one piece by an expert he likes to search through that expert's entire body of work. Then our users will be able to benefit from the best of both worlds: thoughtful and spontaneous, long form and short, of the ages and in the moment.

We won't (and shouldn't) try to stop the faceless scribes of drivel, but we can move them to the back row of the arena. As Harry Truman said in 1949, "We are aided by all who want relief from the lies of propaganda - who desire truth and sincerity."

Who doesn't like truth and sincerity? But one of the wonders of the Web is that publishing no longer requires the traditional filters of traditionally determined "experts." Who will Google's algorithms privilege as an expert? The likes of Rosenberg, whose career before Google was marked by the baroque failures of @Home, a broadband service which ended in bankruptcy in 2001, and eWorld, an Apple-owned Internet service provider which shut down in 1996? Or his friends?

The point is that these kind of decisions can't be made by computers. They will be made by humans — in the Googleplex in Mountain View, in London, in Zurich, Sydney, and the rest of Google's lookalike, kindergarten-colored offices around the world. Rosenberg has at last made Google's goal clear: Not just organizing the world's information, but dictating it.