Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Geek vs. Geek - Who's the suit here?

I love using Google search. It's my encyclopedia, my dictionary, phonebook, roadmap, medical info center, my source of any and everything I need to look up. Almost everyone I know, certainly all the geeks, use Google the same way. Google has always been very connected with the open source community, something I look for in any tech company.

So why is Jimmy Wales so worried about Google?

Wales, founder of Wikipedia and his for-profit company Wikia, is concerned that Google wields a bit too much control over too many things. In particular, he's worried about how much Google controls the Internet search business, which is why he's just acquired, through Wikia, the distributed crawler Grub from LookSmart. And he plans on making Grub available in open source.

He believes open source search tools like Grub will force Google to stay on its toes, and keep things honest. Grub functions via users who donate their computing resources towards a common goal, namely crawling websites to build an ever larger and accurate database for Internet searching.

It's true that open source approaches to operating systems like Gnu/Linux have made Microsoft more than a little worried, and pushed it into making somewhat better deals with competitors than the Seattle Bomber Balmer might have wanted to make. Not that it's made Microsoft any more ethical in its business practices, but at least it lets the company know that there are alternatives for computer users, and if it goes too far, then it can hurt its bottom line.

Monopolies need a little fair competition to keep them at least pretending to be honest. And that's why Wales says he's taking on Google's dominance in the search realm, pushing the underlying message that it's now somehow on the "dark side" and he's leading the forces of goodness and light, so he can free Internet search for the masses.

“Search is part of the fundamental infrastructure of the Internet. And, it is currently broken,” Wales said back in December 2006. “Why is it broken? It is broken for the same reason that proprietary software is always broken: lack of freedom, lack of community, lack of accountability, lack of transparency.”

Huh? So does this mean that Google is now one of the "bad hats" in the tech world? I don't think so. In fact, Google just seems to do it better than all the rest, which of course makes it a target. To my thinking, Wales and his company sound more like suits finding fault with the way geeks do business, and is using the open source orientation to attack the large and still growing Google empire. Earlier this year, Wales launched something called Search Wikia, and the Grub acquisition is part of that strategy.

“The other thing we’re looking to is some of the second-tier search companies,” Wales said in a Fast Company interview. “We’ve talked to–I can’t say who–different people, asking, would they be better off participating in a project that helps quality search results to become a commodity?”

So, there you have it. With Grub well in hand, Jimmy Wales is hoping to use the open source initiative to try to commoditize online search. Sounds awfully suit-like to me.


Anonymous Robert Emmett said...

This is an interesting parable, about the Geek BALANCE, rather than the Gap. One side has to keep the other in balance. Innovation can outrun the ability for society to digest it, making it difficult to be profitable. Too much focus on profits limits markets, stifles the new, and often turns monopolistic.
I hadn't considered the dual needs of collaboration AND antagonism to bring a balance between suits and geeks.

10:48 AM  

Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home