Posted Mar 15, 2005
To Evil! March '05 Edition
by Danny O'Brien
Looking through the notes for Evilitude in the Year of Our Lord 2005, February Division, there's just one place where the dark clouds gather; one place that is gathering to its breast its orcish bot hoardes, and whose all seeing "Oooooooooooo"s span across our enshadowed domain.
Google. Google, O most cherished of those children of the Net currently incorporated in Delaware for tax purposes! How hast though fallen? Let us count the ways.
Google Sacked Killed And Then Ate A BloggerMark Jen, fresh new Googler, formerly of Microsoft, was happily blogging about life at Google when he was called to the company's Human Resources office. There he was told that he was being let go.
And then, as the term "let go" was repeated with a slightly different stress, the floor beneath Jen was opened up, and he plunged into a school of the little piranhas Google HR keeps in a moat. The piranhas were later served up to other cowering employees by Google's famous sushi chef, who visits weekly. An important lesson was learnt.
How evil was that? Well, fortunately, we have a way of calibrating this. While Google was mauling and devouring its young, the open source community was ejecting one of their own bloggers.
Old school packet driver hacker Russ Nelson replaced Eric S. Raymond as President-In-Charge-Of-Controversialism at the Open Source Initiative on Febuary 1st.
The presidency of the OSI is one of the highest positions one can hold in the open source world. Unfortunately, that doesn't count for much. I think it means you're allowed to refer to everyone else as "your tribe", and have editorials run on Newsforge whenever you want.
Twenty-two days later, Nelson resigned, it seems as a result of public pressure over a blog posting he made on February 7th, titled "Blacks Are Lazy".
For the record, I am sure Mr Nelson would like to stress that Blacks Are Not Lazy, and his blog entry was an elaborate Swiftian economic analysis, in the Austrian economic style, of why anyone denied of incentives through racism should rationally work less than others paid a higher wage.
Of course, even Jonathan Swift didn't title his most famous satire "Micks Should Sell Spare Babies For Eating", and write it a week after becoming Dean of St Patrick's. Even Mr Swift had some sense of liability.
Now, was Google evil for sacking (and then murdering in cold blood) a blogger, just for giving his opinion? Was the open source community just as evil for pressuring the OSI, by force of Slashdot comments, to escort Nelson from the presidency: even when he had eaten no babies himself?
Let's put that answer on hold, while we consider the next issue:
Google Rewrote My Webpage And Then Killed And Ate Me!Noted Internet firebrand Dave Winer was shocked to discover that the new (Internet Explorer only) Google Toolbar has some AutoLink magic-fu in it that can turn ISBN numbers on Webpages into Amazon links, and addresses into Google Map references.
Definitively evil, says Dave Winer. As evil, he says, as Microsoft's Smart Tags. The meaning of my web commentary, he said, is sacrosanct. Don't touch my stuff!
In the preceding paragraph, readers may have been misled into understanding that Dave Winer believes Autolink to be evil, definitely evil. As Mr Winer has explained at some length, this is not the case. He merely believes Autolink could "spell the end of the Web as a publishing environment with integrity".
To Evil!, while in good faith believing that "evil" is a useful summary of this scenario, regrets any misunderstanding, and is happy to link to Mr Winer's original essay where he explains this difference in detail.
Also, in the same piece, it may have been implied that Google, Inc occasionally feeds bloggers into piranha pits. This is incorrect, and the result of a transcription mistake. It is, in fact, Dave Winer who occasionally feeds bloggers into piranha pits. To Evil! regrets the error.
No word from Google yet on whether the feature will be withdrawn. Although, shortly after this posting, Winer was killed and eaten by some... thing that got past his robots.txt file. (I don't know what's writing his blog at the moment. It may just run itself automatically now.)
Is rewriting content evil? Again, let's calibrate this with something closer to home. How many open source applications are written to let users remix what they receive over the Web?
From Privoxy to ad blocking stylesheets to the Greasemonkey Firefox plugin, there are hundreds. And that's just the HTML. We gimp images for our pleasure, and remix downloaded audio for fun.
Opt-out of having your information re-edited, even when it's in the comfort of some other Net user's home? Who's evil now?
Ah, but you say, this is different. This is Google doing the editing: and Google is a large, nigh-monopolistic corporation.
Same with having to take the rap for your blog entries. Russ Nelson willingly left his job; Mark Jen was escorted from the building. Then eaten by fish.
Now, rule #1 of To Evil (a rule we constantly break) is that corporations don't wreak evil, people wreak evil. But are these exceptions? Are there acts that aren't a sin when an individual does them, but are when a large corporation conducts them?
There are certainly crimes like that. When Mark Jen was sacked, it was because Google's HR department - and many Google employees - were concerned that his actions might be breaking SEC regulations: that readers of Jen's blog would have "insider information" on future Google announcements. Smaller groups don't have to worry about laws like that.
If Microsoft gets a harder time over its Smart Tags, it's because the company, a convicted monopolist, was introducing it into its monopolistic products. Would new Internet favourite Yahoo have got the same stick over AutoLink? Would Firefox, if GreaseMonkey was built in?
Some evil, it seems, is a property of size. It's easy for us to hand out the "evil" meta-tags in the open source community because, by and large, we'll never have to face these problems. Would a developer be "sacked" from an open source project for bitching too much on their blog? Perhaps ostracised, but, then, some of the most productive forks in OSS history have come from bitching - and correct - coders.
And we'll never have to worry about forcing our choices on others, as Dave Winer worries about Google, because the moment we do, somebody will rip out that code, and present another alternative.
There are some sins that we can't possibily commit, no matter how hard and dedicatedly we try.
So, the evil award this month will given to an abstract idea: that of being too quick to judge others without knowing the burdens they bow to. The poor (though only in spirit) folk at Google, trapped by their own corporate culture and SEC regulations from being able to speak freely, or look after their own.
The poor benighted downloaders of the Google Toolbar, who think that this is all the choice they get.
And the poor providers of content, who given the choice between allowing others to improve on their work - even when enacted by companies like Google - and keeping it all to themselves, would rather "opt out", hoard up their treasures, and forbid anyone else from touching it.
Somebody done you wrong? Mail email@example.com with names and category of wrong-done-ing, and your assailant could win a valuable punishment gift.
Danny O'Brien is the co-editor of NTK incarnate.
To Evil! appears monthly.