Silicon Valley Watcher - Former FT journalist Tom Foremski reporting from the intersection of technology and media

The Chinese year of the Rooster (Blogger) starts today:...help change Google's motto!

Posted by Tom Foremski - February 9, 2005

by Tom Foremski for SiliconValleyWatcher
rooster1.gifThe other day, on the wall of the Lucky Penny Diner, I noticed a poster. It drew my attention because of the phrase printed in large letters: Do no Evil. It was the heading for a description of 2004 as the Chinese Year of the Monkey.

The poster stated that while most people are familiar with the story of the three monkeys: Hear no evil, See no evil, and Say no evil, in the Chinese culture there is a fourth monkey: Do no evil.

This led me to thinking about Google and its corporate motto: "Do no evil." It seemed interesting to note the shared Year of the Monkey connection, and that 2004 was definitely Google’s year.

The first time I saw Google use the phrase "Do no evil" was in its SEC filings. I remember the day Google filed the documents for its IPO and we were pouring through hundreds of pages of text, footnotes and numbers, and finding all sorts of wonderful nuggets about Google's business.

It was impressive. Google revealed itself as a standout company, doing things much more differently than had ever been done before. I had never come across a Silicon Valley company that had such a bold motto. And it was setting up a charity, the Google Foundation, with one per cent of its equity.

And it spurned the investment bankers by choosing an auction process to distribute shares to small investors. This act alone was tremendously bold, because it sought to avoid the easy profits investment banks, and their clients, can make in a traditional IPO process. The auction method was designed to lessen the volatility of the share price on the day of the IPO, and encourage longer-term price stability because smaller investors are less likely to flip the stock.

I remember thinking that this was the first time in more than 20 years that I had seen a Silicon Valley company so inspiring that I would think about applying for a job there. And I did sound out a few contacts about likely positions at Google; but didn't take it much beyond that, because I soon became completely distracted by something else: the chance to launch my own media venture...

Google clearly had noble ambitions to do a lot of good in the world, but I remember thinking: why couldn't they have chosen a different phrase? Don't they know we have been living in an Orwellian world for many years, a world in which "no child left behind" and "clear skies" mean the opposite of their intent?

Why aren't Google's founders familiar with the wisdom of Oscar Wilde? The road to hell is paved with good intentions, he said. And we know from studies of history that if you run around with a mission, you will do evil things for all the right reasons.

More importantly, why is Google taunting the ironic hand of the almighty to slap it down? It's too big a temptation for even the supreme being, I would think, IMHO.

Since Google is such a huge and vital part of the internet, I request that it change its motto to something less vulnerable to divine intervention to the opposite.

Any suggestions?

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