In una mailing list di anziani internettici della prima ora è girato questo commento alla vicenda del motore di ricerca censurato che Google sta preparando per la Cina:

I am not a big fan of the Intercept’s journalistic style, I find calling Google’s leadership ‘bosses’ to be needlessly inflammatory for engineers. That said, as a former Googler, and having worked inside of Google for four years, the interesting bit for me is the sudden awareness that perhaps Google isn’t the place the engineers thought it was.

As with any discourse, underlying beliefs can be different and the same facts can be seen in very different ways.

I see Google as a company that has terminal cancer but is putting on a good face while it searches for a cure. The cancer is that search advertising, the only thing that makes any money inside of Google at the margins they need to maintain their lavish environment, is dying. The symptoms that are out there for all to see; their CPC numbers (the cost per click is the money they get from advertisers for a click) has been going down for nearly a decade now, their search ‘quality’ (the reason that people would pick their search results over a competitor like Bing) has remained stagnant while Bing’s have improved, and the amount of money they pay out per quarter for search traffic from other sources (phones, web browsers, etc) has skyrocketed. Advertising only works if you have eyeballs on your ads. Google has been adding more and more ads to their own sites, reducing the amount the pay out to partner sites, and paying more and more money to third parties to send their search traffic to Google rather than Bing. For me, I see these as signs of a dying ecosystem.

If you can accept that my view of what is going on at Google is ‘true’, the Chinese search engine makes total sense. There are more eyeballs in a strong economy in China than anywhere else in the world. It is the one place where Google doesn’t currently play, and even if their margins on Chinese searches were half that of the rest of the world, it would be additional air in the pipeline while they continue to fight for a new business that can supply the margins they need to avoid losing their staff.

Do they know their employees would hate it? Of course they did and they tried to keep it secret. How desperate do they need to be to risk all of that? Very desperate.

If on the other hand, you believe the party line (which is the view that folks I know who are still at Google will share with you) then Google has never been stronger, and is crushing it on all fronts. Everyone wants to be “Google” and all the cool kids are there. There is no cancer here, no existential risk to the company, and no reason to worry.

The problem then is this, if you’ve convinced people that the company line is “true” then their argument that they are going into China with a search index that caters to the Chinese governments authoritarian whims is antithetical to everything you stand for.

That puts Google management in something of a bind, either explanation is bad. Either the company is dying and in fear for its life so its compromising its principles to extend its runway, or the company is evil and at the height of its power it is selling services in an authoritarian regime and supporting the goals of that regime for filthy lucre.

There might be a third explanation that fits all the facts but I haven’t figured that one out yet.