Sunday, March 19, 2006

Google's Blogger and The Free Lunch

There is no such thing as a free lunch, of course, so I temper my criticism of the way Google has been running its enormously popular Blogger system with that in mind.

Blogger, which is the software program on which Kiko's House and many thousands of other blogs are built at no cost, has had numerous technical problems recently, including the disappearance of a number of blogs, some of which apparently still have not reappeared.

The technical problems here have been less than catastrophic, but annoying in the extreme. There was a period last week, for example, when only the first post would load. At other times, the blog has been extremely slow loading, which drives people away. At the moment, I am unable to post any visuals. (Update on Monday, 3/20: After 24 hours, the visuals problem has sort of been fixed. I say more or less because I've had only partial success.)

D.J. Drummond at has composed this open letter to Google about the whole mess. I am in full agreement:

Good morning, gentlemen. I was originally going to post this letter at my personal blog, but have decided that the matter needs a wider audience. Let me begin by thanking you for the service which has provided me with a free blog host since 2004. Blogspot is a very nice accommodation, and is much appreciated, even if we bloggers do not say ‘thank you ‘ very much. I also appreciate the restoration of my blog on Thursday, after its sudden and unexplained disappearance on Tuesday. It is, however, necessary to comment on the manner in which Blogger, and therefore Google, handled the matter of the malfunction which took down innumerable blogs including my own, especially the lack of communication and candor on Google's part. It is my belief that Google missed an opportunity to prove itself an exceptional leader of the web world, and instead conveyed the impression that your slogan, ‘Don’t Be Evil’, is no more than a veneer to cover a sadly predictable mercenary instinct and unfortunate negligence towards your responsibilities.

At this writing some of the Blogspot blogs are back up; some never went down, while others suffered a variety of difficulty. Two blogs personally known to me, Viking Pundit and Betsy’s Page, are still missing, with no information of any kind about the cause or repair made available to the writers. While Google has protected itself with the legal accoutrements available to a major corporation, that hardly qualifies as moral accountability or an ethical response to the situation. You may be aware, in fact, that an imposter took advantage of Google's error to seize the URL for Betsy’s Page, claiming it just out of spite. The lawyers will tell you that you are not responsible, but the thousands of readers who check in everyday at Betsy’s Page will judge Google by how well you meet your moral challenges like this one.

It comes down to this; the Blogosphere is a phenomenon the world is still learning to measure. Some people blog only as a journal, a diary which they can take or leave, but others have committed a great deal of time and work to their blogs. In my case, for example, I have published well over six hundred posts at Stolen Thunder, which has been quoted in a number of conventional news sources, even debated in two major college forums for my political commentary. Over seventy thousand readers have visited my site since I installed a meter in 2005, and I am one of the smaller blogs out there! Blogger has the potential to represent one of the most significant informational advancements in the past two centuries – but it appears to not care about whether the system is working correctly. Not one person to my knowledge who reported a problem to Blogger about the disappearing blogs, has yet received any response but a useless form e-email. Not one person received any sort of explanation about what caused the shutdown, or when they could expect their blog to come back.

Legally, you’re well-protected. No one paid Blogger to use their service, and the litigious crew who wrote the Terms of Service made sure Google would be untouchable. Congratulations, those are the same tactics used by major corporations which wanted to avoid accountability for their actions, or consequences for their mistakes – you stand alongside Ken Lay and Scott Sullivan, with the likes of Michael Millken and Joe Berardino in your tactics, if you want to play that hand. It’s a lot harder to make things right, but Google always claimed that they walked the high road. Is that true or a lie? Now is one place where we will find out. Thousands of people read Polipundit every day, and the Blogosphere is very interested to see how you address this matter. This is one of those crossroads where we find out just what you are made of.

You can do the right thing, or you can be evil. Please don’t be evil.

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