Thursday, November 30, 2006

Google is not evil. But what are the rules?

Well, it seems that I've put my name right in the middle of the latest Silicon Valley tempest in a teapot. I'm right there, in the un-deleted comments on the original post, full name in view. Just to be clear, since three points [3] can be construed to make a curve, I don't think Google is evil. I actually think Google is full of smart, sincere people trying really hard to create the future, and breaking a few eggs while making their omelettes. What really worries me is that the future is full of unintended consequences, and none of us have fully thought those consequences through.

On the one hand, all of us users of hosted software are trusting -- implicitly and absolutely -- that we won't be wrecked by the removal of that software. How many people trust their personal lives and/or their businesses to Hotmail, Yahoo! Mail, and Gmail? Hundreds of millions. How many people trust their businesses to Salesforce, SocialText, JotSpot, or JigSaw? Tens of thousands. In the very near future, how many independent producers and actors will trust YouTube to bring them their daily bread? This doesn't even begin to touch on blog platforms, eBay, and Second Life.

Leaving aside all the basic issues -- terrorists, power failures, hackers; your basic Bruce Schneier territory -- there is a huge, dark continent of social mores and best practices around this emerging reality that has yet to be explored or mapped. Much of common case law, as painfully built up over the past several centuries, deals with the delicate ways that property rights can be ascertained in various bizarre situations. Aside from the occasional Congressional meat cleaver, we have no such body of thought or practice built up in this new new world. What is the right answer to Kevin and JotSpot, to downtime by YouTube or PayPal, to the downtime that some Zvents customer may well suffer sometime in the future? How should we guard ourselves against this in advance, defend ourselves against it in the present, and adjudicate around it in the past? I don't know. It worries me that no one is talking about this issue. Where is the council of SaaS? The W3C for ASP? If we're going to build this future, in all its wild entrepreneurial frenzy, someone has to lay out a few ground rules, so that the market can do its magic.

Who will lead? And how can I help?

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