February 03, 2011
Catching Up: Taco Bell, Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission Report, Google's DotOrg Project
Posted by Christine Hurt

I've spent the last week traveling to some places but mostly trying to travel various places and not getting anywhere via plane, train or automobile.  I'm officially given up and figured I might as well blog about some things I've seen the past week.

Taco Bell.  As a fan of Taco Bell and the crunchy beef taco, which is sometimes as low as 79 cents, I was not too surprised to hear that the beef was not all beef.  I go to the grocery store.  I know how much ground beef costs.  Making a 79 cent all-beef taco would be hard.  And, I've been to Mexican food restaurants all my life -- you often see some chopped potato or carrot in the ground beef.  But when Taco Bell tried to explain, what they left out made it impossible for me to look the other way.  To tell me that the non-beef portion contains a lot of water, two kinds of sugar, cocoa powder, and "a little oats," but then get all shy and say "and other ingredients" makes me a little nervous.  Why can you list these other fillers and flavor enhancers but not others?  Are they secret?  Are they worse?  Is it potatoes?  Is it lard?  Is it something really, really gross?

Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission Report.  Six months after the enactment of the Dodd-Frank Act, which was meant to fix all the problems that created the financial crisis, we now have a report of the commission charged with finding out what created the financial crisis.  This seems a little like the cart following after the horse, but I assume that there were conversations back and forth during this time.  However, I secretly wanted the report to blame things that no one had thought of and certainly didn't include in Dodd-Frank just for giggles.  However, the report seems more like a Restatement of conventional financial crisis wisdom:  financial institutions, derivatives, Federal Reserve, lax regulation, credit ratings agencies and mortgage origination practices.  However, the majority report lets both Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac off the hook and government encouragement of home ownership.  The bottom line that the media keeps repeating:  The financial crisis was avoidable.

Google's Answer to Not Being Evil:  DotOrg, which is Not Very SuccessfulSunday's NYT features a follow-up report 6 1/2 years after Google's Form S-1 told us that it was going to create a philanthropic arm:

Last year we created Google Grants—a growing program in which hundreds of non-profits addressing issues, including the environment, poverty and human rights, receive free advertising. And now, we are in the process of establishing the Google Foundation. We intend to contribute significant resources to the foundation, including employee time and approximately 1% of Google’s equity and profits in some form. We hope someday this institution may eclipse Google itself in terms of overall world impact by ambitiously applying innovation and significant resources to the largest of the world’s problems.

The NYT article writes of the problems in harnassing the power of Google and directing it at problems discrete enough to be solvable but challenging enough to pique the interest of the Googlers.  Go Big or Go Home may not be a mantra that applies to global development.

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February 16, 2010
The Droid
Posted by Gordon Smith

Back in 2005, I was in the market for a smartphone, which I was still calling a PDA. I ended up with a Samsung SCH-i730, which I later described as "clunky in every sense of that word." 

My experience with the Samsung was so bad that I reverted to a clamshell two years later. I wanted an iPhone, but I wasn't willing to switch to AT&T, so I suffered in 1990s Mobilephoneland for two more years.

Until last week, when I acquired a Droid. Wow!

(Note to iPhone users: the term "Wow!" is not intended to be a claim that the Droid is superior to the iPhone, but is intended rather to convey a generally favorable impression of my new device.)

I have read many reviews extolling the virtues and shortcomings of the Droid, but I want to focus on a particular benefit to me that I didn't see emphasized enough in the reviews that I consulted. As longtime readers of the blog know, I went all in with Google in 2007. While a couple of Google's products that I emphasized then -- the personalized homepage and Notebook -- have fallen off my list, I have added others, like Google Tasks. The wonderful thing about the Droid is the way in which Gmail, Calendar, Contacts, and Tasks update almost simultaneously on both my phone and my computer. Moving from one device to the other is seamless.

Also, other Google apps on the Droid are outstanding. Google Maps is fast and easy, and I am looking forward to using the navigation feature, though I haven't had occasion to do that, yet. I have started using Google Listen in place of iTunes, which I use primarily for podcasts. Google Sky may be the coolest app available on the Droid, but Google Goggles is fun, too.

Lots more to explore, but my first week with the Droid has been a revelation.

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January 23, 2010
Google, China and Citizens United: a Short Essay on Power and Corporations
Posted by Erik Gerding

I couldn’t agree with Rachel more. The discussion on the role of corporations in society is not over, in fact two seemingly separate stories from last week – the standoff between Google and China and the landmark Supreme Court decision in Citizens United –together signal that we are a watershed moment in this question. I don’t claim to have done the type of deep thinking that Rachel or Gordon or Lisa or other corporate scholars who have written on corporate social responsibility have. But at the risk of interloping into territory others know and think about far deeper and better than I, consider a few quick thoughts on how contrasting Google/China with Citizens United suggests we are returning to some very old questions about the twin risks of not having corporations separated from government power and not having governments separated enough from corporate power.

I would argue that Google’s threat to leave China because of government intrusion into its operations can be seen as a victory for those who advocate for corporate social responsibility. And the Citizens United decision obviously represents a victory for those who want to see corporations as not being creatures of the state, but rather as persons that can check government action. But these two victories pose thorny intellectual problems for the victors. These problems, in turn, reveal something about the horrible tangle we find ourselves in after the financial crisis as we cut our way between the risks of government being captured by corporate interests and corporations becoming the playthings of the state. Bear with me, because I think these two stories also have something to tell us about New Governance and the need for even greater cross pollination between public and private law in scholarship and the classroom.

Google v China: Do we know corporate social responsibility when we see it?

Many (I won’t even attempt to embed links) have applauded Google’s threat to pull out of China on account of state censorship and cyberattacks on Google’s servers as a victory for corporate social responsibility. Some scholars, like Ribstein, complicate this interpretation, in part, because Google’s actions may stem more from pure economic self interest. Given Google’s business model -- particularly their need to reassure users of the sanctity of personal information -- it may be impossible to disentangle definitively whether this resistance to China is an example of self-interest or social responsibility.

Let me ask a more basic question. How do we define what corporate social responsibility is? And who gets to define it? When we discuss corporate social responsibility at the end of my Business Associations class, there inevitably seems to be widespread consensus in the classroom about what responsible behavior means. Everyone seems to agree that dumping mercury in the Rio Grande or employing child laborers is irresponsible. But then I ask students what if social activists were pushing a corporation either to include abortion coverage in their health plans or to exclude same sex partners from employee health benefits. Consensus evaporates.

Do we define corporate social responsibility through the public law process? There are real dangers with treating corporate social responsibility as a matter of positive law and state determination. Consider that Google may not be a good corporate citizen if you look through the lens of the Chinese government. They are violating Chinese law. That of course is an extreme, rhetorical example. But there is a deep concern though that by implicating public law or government intervention – however light and well-intentioned -- in the core purposes of corporations we are slouching towards treating corporations as a plaything of the state rather than as a potential check on government power. Which is the role many lauded Google for playing.

So the Google victory poses several questions for advocates of corporate social responsibility, including how do we know what is corporate social responsibility, who decides, and are we comfortable that we can draw principled distinctions that will ensure the public does not subsume the private? Are corporate social responsibility advocates putting great faith in the political process to check abuses?

Citizens United: spheres unseparated

Meanwhile, Google and all other corporations received a huge boost to their political power and their ability to check and shape government regulation by virtue of the Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Citizens United. I won’t pretend to be a public law scholar, but the sweeping aside of restrictions on corporate political speech clearly represents the culmination of a centuries long evolution of case law -- running from Dartmouth College to Bellotti – that has given corporations more and more of the constitutional rights of natural persons. If last week’s Supreme Court decision means anything, it is a clear refutation of the ancient idea that corporations are creatures of the state.

But in this victory too lies a deep intellectual challenge for the victors. In the precursor of the current debate on social responsibility, Berle espoused a view of corporations and government as existing in “separate spheres” a view that echoed 19th century political thought and was in turned echoed later by Milton Friedman and others who later argued against corporate social responsibility. To render a fine idea into a quick sausage: governments should set the rules of the game for corporations then stay out, and corporations play by the rules.

From a pure descriptive standpoint, after the Citizens United decision, it seems impossible to argue that these spheres can be neatly separated. Corporations are not just playing by the rules, they have the right to participate in setting them. Moreover, they may be the 800 lb gorilla in the room. One interesting morsel in reading through the dissent was to see Justice Stevens grappling, even briefly, with corporate law scholarship questioning whether shareholders have the realistic ability to control corporate speech through corporate governance.

More deeply, do we now need to worry more that corporate law rules are not merely the product of competition and economic efficiency but set through management’s use of the political process. (For an interesting comparative study of the intersection of politics and corporate governance, see Peter A. Gourevitch & James Shinn, Political Power & Corporate Control (Princeton 2005). There seems to be a danger of management using the political process to hardwire not only management entrenchment but the political preferences of those in control of corporations. Aren't those who laud Citizens United placing great faith in the capacity of markets and the competition for corporate control to prevent agglomerations of political power? If the Google/China standoff lays bare for the need for the separation of corporations from state control, Citizens United raises the question of how we ensure that governments can retain sufficient independence from corporate control.

Strange constellations: the alignment of corporate law scholars after the financial crisis

I don’t think these concerns about corporations capturing the government or the government overreaching into the private sector are just dystopian constructs. The bailouts during the financial crisis reveal that these concerns are festering. There is plenty in the bailout for people across the political spectrum to lament. Progressives lament that bailing out AIG and other firms represents government capture and the socialization of loss and the privatization of profit. Conservatives lament the government interference in the discipline of the marketplace and now government using its leverage from the bailouts to justify interventions such as in executive compensation.

In the wake of the financial crisis, is government becoming the plaything of corporations? Are corporations becoming the playthings of government? Or is the reality some complex and perverted mix of both? Forgive the metaphor, but we seem to be stuck in bad remake of some scene from Eyes Wide Shut. It’s not clear from the tangle and the masks who is in control, but it’s clear it is not G-rated.

Problems of power and the dangers of a lack of clarity between public and private power point to a reason to ask tough questions of New Governance – which I admit to being only at the beginning of understanding. Cindy Williams politely told me that there are different versions of New Governance. At its core, New Governance seems to look to public/private partnership in regulation. But blurring the lines between public and private, even in experiments, has dangers. Progressives should fear regulatory capture. Libertarians should fear government co-opting the private sector.

Further afield, experimentation to insulate government decision-making from the political process has again become a constitutional issue as revealed by the Supreme Court taking up the challenge to the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board. This case – about an obscure and odd agency duckling created in the wake of the Enron scandal to insulate the regulation of the accounting profession from the political influence of the accounting profession – brought together strange constellations of law professors to support and oppose the constitutionality of the agency. If you look at the professors who filed briefs as amici, you might seem some striking lineups. I don’t presume to place scholars in political pigeonholes, but their previous scholarship suggests we have seen truly strange alliances of professors with very different political beliefs. And within the various alliances, the professors likely have very different opinions on the relative risks of state versus corporate power. I am sorry I missed the AALS Hot Topic Panel on the case, because I hear it cast a sharp spotlight on the strangeness of these political constellations.

Is this a one-off phenomenon, or are we seeing an ideological realignments in the legal academy? If you are outside the academy, you might ask: who care what we eggheads think on this technical topic? It sounds trite, but ideas matter and will spill over into the political arena -- perhaps after years of gestation. Perhaps the gestation period will be much shorter; the political arena seems ripe for a tectonic shift. We already see stark examples of strange political bedfellows – the Kuciniches of the left and the Pauls of the right -- in Congressional opposition to bailouts and to the political independence of the Federal Reserve itself.

Unchecked Power – Public and Private

So in debating the risks of concentrated corporate power versus concentrated government power, we are likely revisiting the same debates we had at the turn of the last century. History didn’t end. Nor does it repeat. It rhymes and samples. Indeed, to sample from my favorite poem, “All the new thinking is about concentrated power. In this it resembles all the old thinking…”

We are also likely to hear some familiar motifs in the political noise – such as calls to break apart corporate conglomerates to reduce perceived threats to democratic values. Is this perhaps an unspoken aim of the Volcker plan to limit the size of financial institutions. Will we return to trust busting?

If we are concerned about democratic values, we need to pay attention to agglomerations of control in the media. Without a critical and independent media, we will have no way of gauging how corporate and state powers are intersecting. But we may come to find a genie let out of the bottle during the Clinton presidency when few were watching closely. If few really understood what the repeal of Glass Steagall would mean for the consolidation of power in the financial sector, are we considering enough what the Telecommunications Act of 1996 means for the consolidation of power in the media industry? Do we understand how competition and consolidation among broadcast, cable, phone, internet, newspaper, radio corporations will play out in terms of concentrations of political power? I certainly don’t because communications law and the economics of those industries lie far outside my understanding.

When historians look back to the Clinton era, they will likely see the most radical shifting in economic and political control since FDR – all the more radical because its magnitude was obscured by its technicality and by the fact that the President who squired it cast himself as part of some “Third Wave” in politics. Beware those selling easy ways to transcend and triangulate across political divides. Here is a third example of a statute passed during the Clinton years that will have far reaching consequences for concentrations of political power: cyberlaw scholars have been trying to get us for years to pay attention to what the Digital Millenium Copyright Act of 1996 means for who holds the power over the intellectual commons.

Looking for checks

Cyberlaw scholars first made their mark by alerting us to the subtle and far-reaching consequences of seemingly technical questions on how both the state and corporations could use the internet as a means of social control. So we are now full circle to the conflict between Google and China. One of those scholars, Larry Lessig advocated making the “code” of the internet “open” to allow civil society to check these subtle forms of control. This last fall, Lessig notably balked at a broadbrush application of these same open source ideas to making politics more transparent.

Indeed, citizens would have trouble making sense of raw government transparency – in terms of the volume of information and the complexity of issues. This is not because people are stupid, but no individually has time to master complex issue and process reems of raw data. We need to rely on experts to edit and filter information for us. The forms of political, economic, and technological control are subtler and potential threats to democratic value harder to grasp.

But how do we trust those experts? Trust throughout society has long been thought to have been declining for decades, and perhaps accelerating in an age of political polarization. Moreover, we also decry how the digital age has left us with shorter attention spans. We also live famously  in an age of irony. It is often remarked now that some of our most intelligent commentators on public affairs are fake newscasters. This irony may lead to a particularly unfunny kind of political paralysis (“Ha ha – that’s really funny what Colbert said about our country going to hell. LOL ;-).”)

It’s not easy to make sense of the new dangers of concentrations of political power. Bolshevism and trusts were simple compared to understanding interconnections between complex corporate ownership structures, telecommunications regulations, and how the technology of the internet functions.

Understanding this landscape requires the involvement of scholars who are independent of corporate and government power. Which is why sources of university financing during an age of budget cuts looms as so large an issue.

All the New Thinking: cross pollination in legal scholarship and public law in the business law curriculum

If legal scholars must play a valuable role in sorting through the risks of concentrating political power, it suggests that faculties need to foster greater dialogue among private and public law scholars. Understanding new constellations of power might require minds in corporate law, constitutional law, cyberlaw, communications law …

Integrating scholarship in corporate law with public law is not a new idea. In fact, this essay has clearly trampled all over ground covered by many scholars who’ve looked at the intersection of public law and corporate law -- Kent Greenfield, Larry Mitchell, Lyman Johnson, Lynn Stout, Cindy Williams, Margaret Blair, Lynn Dallas. Not to mention our own Lisa and Gordon and our guest Rachel. I’m likely making enemies galore by the dozens of scholars I am leaving out including scholars -- like Bainbridge -- critical of corporate social responsibility.

There is also a question of whether we corporate law scholars need to build a bigger public law component into basic business law courses. This is also not a novel idea. I admit being resistant to doing this; law students need to learn the nuts and bolts in order to get a job and have the intellectual tools to practice as effective lawyers. But I am reconsidering, because law students also need a set of intellectual tools to exercise their duties as citizens.

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December 21, 2009
I still don't know how to use Google Wave ...
Posted by Gordon Smith
December 03, 2009
Google Fast Flip
Posted by Gordon Smith

Did you catch Eric Schmidt's W$J editorial yesterday? Behold the "fantasy news gadget":

It's the year 2015. The compact device in my hand delivers me the world, one news story at a time. I flip through my favorite papers and magazines, the images as crisp as in print, without a maddening wait for each page to load. 
Even better, the device knows who I am, what I like, and what I have already read. So while I get all the news and comment, I also see stories tailored for my interests. I zip through a health story in The Wall Street Journal and a piece about Iraq from Egypt's Al Gomhuria, translated automatically from Arabic to English. I tap my finger on the screen, telling the computer brains underneath it got this suggestion right. 

Some of these stories are part of a monthly subscription package. Some, where the free preview sucks me in, cost a few pennies billed to my account. Others are available at no charge, paid for by advertising. But these ads are not static pitches for products I'd never use. Like the news I am reading, the ads are tailored just for me. Advertisers are willing to shell out a lot of money for this targeting.

Schmidt is not backing down from Rupert Murdoch, but arguing for the creation of a new business model for newspapers. For a peek at first step in the direction he is going, check out Google Fast Flip.

The theory—which seems to work in practice—is that if we make it easier to read articles, people will read more of them. Our news partners will receive the majority of the revenue generated by the display ads shown beside stories.

Fast Flip was introduced in September with the idea of combining the experience of browsing through physical newspapers with the value of online news stories. Some wonder why we would need Fast Flip when we already have RSS readers, and I can understand that sentiment. Nevertheless, in just a few minutes of browsing on Fast Flip, I could see why I might want to use Fast Flip in addition to Google Reader. 

RSS readers are wonderful, but they display only my subscriptions. Many stories that interest me do not come up in my reader, and to that extent, my subscriptions are underinclusive. Of course, there is an easy fix for this: expand the subscriptions. But volume quickly becomes a problem. I don't want to see -- even for a millisecond -- every story offered by most feeds, even if I might be interested in occasional stories in that feed. In this way, subscriptions are overinclusive.

So I try to strike a balance, subscribing to feeds that hold a high degree of interest (mostly blogs) and searching for other stories by browsing the internet (mostly selected news sites, including the W$J, NYT, and WaPo). But there is a high degree of inefficiency in browsing, whether one does it through a feed reader or by moving from site to site. It seems to me that Fast Flip improves the browsing of newspapers generally and it has the potential to introduce me to newspapers that I normally would not browse at all.

Not bad. It almost seems like a fantasy news gadget.

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August 03, 2009
"Going Google"
Posted by Gordon Smith

Two years ago, I started posting about "Going Google," (see, e.g., here, here, here, here), and Google has now decided to appropriate the slogan as a marketing campaign aimed at businesses.

Question for my professor friends: has any university or law school gone Google?

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July 14, 2009
Google Tasks & Google Calendar
Posted by Gordon Smith

I am an inveterate list maker, and for many years, my tool of choice has been Post-it Notes. But Post-its create clutter, and they tend to stay on my desk, so when I am at home or on the road, I can't easily access them.

In 2007, when I started "going Google" (see here and here), I looked for cleaner, more portable solutions. For long lists that I wanted to retain, I started using Google Notebook, which I still find very useful, even though Google announced earlier this year that they have stopped development of the product. (At some point, I will export my Notebook items to Google Docs, but it will have to be a slow day.)

For shorter, temporary lists ("to do lists"), Google didn't have a great option in 2007, so I turned to Remember the Milk. RTM seems like a fine program, and you can integrate it into Google Calendar, even if the result is a bit clunky. Nevertheless, though I have had RTM on Google Calendar for almost two years, I hardly ever use the program to guide my actions. The list is a pop-up, so I usually just ignore it, and maintaining the list is a bit of a hassle, even on the RTM site.

Today, I noticed the Tasks link in the sidebar of my Gmail. Tasks has been around for awhile, but just today it graduated from Google Labs. And the best part is that it can be integrated into Google Calendar. I have been fiddling around with the program tonight, and it is simple, fast, and versatile. You can make multiple lists, set due dates that automatically appear in both Tasks and on the calendar, and include notes on each task. It even includes limited formatting options to make the lists amenable to sub-tasks.

If you haven't already switched to Google Calendar, Tasks is yet another reason, but you might also be interested in some other new bells and whistles. The ability to include a background image is fun, but the coolest new feature allows you to attach a Google Doc to the Calendar. For example, I have a meeting this Friday with the Dean and some other professors, so I accessed the email in which the document we will be discussing was attached, opened the document into Google Docs, then added it to my meeting entry on Google Calendar. Wow!

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April 28, 2009
Two new things from Google
Posted by Gordon Smith

Public data. So far, you can retrieve only unemployment rates and populations, but they are promising more in the near future. Like cookie prices. Now that could be useful.

What's Popular? An iGoogle gadget. I have stopped using iGoogle, but if this gadget could be integrated into SSRN or limited to law review articles, that could be cool.

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July 31, 2008
Google's VC Fund
Posted by Gordon Smith

From today's W$J, Google is planning to launch a venture capital fund. I was especially interested in this paragraph from the story:

With an abundance of venture-capital money available today, Google will have to convince entrepreneurs that it has something to offer that other investors don't. It has several advantages, including a brand admired by start-ups and the ability to offer sizable technical resources.

When I first started studying venture capital in the mid-1990s, most of the research assumed that entrepreneurs had something close to zero bargaining power because VCs had the money. Of course, in the buildup of the Internet, many hot startup found themselves in the then-surprising position of being able to choose among VCs. And many of them made that choice based on factors other than price. Now, it has become conventional wisdom that the best valuations come from the VC firms with the shortest records of success, while the successful firms are able to attract entrepreneurs despite having lower valuations.

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March 16, 2008
YouTube Ads of the Future?
Posted by Gordon Smith

Google is the assignee of this patent, filed last week:

At a client, a video is received. The video includes one or more advertisement slots. The video is played back to a user. During the playback of the video, an impending advertisement slot is detected. One or more advertisements are requested for placement in the advertisement slot. The one or more advertisements are received and placed in the      advertisement slot.

Is this the future of YouTube? From a quick browse, I can't tell how this would differ from the television playbacks, which are now routine.

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January 18, 2008
What’s Old and What’s New About the Work of Google.org
Posted by Garry Jenkins

   

As Christine notes below, Google.org, the philanthropic unit of Google, announced the focus of its core initiatives and more details about its strategic plan yesterday. The focus on the “venture capital model” that DotOrg (as the NYT reports Google employees refer to it) will be using is not particularly innovative. This model, frequently known as venture philanthropy or strategic philanthropy, has been kicking around for the past 10 years or so.  Although it has been embraced primarily by a handful of New York and Silcon Valley grantmakers, the concept’s origins date back to an outstanding 1997 Harvard Business Review article, "Virtuous Capital: What Foundations Can Learn from Venture Capital," by Christine Letts (Harvard Kennedy School), William Ryan (author, consultant, and researcher) and Allen Grossman (Harvard Business School). Here’s a description:

U.S. foundations and nonprofits work diligently on behalf of society's most needy and yet report that progress is slow and social problems persist. How can they learn to be more effective with their limited resources? Foundations should consider expanding their mission from investing only in program innovation to investing in the organizational needs of nonprofit organizations as well. Their overemphasis on program design has meant deteriorating organizational capacity at many nonprofits. If foundations are to help nonprofits be assured of making payroll, paying the rent, or buying a much-needed computer, they must develop hands-on partnering skills. Venture capital firms offer a helpful benchmark. In addition to putting up capital, they closely monitor the companies in which they have invested, provide management support, and stay involved long enough to see the company become strong.

    

This model as been used by several other grantmakers, including, the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation, Omidyar Network, and even the Goldman Sachs Foundation (my former employer), to name just a few. Although it’s worth noting that critics argue that venture philanthropy is just a new name for old practices that well-run charities and foundations have always employed. Less charitable (no pun intended) critics of the approach describe it as a fad driven by wealthy venture capitalists and dot com types who smugly assume that their skills transfer to a field in which they had no experience.

      

But what seems interesting and new to me are some of the areas that Google.org plans to “invest” (i.e., make grants). Some of their priorities seem to address important problems/issues that few foundations, at least to my knowledge, are devoting significant resources toward addressing.  For example, the Develop Renewable Energy Cheaper Than Coal (RE<C) and Accelerate the Commercialization of Plug-In Vehicles (RechargeIT) initiatives come to mind. As they describe these projects, RE<C is a collaborative effort within the company to produce a gigawatt of renewable energy capacity for less than it costs to produce it by burning coal. RechargeIT will work to reduce carbon emissions, cut oil use, and stabilize the electrical grid by accelerating the adoption of plug-in hybrid electric vehicles and vehicle-to-grid technology.

      

The most interesting (and innovative) thing about Google.org, however, is its legal status. Unlike every corporate foundation that I’m familiar with, Google.org is not an exempt, nonprofit entity recognized under 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. (Although it’s important to note that Google.org manages the Google Foundation which is a 501(c)(3) private foundation facilitating grants to nonprofits.)  As such, it will be interesting to see if the DotOrg part of the enterprise uses its status (and the accompanying freedom from IRS restrictions) to innovate bringing both private and nonprofit resources to bear in order to generate societal benefits. It seems to me that the extent that Google.org relies exclusively (or even primarily) on partnerships with or grants to nonprofit organizations (who remain subject to nonprofit law and regulation), the real opportunity for true innovation of the model they tout remains limited. But as of today, the jury is still out.

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Google.org
Posted by Christine Hurt

When Google announced its IPO, it promised potential investors that it would invest 1% of its profits into philanthropic ventures.  Google even included this promise in its registration statement.  Now, Google has launched Google.org, the philanthropic arm of Google.  This branch of the organization analyzes proposals and decides which of many worthy projects will get funding.  As has been advertised from the start, the funding the company will provide will resemble venture capital more than traditional philanthropic grants.  Recipients will be more entrepreneurial than nonprofit.  NYT story here.

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November 27, 2007
RE<C
Posted by Gordon Smith

That's Google's new formula, which means "electricity from renewable energy sources that will be cheaper than electricity produced from   coal." When your stock is trading at around $700/share, I suppose you must feel like a master of the universe:

In 2008, Google expects to spend tens of millions on research and development and related  investments in renewable energy. As part of its capital planning process, the company also anticipates investing hundreds of millions of dollars in breakthrough renewable energy projects which generate positive returns.

Not exactly sticking to their knitting, but this make sense to some people:

Leave it to Google to try to tackle an industry as seemingly out of their realm as energy. Of course, Google is a massive power consumer, so the connection is easy to make, and the feel-good Google execs haven’t likely felt right about their data center’s contribution to dirty-power generation. But if Google can actually successfully develop clean energy sources that are cheaper than coal and create a business around licensing them (through their investments or their own technology), it would do nothing short of revolutionizing the energy industry. Much like the situation the telecom world is facing with Google’s wireless plans, here’s to the old-world, slow-moving energy industry getting a kickstart from that 20 percent time!

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August 22, 2007
Going Google: An Update
Posted by Gordon Smith

This past spring, I posted some rather tentative thoughts on "going Google," i.e., converting from Microsoft software to Google software. This morning, I reorganized my Personalized Homepage, so I thought the time was ripe for an update on my adventure.

Personalized Homepage. Love it. My efforts this morning were directed at simplifying my homepage. I had succumbed to widget exuberance, creating four tabs of widgets in different categories.  Now I have one tab, and it includes only widgets  that I actually use.  Four of those belong to Google (Calendar, Reader, Gmail, and Notebook), one is for the local weather, and one is a to-do list.

Gmail. The more I use it, the more I like it. I like the fact that it is online, so it is accessible to me from any connected computer. In most instances, finding old messages is easier via search than via folders, though I still use "tags" for important categories of email. The spam filter is great. The conversation threading is wonderful. It is, without doubt, the best email client I have ever used.

Calendar. Outstanding! My whole family is on board with this program. Each of us has a personal calendar and a family calendar. Stuff we all need to know goes on the family calendar, and I can view all of those items simultaneously, complete with color coding. This sure beats the old paper calendar on the refrigerator.

Reader. Incredibly easy to use, whether through the widget or on a dedicated Reader page. I am not sure this is better than Bloglines or other readers, but I like it more than other rss readers I have used. Learn the keyboard shortcuts here. And watch how Robert Scoble processes 622 feeds.

Notebook. This has been the big surprise to me. I didn't think I would use this program much, but I have found that it's a great place to store lists of all kinds: books I want to read, conferences I am planning to attend, potential guest bloggers, travel tips for an upcoming trip, etc. I don't use this as a to-do list, though you could do that. It also seems like it could be a useful research tool, though I haven't used it in this way, yet.

Desktop. I have been moving toward online storage gradually, but my hard drive still has a lot of documents and photos, and Desktop is far-and-away the best way to find these things.

Picasa. I recently moved a boatload of old photos from an old computer to a Picasa Web Album. I don't have much experience with online photo management, though I have accounts at Flickr and Photobucket. Anyway, Picasa seems fine for my needs.

Google Spreadsheets and Docs. Yuck. I still use Excel and Word or WordPerfect.

The bottom line question: is my life better now than it was six months ago because of the software that I use? Yes. Information that I need is easier to access, which leads to greater productivity and less frustration. All in all, I am a happier guy because of Google.

Permalink | Google | Comments (5) | TrackBack (0) | Bookmark

July 19, 2007
Living Quarter to Quarter
Posted by Gordon Smith

Last night I was speaking with one of my new neighbors, who is a successful serial entrepreneur. I asked about his latest venture and whether he might be interested in taking the company public. "That's not for me," he responded. "I don't like living quarter to quarter." See Google.

Google's second-quarter revenues were $3.87 billion, up 58% over the second quarter of 2006 ... and it's stock is plummeting in after-hours trading.

The problem is pretty simple: Google's earnings came in below projections. Valleywag's account of the conference call: "Schmidt fesses up: Google has overhired, causing costs to rise. He says the company is going to be watching headcount going forward."

There's always next quarter.

Permalink | Entrepreneurs| Google | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0) | Bookmark

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