May 31, 2007
Gmail is Good, But ...
Posted by Gordon Smith

Since going Google last month, I have been adjusting to Gmail. The more I use it, the more I like it. That's a good sign for any service, especially one based on software.

But there are days when I wonder about email. William Birdthistle has a series of interesting posts on scholarly productivity over at Prawfs (see here, here, and here), and email is one of the villains: "My advice to new professors would be to ration your time on email and the web to the absolute minimum, perhaps even to the point of spending most of your day on an unconnected computer. I found email, in particular, a tremendous way to fritter away days of my life."

Fred Wilson also feels burdened by email, but he is not interested in unplugging. He is looking for options: "text messaging, instant messaging, and site messaging for one to one messaging. And blogging, twitttering, and social networking for one to many messaging." All of that seems like it would send William, already teetering, over the edge. Me, too.

In the end, I suppose this is all about maintaining communities -- or, if you prefer, networks -- right? Each of us is a member of multiple communities, and we need to figure out the best way to maintain those connections. Some thoughts on the relative merits of these technologies:

  • At the moment, I use email and telephone for one to one messaging and blogging for one to many.
  • I do not like text messaging, though it has the dual virtues of cheap mobility and asynchronicity. I am tempted to go this direction for my family communications, which are getting more complicated by the year with five growing children.
  • IM is not asynchronous, which is a big problem for me.
  • My children enjoy site messaging with their friends, but that seems like a generational thing. Can you imagine lawprofs communicating via Facebook? Ok, maybe it isn't unimaginable, but like any social networking service, it requires some critical mass before it becomes worthwhile.
  • I don't use LinkedIn, either, even though I am registered and receive periodic invitiatons to link. So few people I care about use it that it just isn't worth the effort.
  • Finally, I have experimented with twittering, and I like it. I think it has potential.

As always, I would be interested to hear others' experiences and recommendations on this score.

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May 23, 2007
First Rule: Don't Be Evil; Second Rule: Finance Wife's Start-Up with Corporate Funds
Posted by Christine Hurt

Let me try to white-board this transaction for you.  Executive at BigCo has a girlfriend with a start-up company.  Executive makes loan to Start-Up in the amount of $2.6 million.  Then, Start-Up seeks outside investors for Series A financing.  BigCo invests $3.9 million in the financing round, and Start-Up repays Executive's $2.6 million loan.  Executive and girlfriend marry the same month.  The total amount of the Series A financing is undisclosed, but we know that a company controlled by another BigCo director is an investor.

Does this sound like another Andy Fastow transaction, maybe Project Princess Leia?  It's obviously not as brazen or large-scale.  Is it another example of Jeff Skilling investing $180,000 of his own money in his girlfriend's company, Photofete, while the company was a vendor to Enron -- a transaction jurors later said was particularly damning to Skilling's character?

Nope.  This is our beloved Google, and the tale of Sergey Brin and his new wife, Anne Wojcicki.  Wojcicki's start-up is called 23andMe.  NYT article here.  The company's sparse website gives very little information about what the company will actually do, but it does say they are hiring and one fringe benefit is complimentary beverages and honey roasted peanuts.  The website's one paragraph on its business plan states that the company will help clients take ownership of their genetic information and seems to promise to help clients map their own genomes.  The website lists three people in the "about us" section:  Wojcicki, another co-founder and a director.  All three have experience in health care industry sales, analysis and investing.

Google does invest in start-ups.  (Google was very public about its goal to invest in market-based socially responsible projects, but this doesn't seem to fall into that category.)  The outside investment part is not unusual.  But why this start-up?  Obviously, Brin picked a great start-up once, and maybe 23andMe is the next Google.  Could be.  But doesn't it raise more concerns than necessary?  Brin has his own $14 billion to invest in projects.  Why not just invest personally?  If he believes in the upside of Wojcicki's company so much, why isn't he on the equity side instead of the debt side that just got repaid?  Does having Google as an angel investor give 23andM3 some cachet?  Even though it's public knowledge that the head of one is married to the head of the other?  In today's culture of seeing scandal where none exists, this corporate investment seems to be unnecessary. 

Here is Google's Code of Conduct, which includes a section on "Conflicts of Interest."  Although the section begins with this "avoid conflicts" language

A conflict of interest occurs when, because of your role at Google, you are in a position to influence a decision or situation that may result in personal gain for you or your friends or family at the expense of the company or our users. All of us at Google should avoid situations that present actual or apparent conflicts of interest; it is our responsibility to act at all times with the best interests of Google and our users in mind. In no way should you personally profit from transactions based on your relationship with Google if it harms the company.

this admonition seems to be clearly waivable by a superior:

Similarly, business relationships with friends and relatives whose interests may conflict with Google's can easily leave you with the sort of conflict of interest that can be difficult to resolve happily. Our rule here is simple: you should not enter into a Google-related business relationship with a close relative, friend or significant other, or a business they manage or control, without first contacting our Chief Compliance Officer or General Counsel.

Obviously, the code is written for management employees who have the ability to steer work to vendors, etc. not for top management who have the ability to steer Google capital to outside investment opportunities -- or to repay loans to oneself with Google capital.  According to Google's 8K, probably required under SOX because of the waiver of the Code of Ethics for a senior officer, the transaction was approved by the directors after the Audit Committee received an evaluation of 23andMe.  So the transaction was duly approved and duly disclosed.  Let's hope that's enough these days.

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May 18, 2007
Google Buying Feedburner?
Posted by Gordon Smith

It's just a rumor, but it makes sense. Feedburner fills another niche for Google. Having recently switched to Google Calendar, Gmail, Google Reader, etc., I can see that my life is becoming quite dependent on Google. At least I don't use Blogger.

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May 16, 2007
Google Timeline and Map Views
Posted by Gordon Smith

Here.

After tinkering with various searches, I'm not impressed. For example, a regular search of "D. Gordon Smith" brings back my law school bio, my blog, my SSRN page, etc. That's excellent.

But the timeline view returned random dates from the text of an article that cited me (retrieved from JSTOR), a few "Date posted to database" entries from SSRN, and a whole bunch of inexplicable (and non-functioning) links to Amazon.com.

As for the map view, here it is:

Map_view

Notice no flag in Wisconsin. Those flags are from some of my Conglomerate posts that mention various cites and from other blogs and websites that happen to mention me. Not very useful.

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May 09, 2007
Google = Custer?
Posted by Gordon Smith

Time Warner CEO Richard Parsons was speaking on a panel at the National Cable & Telecommunications Association conference. So did he plan this or was he speaking off the cuff?

The Googles of the world, they are the Custer of the modern world. We are the Sioux nation. They will lose this war if they go to war. The notion that the new kids on the block have taken over is a false notion.

Huh?

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May 08, 2007
Do You Google People Before a Meeting?
Posted by Gordon Smith

I do. [Update: For both personal and professional meetings.] But if this W$J poll is accurate, I am in the minority.

Googling

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May 03, 2007
Google Downgrade?
Posted by Gordon Smith

Paul Kedrosky: "At the same as a number of engineering friends of mine are leaving Google -- most common complaint: too big and bureaucratic -- MBAs have declared it to be their employer of choice. Food for thought, n'est-ce pas?"

Which would you trust as a better leading indicator: engineers or MBAs?

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May 02, 2007
Going Google: Progress Report
Posted by Gordon Smith

With the end of the semester upon us, I decided to take some steps in my plan to "go google." Google has replaced the "Personalized Home Page" with "iGoogle." This seems to be mostly a marketing change, though the new service has themes (that change with the time of day and with the weather) and a gadget maker, which is pretty cool. My new home page includes Google Calendar, Google Reader, and Gmail, among other gadgets.

I am particularly excited about Google Calendar. This afternoon I exported entries from Outlook to Google (using these handy instructions) in about two minutes. The ability to create multiple calendars is a nice feature, and my plan is to start entering "Family" dates tonight. Of course, that Family calendar can be shared with my wife and children, meaning that any of us can view or update it.

The Google Reader displays entries from all of my favorite blogs. The new iGoogle also allows for the creation of multiple tabs, and I plan to gadgetize several pages for other websites that I frequent.

Finally, I have integrated my work email with gmail. This took a bit longer than setting up the Calendar and Reader, but only because I had to track down the server settings. I confess that of all of the Google programs on my target list, Gmail is the one that I find least exciting, though I haven't used it much. Once I get it customized, I suspect that it will work just fine.

UPDATE: Ok, I just discovered something about Gmail that I dislike and (apparently) cannot change. I wanted to send all of my messages from my work email, but when I send a message from Gmail and the recipient reads the message in Outlook, she sees this in the "From" line: "myusername@gmail.com; on behalf of; Gordon Smith [gsmith@law.wisc.edu] <myusername@gmail.com>." According the Gmail Help, that's just the way it is. Yuck!

UPDATE2: As luck would have it, Jeff Nolan blogged today about a hack that loads Google Notebook into the sidebar of Firefox.

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April 21, 2007
Yahoo & Whole Foods
Posted by Gordon Smith

I usually don't talk about stock investing on the blog, partly because almost all of my (limited) money is invested in index funds and partly because I am a horrible investor. (To remind me of that fact, my Ameritrade account retains an entry for Webvan, which I thought would be a blockbuster!) I have a small fund from my Skadden 401(k) that I use to invest in two or three stocks at a time, just for fun. This is a post about my most recent investments.

A year and a half ago, I made a fair return on investment in Yahoo! Since I sold that stock, it has dropped over $10 per share. Yahoo! has been struggling, especially over the past few weeks, and many think the company is in trouble. Paul Kedrosky and I disagree. So earlier this week, after a precipitous drop in Yahoo!'s share price, I went back in. This is the first time I have purchased shares in hopes that the company would become a takeover target. But I'm hoping that for Yahoo! (Especially since the stock price has continued to decline since I invested.)

Also earlier this week, I was buying some cheese and bread in Whole Foods and thinking about how much I love the food in that store. The last time I checked the company's stock price, it was at a ridiculous level, but when I check earlier this week, it had declined to merely "expensive." So I bought in. Since then, it has increased 3.57%. Not bad for three days.

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April 20, 2007
Going Google?
Posted by Gordon Smith

With my impending move to BYU (and the resulting change in my work computer), I am contemplating another change in my work environment: going Google. I have been a Microsoft user from the beginning of time, but this seems like the right time to change some of my software. I would substitute Gmail and Google Calendar for Outlook; Google Spreadsheets for Excel; and Google Presentations for PowerPoint.

Ok, maybe not that last one. Google doesn't have a presentation program (yet), and I am invested in PowerPoint more deeply than I am invested in Outlook or Excel. If Google wants me to use its presentation software, it will need to provide a converter for all of my PowerPoint slides.

By the way, "Mail Fetcher" and "Better Gmail" finally put me over the top on email. I haven't tried Google Calendar or Google Spreadsheets, yet, but my needs in both areas are simple. I also plan to use my Personalized HomepageGoogle Reader, and maybe even Google Talk.

If you have taken the Google plunge already, I would be curious to hear your thoughts or advice.

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April 15, 2007
Google & DoubleClick: The Big Question
Posted by Gordon Smith

Bloggers are buzzing about the Google-DoubleClick deal (alarm:clock has a great roundup), but the most interesting aspect of the case for law professors is the antitrust angle. What is the relevant market? Microsoft and AT&T already have attempted to frame the discussion around "online advertising," but Google CEO Eric Schmidt has responded by claiming that Google and DoubleClick are each "small components of a much larger advertising market." (NYT)

Antitrust is not my forte, so I will defer to Josh or Thom over at TOTM, though my guess is that this will require some debate.

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April 06, 2007
GOOG-411
Posted by Gordon Smith

Google Voice Local Search launched today. Or so they say. I just called 1-800-GOOG-411 to test the free information service, but I got nothing. Anyone else had luck with this?

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April 05, 2007
Google's "My Maps"
Posted by Gordon Smith

A few months ago, I was looking for a way to map all of the artisanal cheesemakers in Wisconsin. I found a cool program called "Mapbuilder" and produced this. (Note that the content in the map comes from the Wisconsin Dairy Artisan Network. I am interested in artisanal cheesemakers for a research project. More about that later.)

Google's new "My Maps" makes mashups like this even easier. As a trial run, I created a map of all of the places I have lived. This modest effort does not begin to display the power of the program, but it's a start. I could add photos or videos or text to the entries on the map. I can make the map public (like this one) or keep it to myself.

My only problem with My Maps is that the promotion touts the ability to "publish your map to the web," but I couldn't find this feature.

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April 02, 2007
Google TiSP
Posted by Gordon Smith

Google released its latest project yesterday: free broadband.

My favorite question from the FAQs: "Can I use TiSP if my home uses a septic system?"

UPDATE: Google's attempt at humor was valiant, but this is knee-slappingly funny. So, does credit go to Eric Talley or Mary Dudziak?

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March 21, 2007
Boulder Diary: Googleplex Edition
Posted by Victor Fleischer

Campus_2 I just returned from a fascinating visit with Brad Schell, founder of SketchUp, which was acquired by Google last year.  The Sketchup offices are now a mini Google-plex right here in Boulder, complete with exercise balls, lava lamps, massage chairs, a cafeteria ... and more importantly, about 60 creative googlers. 

The visit was part of my research on internal branding -- can contracts be used to shape the image of the firm in the eyes of employees and managers?  Can contracts shape corporate culture?  Is corporate culture reflected in the firm's contracts?  As Gordon explains, contracts can serve a number of purposes beyond mitigating opportunism.

As much as I'd like the answer to that question to be yes (cf. Brand New Deal), I'm not so sure now.  The longer I look at this question, the more puzzled I am by the absence of contractual mechanisms addressing corporate culture. 

We know that corporate culture is an important asset for an organization to cultivate and protect.  So why is this asset not protected somehow by contract?  Most acquisition agreements have pages of reps and warranties about assets far less valuable than culture.  With the exception of the Disney-Pixar merger agreement, however, I have found it hard to find contractual terms directly addressing culture.  Why?  Any ideas?  Is it that it's too hard to reduce the concepts to language?  Does writing down a policy somehow change or diminish its value?  Would communicating/interpreting/enforcing the policy drive up transaction costs within the firm -- arguably defeating, according to Coasean logic, a key reason the firm exists in the first place? 

Any ideas would be welcomed.  I'm hoping that if I let this project simmer on the back burner long enough, something interesting will emerge. 

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