Zittrain on Google IPO

JZ has the lead op-ed this morning in the Boston Globe on the Google IPO.  The last three paragraphs read:

“…Google’s embrace of top-down decision making — fiercely protecting the company against shareholder influence while accepting broad-based investment — exposes a genuine wedge within the company’s ethos that parallels the paradox of its own technology. Google’s core “PageRank” search technology [JP: check out the article (PDF) by Brin and Page for more on how it works] is bottom-up, ranking sites according to how individual websites link to one another, but Google reserves the right to tweak results top-down to account for outside pressure (such as governments demanding filtering) or whim. And unlike its Dutch auction, some of Google’s most intriguing experimental new services, ranging from the Orkut social network to its controversial Gmail service, operate as elite invitation-only affairs that favor the well-connected over the merely enthused.

If Google is to lay claim to prominence not only in Web search, but also in handling the public’s e-mail and indexing and unifying its hard drives — in essence, knowing everything we know online and serving as the gatekeeper to that which we don’t know — it will want to go to extraordinary lengths to be open about how its technologies work, to be responsive to public concerns, and to ensure some approximation of that admittedly elusive level playing field for those vying to be featured in its searches and users of its services. In other words, it will not want to behave like a normal company.

This, too, demonstrates that our expectations for normal companies need an overhaul. Thanks to Google’s desire to align profits with the valuation of the investing public whose imagination and loyalty it has largely captured, a Silicon Valley 6-year-old’s opening roar has rattled Wall Street. But as the IPO’s opening bell fades, the clash between Google’s contradictory egalitarian and elitist impulses are certain to make it a volatile investment as soon as next week, not to mention for years to come.”

Update: SiliconValley.com’s John Paczkowski puts JZ’s op-ed in context, as does Cynthia Webb of the Washington Post.

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