The Laboratorium
May 2011

Talk About Miscellaneous


Chapter 9 of Title 15 of the U.S. Code is captioned “miscellaneous,” and boy do they mean it. Here are the titles of its first two sections:

§ 1001. Prize-fight films as subjects of interstate or foreign commerce

§ 1002. Golden Gate Bridge tolls; Government traffic and personnel in performance of office business not subject to tolls

New Video: What Next for Google Books?


I’ve just posted a new video on behalf of the Public Index, What Next for Google Books?. It’s an 80-minute discussion between myself and noted digital copyright experts and longtime settlement followers Jonathan Band and Kenneth Crews. We discuss Google’s scanning project, the lawsuit against it by copyright owners, the proposed settlement and the controversy around it, Judge Chin’s opinion rejecting the settlement, possible next steps for the parties, and some of the larger issues raised by the case. It’s a self-contained overview of how the settlement got to where it is now and what might happen next, designed to be informative no matter how little or how much you already know about the case.

Road-Like Trip


I will be here for the rest of the week. Email will be the best way to reach me, or, if it’s urgent, text message.

How Not to Understand Google


At Google, Talking to Coworkers Can Get You Fired” has been making the rounds. But really, a better title would have been “At Google, Endangering Trade Secrets Can Get You Fired, Just Like at Other Companies.” A contractor who was “interested in issues of class, race, and labor” decided to interview and videotape some of the book scanning techs. (They share in few of the famous perks Google lavishes on its programmers.)

The company is profoundly tight-lipped about the book-scannng process, and its response was unsurprising: he was fired. This isn’t a particularly Googley thing to do, either. Just ask the guy fired by Microsoft over his pictures of Macs arriving at a Microsoft loading dock. Caste-colored badges are hardly unique to Google, either. I carry a green ID card; my students’ are blue.

The irony here is that Google’s internal class politics are quite interesting; they represent a particularly concentrated form of the Type L worldview overlaid with some corporate collectivism and a pervasive do-gooder ideology. I explored some of these themes in my 1997 piece about Microsoft. For the Google-specific twists, consider the daycare debacle, the DotOrg drama, and the company’s attempt to make the hiring process computational while still scrutinizing those Ivy League transcripts for the telltale C in macroeconomics. There’s a lot going on here in need of unpacking, but trying to play Michael Moore on your lunch break isn’t a particularly helpful way of getting at it.