Google gave a keynote speech to the biggest global gathering of authors’ societies today. The internet advertising giant is embroiled in several areas of copyright litigation. Publishers and authors object to its mass scanning project, Google Books. News agencies and publishers have sued it over its use of links and excerpts in Google News. And Viacom is suing Google for using infringing clips on YouTube.
So the audience at CISAC’s Copyright Summit was presented with Google’s EMEA chief Nikash Arora. Would he tell the authors he felt their pain? Would he speak a language they understood?
Not likely. Arora may as well have chosen to speak in Klingon. He was also the first non-government speaker at the summit to avoid answering questions from the audience. Instead, we were treated to a stage-managed 15 minute Q&A which avoided the tricky subject of litigation all together.
Arora is a marketing guy and a former telcomms analyst who has only been at Google two years. He crammed in every Web 2.0 cliche he could. It was all there: Wikipedia was replacing libraries – because “you’re more likely to rely on the wisdom of crowds”. “Nerds”, he said were the new cultural arbiters:
“People who have never left the house are now surfing at home, finding new talent,” he said – so perhaps soon, the only music in the world will be made by prog rock or death metal bands.
Arora used phrases like “connected society”, “democratisation of information”, and enthused a plenty about the “Long Tail”. Everywhere he looked, the internet was overcoming the homogenity of the modern world by promoting diversity, he argued.
Naturally, there was no mention of research that shows people who spend a lot of time on the internet become more narrow-minded than ever – because they tend to seek out only people who share the same views. All was for the best in all possible worlds.
He did concede, however, that, “it requires a lot more users to monetise than it does in the physical world”.
There was little indication Google was locked in combat with the audience.
What we did learn instead, was that when Arora went for his interview, he was wearing a jacket…while the Google staff were wearing short-trousers. While Sergei Brin was doing yoga on the floor, waiting for the next meeting to start.
Short-trousers! Yoga! You can’t help loving us!
Maybe this is what Googlers tell each other to motivate themselves, to reinforce their sense of goodness. But the message bombed – delegates we spoke to complained they’d learned nothing new and resented being patronised. Google had lost a golden opportunity to explain and enlighten.