Google Celebrates “Sawyersourcing”

One of the things I love about Google, and there are a few, is the clever illustrations it uses to decorate its home page. At first these “Google Doodles” appeared mostly on holidays – St. Patrick’s Day, Valentine’s Day. New Year’s. By the middle of the last decade, the company had started celebrating iconic birthdays – of Albert Einstein, Vincent Van Gogh,and other icons. Over the last few years, those lovable rascals at the Googleplex seem to be having so much fun that they’ve found fun ways to mark various elections, Dr. Seuss’ birthday, and the 50th Anniversary of the LEGO Brick. Sometimes, part of the fun is seeing them honor geek icons who aren’t well-known to the general public: The Doodle for Stanislaw Lem, the Polish science fiction author who wrote “Solaris,” is a wonder to behold.

Of course, Googlers aren’t known for their sense of irony. Today the company’s homepage honors the birthday of Mark Twain. What’s interesting is the way it does so. The illustration looks like a comic strip with three panels. In the first, one boy hands his friend a paint can; in the second, he watches as his friend paints a fence; in the third, he offers a thumbs-up for his buddy’s work as his friend sits, exhausted, on the ground. The scene evokes “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer,” when Tom’s Aunt Polly makes him whitewash her fence and he tricks his friends into doing the work by convincing them that it’s fun.

In modern terms, this might be called “Sawyersourcing” – and few companies have done more to promote it than Google. Jimmy Wales is more of a Sawyer-esque character, a quintessentially American huckster who talked people he never met into writing an encyclopedia for him, then convinced the media that he wanted to run a charity even though he’s an Objectivist. But Google made this idea respectable by making large donations to Creative Commons, Harvard’s Berkman Center, and other institutions. Sometimes, Sawyersourcing produces great work. But technology companies, like Tom, rarely volunteer to share the wealth the way they share the work.

Twain himself, one suspects, would be laughing his ass off.



9 thoughts on “Google Celebrates “Sawyersourcing”

  1. That sounds like practically every company I know actually. 😦 Viacom’s CEO got a $50.5M raise to a total of $84.3M while claiming that copyright infringement doesn’t leave them enough to pay the artists, despite making massive profits last year. I think we can generally agree that most companies don’t have much of a conscience.

    An overview: http://www.usatoday.com/money/companies/management/story/CEO-pay-2010/45634384/1

    Posted by Pieter | November 30, 2011, 10:15 am
  2. OF COURSE, most companies don’t have a conscience – that’s why they’re companies. I would NEVER argue that any of these companies are good. What I find silly is that many people – not you – assume the worst from movie studios but argue that Google is above all of that.

    Posted by roblevine1 | November 30, 2011, 10:59 am
    • Well, certainly not me, no. 🙂 I have enough pet pieves with Google.

      I’m curious though: who’s arguing that Google’s above all that? I’ve read negative things about Google on practically every discussion platform I visit.

      Posted by Pieter | November 30, 2011, 12:54 pm
  3. I’m not sure that’s really fair to Wales. He could pretty easily defray some of the site’s cost by using ads, but he’s taken the more uncertain route of relying on donations to “maintain the experience”.

    Posted by Brett | December 1, 2011, 7:09 am
    • Dear Brett,

      I’m not sure that’s really fair to the creators of wikipedia. They could pretty easily defray some of the site’s cost by working their own jobs, but they’ve taken the more uncertain route of working for free to “maintain the experience”.

      Posted by stephan | December 1, 2011, 4:11 pm
      • The same could be said for many Open Source software developers. It’s a choice, isn’t it? Some people just want to be part of creating something, and some even don’t care if other people make money from their work.

        Posted by Pieter | December 2, 2011, 8:52 am
  4. >>>It’s a choice, isn’t it?

    That’s EXACTLY what I say about signing to a label! The difference is that labels are honest about their motives: They want to make money. Creative Commons says they want to help artists but there’s only one artist on the board, and the organization has pushed policies that give artists less control over their work.

    Creative Commons is what corruption looks like in the 21st century.

    Posted by roblevine1 | December 4, 2011, 11:09 am

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