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2/9/2009
08:08 PM
Thomas Claburn
Thomas Claburn
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Google Bloggers Speak As One

Google maintains dozens of blogs, on which various Google engineers and product managers post pithy, informative tidbits about the company's new software, services, and activities. It turns out they're more a tool for corporate communications than a form of personal expression. Not that anyone should be surprised by this.

Google maintains dozens of blogs, on which various Google engineers and product managers post pithy, informative tidbits about the company's new software, services, and activities. It turns out they're more a tool for corporate communications than a form of personal expression. Not that anyone should be surprised by this.Consider this sentence from a blog post attributed to Bryan Mawhinney, a software engineer for Google Mobile: "For iPhone and Windows Mobile devices, Google Sync allows you to get your Gmail contacts and Google Calendar events onto your phone."

And compare it with this sentence, from a blog post attributed to Marcus Foster, a product manager for Google Mobile: "For iPhone and Windows Mobile devices, Google Sync allows you to get your Gmail Contacts and Google Calendar events to your phone."

See the difference? Neither do I, because they're almost identical. And the posts both talk about Google's "credo to launch early and iterate," a strategy the company employs successfully and mentions frequently.

That's not supposed to happen, Karen Wickre, a senior manager in corporate communications at Google, told me during a phone conversation. Google blog posts, she said, are often collaborations between Google product team members, so some information may be shared. But she said that multiple posts about the same product are usually targeted at specific audiences, like advertisers, enterprise customers, developers, or consumers.

Someone, it seems, was in a hurry and someone else missed the duplication. Not really a big deal.

Now I'm not naive enough to imagine that Google simply lets its employees blog without oversight. (The last time that happened (that I'm aware of) was in 2007, when Google Health account planner Lauren Turner was forced to apologize for a blog post condemning Michael Moore's film Sicko.)

But it would be nice to be able to accept the idea of individual authorship at face value. The conceit of an identifiable author, or several, is what separates a blog from a press release or other form of official memo.

Individual authorship offers the possibility, however remote, of authenticity or, better still, something inflammatory or unexpected. And having a name to tie to a quote helps journalists feel like they're reporting, rather than being spoon-fed with vetted talking points.

But of course blogs and corporate communications can be one and the same, just as e-mailed comments from sources, particularly those funneled through corporate communications people, may be more group think than personal musing.

Really, what this minor slip-up tells me is that the term "blog" has become meaningless. Or is it that the notion of individual authorship isn't nearly as relevant in this Wikipedian world of collaboration?

You will be assimilated. Resistance is futile. Bylines are bygones. Mistakes were made.

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