Tough Choices and Making Progress

The world is not always the way we wish. I wrote a few days ago about how the state of Digital Rights Management (DRM) for music and movies is not where we want it. Andrew McLaughlin, senior policy counsel at Google, write today about the launch of in China. He wrote about the fact that Google will not be offering Gmail and Blogger in China and will be filtering search results to remove some content at the behest of the Chinese government. Google is not happy about making this choice.

I had a long talk with Brad yesterday about my disappointment about not having the perfect solution for distributing online media while protecting the content from illegal copying. I’m an idealist about these things while Brad is a pragmatist. he pointed out that a lot of bright people are working hard to find that solution, but that consumers can see some benefit from using what is available right now. When I read about Google’s decision to offer limited service in China I thought about his arguments about DRM. We can’t always get where we want in one step. Sometimes we have to make a compromise and offer less than ideal service to get things started.

Google can’t show all of the world’s information in China, but they can show some of it. And maybe some of what gets through will help to educate and enlighten decision makers in China. Gradually, the additional flow of information into the country may lead to ever lightened filtering and perhaps someday unfettered access to search results and the web sites they lead to. perhaps someday the government will respect privacy enough that Google will feel that they can offer email and blogging services to customers with the confidence that their private information will stay private.

Google has been criticized for compromising their ideals of free information flow and working with the Chinese government. But at the same time hasn’t our policy of isolation and disengagement in Cuba during the Castro regime been a ridiculous failure? Instead of overwhelming and reforming communist Cuba with our tourists, businesses, money, and ideals we locked them out and they have persisted in the same repressed state for decades with little hope of change in sight. There has been progress in China in recent years, and perhaps by having influential idealists like the folks at Google talking to them and working with their government gradual change and improvement can be made there. It’s much harder to talk people into your way of thinking if you don’t actually talk to them.

I suppose that many things in life operate this way. An imperfect first attempt can lead to great results later. My writing teachers always told me to just get something on paper and worry later about polishing it up. My programming professors always said to expect to throw out the first attempt and make it better in version 2 or 3. Great results are often the result of many smaller imperfect steps (evolution comes to mind here) so maybe we shouldn’t be disappointed when the first step isn’t what we dream about. When you aim to build something people will love and enjoy, gradual progress toward our ultimate goal may not be so bad. As the fine folks at 37signals might say, we should just “get real” and get it out there.

Kevin Hall
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