In yesterday's piece about wanting an exit from Google, I mentioned that I might use DuckDuckGo, but had reservations because it's "another Fred Wilson company." Fred, who is a very cheerful dude (no sarcasm) responded with evangelism, which is what I like about Fred. Of course he can handle criticism, even when it's as vaguely defined as the bit in my blog post. Come right back with a great product pitch. I wouldn't expect any less.
Even though I know Fred personally, he has a bigger presence in the tech world. Like it or not he now is the leading tech VC. He occupies a slot that John Doerr used to. Who came before? Not sure -- Don Valentine? Arthur Rock? Eugene Kleiner? I've heard about them. But they're not of my generation. I'm a little younger than Doerr, and a little older than Wilson. And I know JD as well. He bought a company of mine, I served on a board with him, and he lived on the same street in the 90s (not bragging, I lived a little beyond my means, and Doerr is more modest than his).
Both Doerr and Wilson are genial, charming, politically active, and I think for the most part share the same values I do. However, where we part is on the role of users in tech. I have chosen to identify with them. And while Fred does as good a job as he can, given what he does, of understanding the user's perspective (I'd say this is the reason he rose to be #1 in his field) he really is sitting on the other side of the table, business-wise, from the users. I doubt if he views it this way, but I do.
The way to align our interests is to own a common stock. Back in 1998, it turns out, it would have been a good idea to not switch to Google unless we as users could buy it. I think the Google guys sort of intuited this, because when they finally went public in 2004, they cut out the investment bankers, and went with a very web-like approach to stock called the Dutch Auction IPO, invented by Bill Hambrecht. What a pioneering idea, it paved the way for Kickstarter, which is growing like a weed, and changing the way we think about funding startups (Kickstarter is Fred Wilson company, btw, and Google is a John Doerr company).
So Google started out on the right path, but eventually they went wild and desperate, and did all the things with their product that users probably thought they would never do. So now I'm shopping for a search engine to invest in. DuckDuckGo could be that, except for this one problem. Imho, it's inexorably on the same path that Google was on. That means they're going to spend years of our time pretending that they are still on our side, until one day it'll be blatantly obvious that we just wasted years waiting for them to give take us somewhere we'd want to go . They are using us as pawns, as big techco's always do.
In the same sense that we own the web. Can we operate our own search engine? Can the developers who lead us there get unreasonably rich even if they don't control our future? These are all questions that I believe we can address. I think we can all win. And I think that until we do this, and do it right, we'll be stuck in the same infinite loop we've circling as long as I've been in tech.
This isn't intended to generate an action item on anyone's todo list (to use tech management terminology) rather to raise the question, once again, how we can build a future with technology that is allied with the interests of users. That's where I want to invest my most precious resource -- time.