MLB Opening Day WWDC 2023 Dates Meta Quest Pro Hands-On Amazon Pharmacy Coupons iOS 16.4 Trick for Better Sound Narcan Nasal Spray 7 Foods for Better Sleep VR Is Revolutionizing Therapy
Want CNET to notify you of price drops and the latest stories?
No, thank you

Doing well by doing good

It isn't always easy for tech companies to balance social impact and making a profit. A number of companies have succeeded on both counts.

Back in 1995, there was a lot of excitement around the Net, particularly in the San Francisco Bay Area. I did a couple tours at the Multimedia Playground at the Exploratorium back in the day, showing people the early Net and something new called Yahoo.

The promise of the Net was a big deal for people who had somehow grasped the potential of interconnecting large numbers of people across the planet. Twenty years ago, this included a lot of computer specialists and also idealists, many of whom were also serious business people. It was a really good balance back then of practical idealism and good business.

That's typified by the kind of engineer who maintains an optimistic view about a good balance between social good and commerce on the Net. There might be a better way of saying it, but in serious tech companies, this balanced view comes from the engineers, so I'll follow convention and call this "engineering culture." (A better short phrase would be appreciated.)

Today we see people using the Net to deliver a lot of useful business to consumer services, with a better balance of social impact versus profit making focus. That's particularly true of companies founded in the early days, like Google, where the balance is well expressed as "don't be evil."

From my personal engineering perspective, that business model is "doing well by doing good."

Google is run by engineers along with serious business people, and maintains that business well. On the other hand, maybe Yahoo illustrates what happens when engineering culture isn't balanced with business culture, although I feel Marissa Meyer is restoring that balance.

In other dot-coms, you can smell the culture clash, generally when founding engineers struggle with investors and MBAs to make a profit, including Facebook, Twitter, and Amazon. It ain't easy to keep that balance, but a number of early CEOs have succeeded and done well by doing good, including Larry Page and Jim Buckmaster.

However, big money, over the last two decades, has upset the balance. In a lot of companies, doing well is often more important than balancing with doing good.

We see this playing out in news aggregators, though there's much cause for optimism. The Trust Project is developing best practices where news orgs can stand up as providing quality journalism, focusing on original reporting and trustworthy practices and good ethics. With suitable standards, that might make it easier for the news aggregators to emphasize quality reporting, which also may enable news orgs to charge higher rates. Everyone wins, particularly news aggregators that include Google, Facebook, Twitter, Apple and Techmeme.

The deal is that "doing well by doing good" is the essence of the business model where there's a good balance of engineering and business cultures. Where there's not, a reminder that "doing well by doing good" is a successful model that might be effective, if repeated now and then, as long as it takes. After all, a nerd's gotta do what a nerd's gotta do.

Photo courtesy of Craig Newmark