Savaged by a dead cow

Observations on the internet

Something that was unthinkable just a few weeks ago has happened: Google has made itself evil in the eyes of geeks. Even the hated Microsoft, on its worst days, has not found itself bracketed with Stalinist persecution, but that fate has befallen Google after the launch of its censored search engine in China.

"Oxblood Ruffin" of the website Cult of the Dead Cow (www.cultdeadcow.com) spotted that the globally known, multicoloured Google logo could easily be parodied into the word "Goolag". He added the line "Exporting censorship, one search at a time", and invited the world to download the new logo and print it on T-shirts.

"So what?" you may say. Well, very soon after the counter-logo was launched (eight hours at most) it caught the eye of Cory Doctorow, an editor of the weblog Boing Boing (www.boingboing.net), who was tickled and wrote a post linking to the site.

Cult of the Dead Cow may be obscure, but Boing Boing is not - in January alone it had 169 million hits and 27.9 million "unique visitors" - so when Boing Boing says something is interesting, a lot of people take notice.

Which is exactly what has happened to Goolag. One Boing Boing reader, Erik R Derr, set up an online shop (www.cafepress.com/goolag) selling Goolag items, with all proceeds going to Human Rights in China. And in no time the Yahoo! logo had received a similar treatment, a Soviet hammer and sickle replacing one of the Os.

The message was also getting close to the front line, among the followers of the exiled Dalai Lama in India. Oxblood Ruffin reported: "The Goolag graphic is now being used as desktop wallpaper by most of the cybercafes in Dharamsala. There are a lot of very steamed Tibetan students living there."

The bloggers, though, aren't all cheering. Some wonder whether attacking Google is biting the hand that feeds, while others ask whether this really is satire or parody - is it fair to compare Google's launch in China with the Gulags? Google itself has not commented.