Making good on disasters: Why did Google help Japan?

A story in the New York Times today describes how Google is making headway among the Japanese. In Japan, Google does not have the vast market share that it does in the U.S. or other countries around the world. However, as the story’s title indicates “Quick Action Helps Google Win Friends in Japan.” The story goes:


Google is using its Street View technology in Kesennuma and elsewhere to make a record of the disaster while tracking reconstruction efforts.

An oddly equipped car made its way last week through the rubble in this tsunami-stricken port city. On the roof: an assembly of nine cameras creating 360-degree panoramic digital images of the disaster zone to archive damage.

It is one of the newest ways that Google, a Web giant worldwide but long a mere runner-up in Japan’s online market, has harnessed its technology to raise its brand and social networking identity in this country.

Google was also quick in the early hours of the disaster to assemble a Person Finder site that helped people learn of the status of friends and relatives affected by the earthquake and tsunami.

It is important to note that Google cannot yet determine whether or not these efforts have helped them to crest the Japanese browser use market; however, that is far from what interests me.

While writing about the social significance of non-events for, I asked the following question:

After studying the Tylenol Poisoning Tragedy (see chapter one of Minding the Machines:Preventing Technological Disaster) and many others, we ask: are there circumstances under which a firm might gain, over the long run, from a carefully handled crisis? Students, especially of the conspiracy theory bent, go nuts with this one, and reformulate my question: are there circumstances under which a firm might gain, over the long run, from a carefully planned and handled crisis?

So, while I have no illusions that Google planned the Tsunamis in Japan, I wonder if non-local crisis response research and development might be a way answer the question above or shift the dialogue to such topics as “planned disaster response by for-profit agencies.” It seems as though organizaitons like Google with oodles of slack resources and a penchant for expansion might serve themselves well by expressing “social responsibility” during times of non-local crisis … especially, in nations where their product, service, etc. is not the leading brand, type, etc.

Hence, almost sounding like a conspiracy theorist now, is it just a coincidence that Google reached out to Japan?

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