At Google, I can think of a few points that influenced my perceptions:
- the first DMCA request we got, from the Church of Scientology
- the day that we turned on Netscape. It turns out we didn't have enough server capacity, so we turned down Google so that we could serve the traffic from Netscape.
- when the Department of Justice tried to subpoena two months worth of all user queries
- when John Battelle grilled Eric Schmidt on stage at a Web 2.0 conference and Eric declared "We would never trap user data."
All of those situations were thrust on us from the outside, and someone had to make a call. I think those kinds of decisions are critical culture-defining moments.
The decisions a company makes when everything is fine--or when you have plenty of time to plan--can set some of the company's culture. But to me, how your organization responds to a crisis is one of the best indicators of its culture.
What is this referring to?
i.e. they put their customer, Netscape, ahead of their own website's performance.
I think each of the four examples I mentioned did have a long-lasting effect on the company as well, e.g. the Data Liberation Front ( http://www.dataliberation.org/ ) is a natural result of the pledge not to trap users' data.
I continue to have concerns about Google, but at the same time I continue to perceive a culture where people stand up and advocate for, insist upon, or just quietly do "the right thing".
(Now, where's my green energy flying car. ;-)
P.S. I guess I felt this worthy of a comment, in that I continue to struggle with my own interpretation of this dichotomy. And I don't think I'm alone.