Mango Sauce, a site aimed at male expats in Thailand, is closing down because Google (upon which it relies for ad revenue) has decided that its content is a bit too, well, fruity.
At first, I wasn't all that sympathetic. I made a conscious decision when I kicked off Cultural Snow that I would stumble by without any ads, just to avoid similar hassle. It really isn't expensive or time-consuming to run a site, especially somewhere like Thailand. There are, in any case, other sources of revenue (although, see this from Book World); and Google is surely under no statutory or moral obligation to pay for something it doesn't want to be associated with.
B-b-b-but... as you scroll down the story, there are extra layers of hypocrisy and lack of accountability within Google that do make me feel a degree of sympathy for David, the guy behind Mango Sauce. There are still sponsored links, for example, to sites that make MS's lad-mag content seem pretty mild. It's as if a company pulled all its advertising from Loaded, for moral reasons, but continued to appear in Razzle. And the decision appears to have been taken in its entirety by the mysterious 'Scott', because there's no evidence of any coherent rules or guidelines as to what meets Google's criteria for taste and decency and what doesn't. Bukkake OK, ping-pong not OK, apparently.
Add to this Google's ability to tie itself into moral knots, and compromise its entire raison d'être in order to crack the Chinese market (see Rupert Murdoch, the Rolling Stones, et al), and I think there's cause for unease, if not moral outrage. Mango Sauce is/was a cheerful, well-written, often funny site that seemed to be operating from a somewhat pre-feminist mindset; but it contained nothing that hasn't been said in The Londoner on Sukhumvit Road on any Saturday night. Call it Carry On Thailand to get the flavour. If the site closed down, maybe it wouldn't be a major loss to humanity, but it did have thousands of readers who derived pleasure from it, and picked up a lot of information as well. As David points out, it was getting rather more hits than the worthy, dull Tourism Authority of Thailand site ever achieved.
The real question is whether Google's success means that one of the original ideals of the web (freedom from major concentrations of power and influence) can survive. It may not bother you that a site apparently chiefly concerned with hookers and beer might bite the dust; but if Google can pull the plug on Mango Sauce on the basis of such petty, ill-informed quibbles, a few of you might be advised to look over your shoulders.
(And, with apologies to any disconsolate Brummies, phew...)