Theory of mind is the awareness that others are aware, and its absence is the weakness that Google doesn't know it has. This shortcoming exists at a deep cultural level within the organization, and it keeps manifesting itself in the decisions that the company makes about its products and services. The flaw is one that is perpetuated by insularity, and will only be remedied by becoming more open to outside ideas and more aware of how people outside the company think, work and live.
With fundamental technologies like PageRank and AdWords, with key initiatives like Google News and their content publishing tools, and with today's announcement of Knol, Google has to develop a Theory of Mind as an organization, or face increasingly difficult challenges to the adoption and success of their new efforts.
1. Google's famous slogan isn't "do no evil" -- it's "don't be evil". That's setting the bar damnably low, but moreover it's forgetting how a flawed person might take that instruction. One could well justify making some seriously wrong choices rather frequently without feeling that the line of being evil had been crossed. A morally challenged person could argue that being 51% righteous and 49% evil with one's actions could clear the bar.
The predicate here is not that Google intends to be evil. Rather, the reality is that any organization consisting of 16,000 people, all of whom are privileged and believe themselves to be of above-average intelligence, is going to face ethical and moral concerns. If even 0.1% of employees ever reckon with such issues in a year, that's an average of more than one evil person per month. In an organization with so much power, information and control, that's more than enough to do serious damage, especially since the mere appearance of misbehavior could cause serious problems.
An awareness of how others might see this slogan, and its intent, would make obvious the fact that almost no one considers himself evil, thus making this goal meaningless.
2. Connecting PageRank to economic systems such as AdWords and AdSense corrupted the meaning and value of links by turning them into an economic exchange. Through the turn of the millennium, hyperlinking on the web was a social, aesthetic, and expressive editorial action. When Google introduced its advertising systems at the same time as it began to dominate the economy around search on the web, it transformed a basic form of online communication, without the permission of the web's users, and without explaining that choice or offering an option to those users.
An awareness of the fact that Google has never displayed an ability to create the best tools for sharing knowledge would reveal that it is hubris for Google to think they should be a definitive source for hosting that knowledge. If the desire is to increase knowledge sharing, and the methods of compensation that Google controls include traffic/attention and money/advertising, then a more effective system than Knol would be to algorithmically determine the most valuable and well-presented sources of knowledge, identify the identity of authorites using the same journalistic techniques that the Google News team will have to learn, and then reward those sources with increased traffic, attention and/or monetary compensation.