Answer by Jeff Meyerson:
When a company open-sources material or publishes white papers, they are accomplishing several things:
- Exposing their ideas for scrutiny. If Google had overlooked some flaw in BigTable, someone would certainly point it out after the publication.
- Building a reputation of altruism and open information. This draws academics who aren't interested in joining a company for the money as much as for pushing science forward.
- It shows confidence. When a company publishes the recipe for their secret sauce, it says something about how much the company believes in the continued effectiveness of the makers of that sauce.
- Other people will build off of that publication. Look at what has happened with BigTable and MapReduce. Those publications contributed to the Hadoop revolution. Unprecedented technologies might be discovered that use these concepts as a springboard. Who will be positioned to take advantage of those new technologies? Google.