The fall of Googlopolis

A fable on the dangers of measures becoming targets

Ville Kuosmanen
5 min readDec 24, 2023

Once upon a time, there was a market town known for the quality of its tailoring named Googlopolis. Sitting on a calm bay at the mouth of a river, cloth and textiles from all corners of the world passed through the town’s harbour. Cotton, cashmere, silk, each dyed with more exotic colours.

The harbour of Googlopolis

Besides the variety of textiles, Googlopolis also had many tailors, dressmakers, and haberdashers crafting them into clothing of all kinds. Citizens of the town knew who to go to for with a particular request, and what the fair price for each type of service was. Life was good.

As the kingdom grew prosperous, the reputation of Googlopolis attracted shoppers far and wide. But with so many textiles and merchants to choose from, the visitors had problem: they did not know who to shop with and what a fair price for each product would be. Most customers had never seen fabrics as fine and colours as vibrant as the ones sold here: how could they known which ones are cheap and which ones are worth paying for? So daunting was the paralysis of choice that many went home empty handed, choosing to do business with their local village tailor and their fabrics made of wool instead.

Shoppers from every corner of the kingdom liked to visit the tailors of Googlopolis.

The tailors’ guild needed a solution, as the problems of their customers were taking a toll on the reputation of the whole town. One day, a royal scribe named Larry had an idea. You see, tailors already had certain informal ways to signal the quality of their products. The most prestigious tailors would use thread made of gold to monogram the customer’s initials inside men’s jackets. Middle-market tailors used silk instead of gold, while the most humble haberdashers skipped monogramming altogether. Top tailors also hired their apprentices amongst graduates of the prestigious Royal College located in the kingdom’s capital city, whereas smaller shops tended to go for self-trained sewers and cutters from the town’s youth. Larry proposed a method for rating each tailor based on these attributes, knowing that they signalled the quality, and price, of their work. All members of the guild rejoiced, and a board displaying the rank of each tailor was placed at the centre of the market square in front of Googlopolis Cathedral.

A ranking of every tailor in town was displayed prominently in front of the Googlopolis Cathedral.

Now the visiting shoppers knew exactly which tailors’ prices were worth paying for, and which ones were trying to rip them off. Life was good. The reputation of Googlopolis grew with every wedding dress and suit brought to the countryside.

However, not all locals were happy with the rankings. Many found their trusted tailor ranked towards the bottom of the list. “Have they been ripping me off during all these years?” Customers thus started to move towards the few shops at the top of the list. Their masters became wealthy as they could raise prices and hire more staff, while the families at the bottom had to let go their apprentices and seek extra jobs to put food on the table.

The struggling tailors at the bottom of the rankings had to do something to change the situation. While the exact method of assessing tailors was a tightly guarded secret, they started to understand how it worked. Only superficial markers of quality mattered: you could use less expensive materials to make a dress, as long as it was dyed with vibrant colours. You could also spend less time measuring each customer and making a pattern for them, as fit quality, a point of pride for all tailors, was not assessed at all.

Tailors also kept adding cosmetic details like monogramming with gold, and hiring their apprentices exclusively from the Royal College over hard-working self-trained ones. As it became harder to work your way into the tailoring profession without a degree, the cost of studying in the College increased until only children from rich families could afford to enrol. This was partly by design, as it allowed Googlopolis’s richest shopkeepers to only hire their friends’ children without any pushback! The guarantee of a well-paying job also made the students lazy — why work hard to learn the craft of tailoring if you can get a job anyway?

Students of the Royal College were known for working hard for their degrees (as pictured).

Thus while the ratings of shopkeepers kept improving, the locals started to notice the declining quality of garments. The foreign traders also stopped importing exotic textiles as nobody wanted to spend money on them. They went to the nearby Great Penn Town instead, where local tailors were ecstatic to finally be able to buy such rare fabrics. As word of Googlopolis’s declining quality spread, shoppers from the kingdom started to visit Great Penn Town instead. At the same time, talented and opportunistic youth from Googlopolis chose to seek apprenticeships in Great Penn Town’s shops, whose masters did not rate expensive qualifications over talent, work ethic, and eagerness to learn on the job. The few remaining master tailors focusing on quality in Googlopolis also moved to Great Penn Town, being accepted by the locals with open arms for their knowledge in the trade.

A few decades on, the reputation of Great Penn Town as the new centre of tailoring had spread far across the kingdom. Few visitors bothered to visit the tailors of Googlopolis, who could not understand the decline of their town: when every tailor had a perfect rating and every apprentice had a college degree, why would anyone want to shop anywhere else? For everyone else in the kingdom, the fate of Googlopolis was a lesson on what can happen when Goodhart’s law is broken and simple measures become targets.

“We have a five star rating, yet are going bankrupt. How?”

The tale of Googlopolis was part 1 of a series of two fables. Check out Part 2 and the story of Aldix and the Book of Life here.