Actually, I did the easiest thing, which was writing. At the end of the day, it was about the power of the people.
The most telling thing to me was Google’s tone toward Apple at the event. Instead of pretending to still be an Apple ally, Google today basically threw down the gantlet and admitted that it’s engaged in total war with Apple.
And unlike other Apple rivals, like Adobe, Google execs weren’t huffing and puffing and wringing their hands about Apple’s bad behavior. No, instead, Google was mocking Apple. Making fun of it. Laughing at it.
The Android OS is already outselling iPhone OS in the United States. Now it’s blowing past Apple in terms of the technology it’s delivering.
Yes, Apple still has a larger installed base. I was a little shocked recently when an Apple spokesbot responded to the news of Android’s outselling iPhone OS by reciting the old chestnut about Apple’s having more phones out there.
I was shocked because it’s a familiar line, one that I’ve heard countless times in my 20-plus years covering technology. But I’ve only ever heard it from companies that are doomed, and in total denial about it.
Google and Facebook’s entire business model is based on the notion of “monetizing” our privacy. To succeed they must slowly change the notion of privacy itself—the “social norm,” as Facebook puts it—so that what we’re giving up doesn’t seem so valuable. Then they must gain our trust. Thus each new erosion of privacy comes delivered, paradoxically, with rhetoric about how Company X really cares about privacy. I’m not sure whether Orwell would be appalled or impressed. And who knew Big Brother would be not a big government agency, but a bunch of kids in Silicon Valley?
The problem with buying things with your privacy is you really don’t know how much you’re paying. With money, five bucks is five bucks. But what is the value of your list of friends? If it’s not worth much, your membership on Facebook may be the deal of a lifetime. If it’s incredibly valuable, you’re getting massively ripped off. Only the techies know how much your info is worth, and they’re not telling. But the fact that they’d rather get your data than your dollars tells you all you need to know.
Maybe Google had this planned all along. Maybe it went along with the China deal back in 2006 figuring that it would either (a) make loads of money in China, and if so, keep quiet about the censorship; or (b) fail to create a thriving business in China, but create an opportunity to generate some positive publicity by sparking a debate about the Internet and censorship. My guess: even the smarty-pants Google geniuses probably don’t think that far ahead. But anyway, the debate is one we need to have.
Google is now in the phone business. It is competing with phone makers, including all of its partners that have licensed Android for use in their own phones only to have Google leapfrog their designs with one of its own.
Google is also competing with carriers, attempting to disrupt the model in which carriers control the sale of phones and lock users into long-term contracts. That disruption may benefit consumers, but it can’t make carriers happy.
Will anyone complain? Or push back? Probably not. Even now, with its cards on the table, Google makes sure to load up its presentation with lots of rhetoric about “growing the ecosystem” and “building strategic partnerships.” They even dragged some guy from Motorola out onto the stage to pretend that he’s not furious about getting stabbed in the back by Google.
Bottom line: Google has become what Microsoft used to be. They’ll partner with you, and learn your business, and then they’ll start taking it away from you. They’ll be smiling the whole time, of course, and doing their “Gee whiz we’re just engineers trying to fix the world” faux naïf act. There’s not much you can do, except try to stay out of their way.
At this point I can’t figure out if Google is a) just trying to do something, anything, to deflect all the criticism it’s getting about being responsible for the death of newspapers; or b) actually playing a sadistic practical joke on newspapers, dreaming up ever more ridiculous ideas just to see if the newspaper guys will keep jumping through the hoops. After all, newspapers are desperate, right? Their business model is collapsing around them. So these days they’re pretty much willing to try anything that might someday lead to something that might somehow enable them to make money out of producing news.
How else to explain the new “Living Stories” thing that Google Labs has launched?
Let’s say Safeway Food stores offers Kellogg’s an exclusive deal to sell Corn Flakes. The cereal will be removed from the shelves at Giant. Now in order to get them I either have to switch to the Safeway across town for my general shopping, or continue to shop at Giant but make a special trip just to buy Cornflakes.
Which of those things am I going to do?
Here’s why: When I go to the grocery store and see that the Corn Flakes are missing, I’ll be disappointed. But hey, look, that spot on the shelf where the Kellogg’s Corn Flakes used to be isn’t empty—something else has taken its place: AnotherCompany brand corn flakes. The box looks different, but they are corn flakes, and they’re less expensive. Turns out they’ve been selling them for years, but I never noticed before. What the heck, I’ll try a box. Beats making a special trip across town to Safeway.
And here’s what I’ll discover: AnotherCompany brand corn flakes are pretty much the same as Kellogg’s Corn Flakes. Maybe the flakes themselves are shaped a little differently, and they taste just a little different, but after a few bowls I really can’t remember what that difference is. And these new corn flakes taste great with strawberries too!
The next time I’m at Giant, I buy another box of the new cornflakes. I am happy, and go on with my life. If I’m at a hotel and they serve Kellogg’s Corn Flakes, I have a bowl. Yep, they’re good, but not good enough to rearrange my life for.
See where we’re going with this? News on the web is beyond plentiful, and most of it is similar. Make it less convenient for me to find your Web site, and I’ll switch to one of the many, many others that are just waiting for the opportunity to win my loyalty. It might not be exactly the same as yours, but after a short adjustment period I’m going to be just as happy. The sad truth is, you’re really not that special.
That would seem like a pretty basic lesson in economics that any executive—especially one as astute as Murdoch—would instinctively get. But he doesn’t. And neither do many of his cohorts.