The Circle Of Social Networking Life
Why I want to make the jump from one massive, faceless, profit driven corporation to another
Wednesday, July 13, 2011
The picture is only tangentially related to this article... but tigers are just fucking cool, aren't they?
Let's not be fan boys for anyone, and take off our rose tinted glasses. Fact: Both Facebook and Google are profit driven corporations who aren't doing us altruistic favours with their services. They are in it to make a buck, and if they can do it in a way that we benefit from, great, but we should never forget they will fuck us over if that's what drives up profits and value for their investors.
Starting from that basis, we can't help but look on with a sense of cynical irony at most of the debate over whether one of Facebook or Google+ is "better" than the other. (Well, really we're talking about which could be better, since Google is still in the testing phase of their launch of Google+.)
Take, for example, this rather hysterical accusation of the privacy concerns of Google+ (which seems to have been pulled from its original home on MSNBC ). Yes, one would be wise to not simply give Google the benefit of the doubt. But it would be absolutely ridiculous to hold up Facebook as an alternative if privacy is your concern.
Both corporations have the same business model, which is that they offer you a "free" service, and they in turn make money by providing information to advertisers, or to give advertisers access to you. You are the product, advertisers are the customer.
One out of every 14 people on the planet have a Facebook account now, though, so clearly it's a deal that people are willing to make. Not to mention that this business model has had, over the years, hundreds of millions of people participating in basically the same deal. Even before Facebook, people took that deal for email with Hotmail and Gmail , or when they searched using Yahoo , Google, or Bing (Hah hah... I almost said "use Bing" with a straight face. As if anyone outside of fictional characters subject to product placement use Bing.)
For better or worse, we're past the question of whether or not that's a good thing, we just want to know whether or not it can be done fairly and without Orwellian invasions of our privacy.
While some people debate about the bottomless legal concepts regarding privacy , others quibble about the interface. Interface is a subjective thing, so which one is "better" is something you have to decide yourself. I think, however, that even if you think Google+ has a slightly better interface (which I do), you still have to wonder if the interface is so much better as to be worth the effort of trying to move from one spot to the other. Conversely, is the Facebook interface so much better that it's worth fighting to hang on to if your friends start heading to Google+?
Let's face it, it's a hassle to move. You have to rewrite your profile, reconnect with friends, learn how to do things just a little differently.
Well, I've pretty much decided to make that move, and I think it's worth it. My reason has to do with tigers.
Suppose you have to choose between being placed in one of two cages. Both contain large tigers, either of which could easily dismember and eat you. The only difference is that one is well fed and one is starving.
The choice is pretty obvious, isn't it?
The fact is that Google is stuffed, and Facebook is hungry.
Google is already making huge amounts of profit. In 2010 they made about 8 billion dollars in pure profit . Cash money in hand. That's fucking insane money.
Since Facebook is still a private company, internal financials are not publicly available. With a combination of the snippets of details I've found on the net and some wild over-estimation to make my point, let's say it takes something like 500 million dollars a year to run a site like Facebook.
Which means that just using one year's worth of income, Google could run Google+ for over a decade without having to charge anyone any money for it. They don't need to advertise on it, they don't need to sell private data from it. They need nothing from it other than they just want to make sure Facebook doesn't own that space.
That's a broad and simplistic way of looking at it, so you could quibble about details, but I think you get the point. Google is making so much cash hand over fist from their other operations that they don't need to derive profit from G+.
Facebook, on the other hand, as I've gone into detail about already , may be losing money. Even if they are profitable, they are only just barely profitable. Even if they are making money, we don't know how, exactly, and if it's sustainable, and what else they might try. Further, they have lots of pre-IPO investors breathing down their necks to make bigger returns. No one invests early in a high-tech company to get the same low level, slow and steady returns they could get from investing in a mom and pop shoe repair store. They want to see their shares go "ten X". Now.
That's a hell of a hungry tiger.
It's really not that hard to imagine it this way, is it?
Wait... what does it mean for either Facebook or Google+ to "eat" you? How does that part of the analogy carry over?
In this case, "eating" you means selling you out in some way that totally fucks with your privacy and or interface or any other part of the service so as to exploit you to the point that you don't want to use the service anymore. Say, for example, Facebook panics and needs to make some cash. They might do something like sell off all their... no, your personal data. They've modified their privacy statements before , they can do it again.
Privacy concerns not your bag? Well, if you're more concerned about interface, what if they suddenly turned over 60% of the page into flashing, animated, noise making advertisements?
These are things they aren't doing right now because they know if they pounce too soon, you'll bolt, and they'll be left starving. And the only reason they can hold off from doing something like that is because investors keep feeding them so as to delay the need to make actual money in the market place. We'll only really know what kind of tiger Facebook will be after it becomes a publicly traded company and has to actually earn money instead taking handouts from companies like Microsoft, who invest in Facebook as a proxy in their own war against Google.
The risk, though, is there. When the mythical invisible hand of capitalism comes along to slap Facebook into reality, what will they do? We don't yet really know what kind of tiger they are. Me, I'm just not attached to Facebook enough to stick around to find out. Zuckerberg has not filled me with confidence about his intentions , so now that there is a viable alternative, I'm outta there.
Right now, we're sitting in the cage with the hungry Facebook tiger, and he's circling around us wondering how he can eat us before we run away. Seriously. Facebook's number one objective is to try and figure out how they can turn their massive brand recognition and market research data into actual profits without exploiting you so hard and so fast that it kills the goose, you, laying the golden eggs, your personal information.
That last 8 billion was delicious
Over in the Google+ cage, the tiger is sitting there so stuffed it can't be bothered to eat you. Yes, it's still a tiger , so don't mistake it for a kitten . Always keep your eye on it. The only difference is that Google is not relying on investors, it's already thriving in the real world of the market place, and so we know what kind of tiger it is.
The real lesson here is that you should never be so committed to any service that you can't up and move when the tide shifts. Companies are never loyal to you, they are only loyal to profit, so never be so loyal to them that you feel you can't leave. One of the reasons I can bop on over to G+ is that I kept a lid on how much I put into Facebook. I'll do the same on G+. And on the next thing, whatever that is.
I don't think there ever will be a final social network solution, because our society, our expectations, and the technological options that can meet our desires are always rapidly evolving. Even Google has to live in the fear that if the tide shifts, they'll go the way of Friendster . That could be tomorrow, that could be a couple years from now. No one knows.
In the meantime, I'm going to be in the cage with the fat tiger.