In chaos there is opportunity (part 11 of Diversity and Google+)

Google+ in rainbow colors

I’m flashing! Back in 2006, the Ad Astra project proposed a strategy for Microsoft to outflank Google by leveraging its employee base and social technologies. One of the key insights: social computing technologies allow a company to tap into the combined energy of employees and their networks. This can be a huge asset — and one that potentially grows non-linearly as a company grows. Alas, Microsoft took another approach, investing in algorithmic search to compete with Google head-on, and ceding the social market to Facebook, LinkedIn, and others..

Five years later, it’s Google in the role of a large company trying to use its size as an advantage against a more nimble competitor. If Google’s 20,000+ employees can work together effectively and are sufficiently motivated, they’ll be a huge asset in the “battle for social.” Tying bonuses across the company to success gets everybody to focus on the company’s priority. From a strategy perspective, a great move by Google.

Which doesn’t mean it will work.

— me, in a comment Prisms, Kool-Aid and Opportunity April 2011

One way to look at Google+ through the lens of what Robert Scoble calls the game of all games: the battle between Facebook, Google, and “own identity on the internet.”  In that context, it was a brilliant move against all the other big US-based corporations run and owned primarily by white guys who are fighting over who can profit from mining our personal information and selling our eyeballs to advertisers.

And in a lot of ways, it’s worked out quite well:

  • Many early adopters prefer Google+ to Facebook, especially in some demographics like younger and middle-age guys, techies, photographers, and social media experts.
  • With over 40 million people already signing up, Google+ is a big enough platform to woo brands, celebrities, and politicians — who, just like everybody else, often want to say things longer than 140 characters and are generally unhappy with their Facebook experience
  • Google demo’ed how they can leverage their dominant position in search and advertising to reward people for using their new platform and undercut their competitors’ advertising prices — and even after reports that they pressured sites to put +1 buttons on if they want to continue to do well in search, Congress didn’t mention Google+ in their questions for Eric Schmidt.

Facebook is the next … Yahoo? MySpace? Friendster?

Facebook is certainly on the defensive right now. They’re making a lot of mistakes, and acting like a company under a lot of stress. Groups?  Lists?  Subscribing?  Huh?  It’s looking more and more like old Microsoft products where there are three somewhat-incompatible ways to do things, none of which are particularly useful.  Here’s the poll I took about their latest changes.

What do you think of Facebook's changes?
Why can't they just stop changing it for a while???????

Facebook’s fighting back, of course.  On the plus side they’ve already copied much of Google+’s functionality, improving on some of it in the process.  But they’ve also bewildered their users, created more privacy gotchas, and will now get rid of the Wall and introducing the Timeline instead so that you can share your whole life with advertisers, HR departments, data miners, and stalkers.


With 800,000,000 users they’re not going away any time soon but it increasingly looks that the third-largest country in the world is about to be undergoing some massive emigration at exactly the time they’re going to need to further ratchet up the exploitation to justify their valuation.

Can’t wait for the movie: Social Network II: Lockdown!

Google is the next Microsoft?

google microsoftOn the other hand, just because Facebook is hitting the wall, that doesn’t mean Google’s out of the woods.  In fact Google’s arrogance and tone-deafness are very reminiscent of Microsoft back in the evil empire days of the mid-90s. Their dominant, and arguably monopolistic, position is scaring regulators, and open source projects and competitors are banding together.

Back in the 1990s, Microsoft successfully fought of Netscape, won the browser market, and prolonged their hold on the desktop.  Even so, it wound up backfiring badly. By the end of the decade they were facing major political problems in the US and abroad, had fallen behind on the next big thing, and despite billions of dollars of investment still haven’t caught up.

Of course, times have changed; and Google’s not Microsoft.  Then again, Google’s core business is under threat.  In case you haven’t noticed, their advantage in search quality has largely disappeared.  With its overwhelmingly male population (currently two guys for every woman) and power base (80% of the “most followed users” are guys), Google+ isn’t likely to be the magic bullet they’re hoping for — at least not with the most valuable demographic on the web.**

So it’s good news for Duck Duck Go, Blekko, Quora, and yes even Microsoft.  As I predicted in February, a big chunk of the search market is up for grabs.

I’m noticing a pattern here …

Scobleizer logoIt is the game to addict us, to impel us to give our identities over to Google or Facebook, and what will that do.

— Robert Scoble, The game of all games: content and context (why Mark, Marc, and Larry are carving up the social world)

But even though it’s fascinating to have a ringside seat as the lads of Silicon Valley battle over who will control our access to information, track our every move, and slice-and-dice our privacy, my first reaction to Robert’s  post was that I’m really tired of playing this game —  and a lot of other people are too.

At some level, how much does it really matter whether we’re carved up by Larry, Mark, or Marc?  Or for that matter Jack and Dick or Jeff or Mark (no relation) or any of John’s other companies or Charlie and Adam or …***

With my civil liberties activists hat on, it’s depressingly clear that in any case more and more of the world’s information under the control of US-based companies and subject to the PATRIOT Act and FISA and whatever secret interpretation the current administration chooses.

And wearing my trendy little diversity chapeau, all the systems they’re building have huge biases that lead to most of the power, influence, and profit going to white guys.

Yeah, I know, it’s always been this way.  Thus does kyriarchy reproduce itself.  But I don’t think it’s going to be sustainable that much longer.

And in chaos there is opportunity.

Stay tuned for my next post, tentatively titled Hey, that sounds like a pretty good idea.


* in the gender-neutral sense of the word, of course

** Aileen Lee of KPMG has some great data on this in TechCrunch, although the headline and framing are problematic; see CV Harquail’s  Why women DON’T rule the internet and comments from ptp, Terri, and others on Geek Feminism for more

*** update, February 2014: some so of the references might be a bit obscure, but at the time, Zynga and Quora were taken seriously, and Kleiner Perkins was on the top of the VC heap

Check out the previous posts in the series: A Work in Progress, Why it matters, #nymwars!, A tale of two searches, The double bind of oppression, Anxious masculinity under threat, Still a Ways to Go, Booberday, Talk about a hostile environment, and The Trend is in the Wrong Direction