In a lot of our discussion about the future we tend to bunch Facebook and Google together. After all they are two Goliaths that rely on advertising. Unlike Microsoft that has spread its income sources, or Amazon who is in a different arena all together. Grouping them together however is unfair, misleading and dangerous.
“….the great organ of social life, the prime element of civilization, the channel through which native talent, native genius, and native power may bubble up daily…” The quote is not from a recent Zuckerberg motivational speech but from James Gordon Bennett, who published the Morning Herald in 1835, one of the first newspapers which tried to sell an audience to advertisers.
Facebook has a simple and similar target. To get us to spend more time on their platform. Wasting time? Sure. With fake news? Of course. It is the newspaper of our time and it is a tabloid newspaper for sure. Facebook will do anything to get you to stay. It will interrupt you and make sure you get no work done. It will buy out other platforms like Instagram only to gradually turn them into…Facebook. It will copy features from Snapchat with no shame if Snapchat or any future smaller company isn’t willing to be bought by Facebook. Facebook has no purpose by definition. Mark Zuckerberg has excelled since his college days in dreaming up new ways for people to waste time. There is no purpose. He simply thrives on studying your time wasting habits per se, whether it is flicking up and down a timeline, looking at photos of friends or creating controversy. (Which his systems always reward in one way or another.)
The opportunistic approach is best illustrated in the erratic way it deals with its customers. Advertising on Facebook is not a science. It can’t be. Because they are always changing it in order to make whatever worked yesterday not work tomorrow unless you pay more. The scandals about false video impression numbers and all the other scams Facebook has got caught for so far are just the tip of the iceberg. The elephant in the room is that Facebook ads simply do not work as well as they want you to think they work. Why? Because people shop much less when they are simply wasting time. Nobody will tell you because digital marketers are too busy taking the money you are no longer spending on “old media” and giving you fancy stats that impress you.
Contrast that with Google. You know, that place you go when you actually want to get things done. When you research a product purchase. Where you find out useful stuff about your world. Google has a much tougher job. They have to give you services like Google Maps which are simply so useful and so much better than any other option and then find ways to monetize them without losing the title. Advertisers that understand the difference are much more effective for their customers. Lazy advertisers simply give in to the marketing director who only understands Facebook ads because that is what they use every day. A Facebook ad “impression” is in no way similar to a Google Ads “impression”. Facebook reminds me of Nazi Germany radio wardens, people that walked the streets to corral citizens all together and force them to listen to Adolf Hitler speak on the radio. We need shared experiences and Zuckerberg is going to give you the ones he can sell. While Google figures out machine learning, automatic translation and organizing the world’s knowledge for everyone Facebook adds smiley faces, dislike buttons and the amazing new way to say something with a colored background.
The way Facebook treats fake news is a wonderful illustration of its hypocrisy. Much like the first tabloid newspapers almost two hundred years ago, it seeks out and promotes anything lurid and boisterous. In the old days newspapers based on advertising for revenue had people in courts looking for scandal or even reported on the slave trade for effect. Facebook today pretends to be politically correct but makes sure similar content reaches you. And plenty of it. It is a bit like newspapers pretending not to control the classifieds section or not carrying blame for readers’ letter in “opinion” pieces.
In the mid 19th century, the first “trolls” were in fact journalists working for cheap newspapers in a constant effort to increase circulation so that they could sell advertising. Some things never change…