free html hit counter Yow. This Is What Happens When You Are Big. And... - John Battelle's Search Blog

Yow. This Is What Happens When You Are Big. And…

By - May 04, 2009

…seen as arrogant. Regardless of whether that charge is true, or sticks, or is fair, this is what will end up in our national “paper of record.”

The Federal Trade Commission has begun an inquiry into whether the close ties between the boards of two of technology’s most prominent companies, Apple and Google, amount to a violation of antitrust laws, according to several people briefed on the inquiry.

At the end of my book, and the beginning of a new phase of this site, I suggested that Google’s largest issue will be its “failure to fail.” I also compared, and continue to compare, the company to Microsoft in the late 90s, when it struggled with anti-trust investigations that ultimately proved hobbling, if not in profits, at least in its quest to be the most innovative and fastest growing company in the technology sector.

If any lesson is to be drawn, perhaps prematurely, from all this, it’s that no company – or two companies – can lead a culture for longer than half a generation. After that, the culture starts to distrust the companies’ motives, regardless of whether they are pure or well intentioned.

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8 thoughts on “Yow. This Is What Happens When You Are Big. And…

  1. “After that, the culture starts to distrust the companies’ motives, regardless of whether they are pure or well intentioned.”

    Do you think this half a generation theory is limited to the technology companies or its not industry specific and FMCGs etc too fall into this theory?

  2. Adam says:

    I think it has less to do with whether or not a company is trusted by a culture, and more to do with FTC bureaucrats looking to squeeze some money out of big fish.

  3. Tom says:

    The Love/Hate Dilemma!

    This is a problem endemic to ALL large enterprises that the individual sees as impacting their lives. The ambivalence is a result of the inherent conflict between the individual’s recognition that the large enterprise provides needed and/or desired value and moreover that the large size is necessary to provide that value versus an equally natural desire to have a measure of governance over that relationship.

    In fact, this issue has more to do with current problems facing business, markets AND governance than may at first be apparent.

    There are solutions. Of course that requires a recognition of the actual foundations of the problem as well as an ability to utilize some simple capabilities current information and communication technology offer under a structure designed to further a healthier relationship between the individual and those institutions he/she feels may have too much control over their own lives as well as other institutions. (psssst… like governments… don’t tell!)

    From Buckminster Fuller:
    “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”



  4. RichF says:

    Adam hit the nail on the head and in response to Tom, the solution is to get rid of the government beareaucrats that continually need to justify their worthless jobs.

  5. Tom says:

    Adam and Rich may well have a correct target.

    However, it’s likely others may disagree (spend some time with Hacker News).

    Personally, I LIKE Google, Apple and even think government bureaucrats can occasionally do useful things.

    The Love/Hate dilemma hits ALL large enterprises… Business AND Government!

    The approach to solutions for both will NOT be found in pure Left/Right ideological approaches, but rather by addressing issues related to power imbalances which naturally grow between established institutions and their constituencies.

    This was understood by engineers like Madison, Jefferson and others involved in that world-changing technical project they undertook a couple of centuries ago.

    Their basic design remains very sound. However, problems primarily of scale and reduced proximity to leadership require some simple (but very important) technical improvement for solution.

  6. JG says:

    John, what are the nature of the ties, and/or specific behaviors that are raising FTC hackles?

    I’ve seen a couple things.. for example in iWeb on the Mac there is an integrated (bundled?) option to add Google AdSense ads to the web page that you are building. That has always struck me as odd, that advertising should be so tightly bundled into Apple’s software. And with apparently no option to easily integrate Yahoo or MS ads, either — only Google’s.

    And when using the Safari web browser, Google is the default engine, and for the life of me I cannot figure out how to remove Google from Safari. It appears to be too tightly, choice-restrictingly tied in.

    So is that it? Or are there other things that Google and Apple are doing?

  7. Aamir Virani says:

    Good point, but I think the larger issue really is that Google went from a company that fought for its users to one that fights for itself. Once you show your willingness to deal with governments, of course Congress is going to start focusing on you a little more.

    If you confront a company that “does no evil”, you’re evil. If that’s no longer true among the public / decision-makers…

  8. Vladmir says:

    Microsoft *deserved* those anti trust lawsuits, remember? They weren’t punished nearly far enough.