Following my Senate testimony last month, several Senators reached out with additional questions and clarification requests. As I understand it this is pretty standard. Given I published my testimony here earlier, I asked if I could do the same for my written followup. The committee agreed, the questions and my answers are below.
(image) Today I had a chance to testify to the US Senate on the subject of Facebook, Cambridge Analytica, and data privacy. It was an honor, and a bit scary, but overall an experience I’ll never forget. Below is the written testimony I delivered to the Commerce committee on Sunday, released on its site today. If you’d like to watch, head right here, I think it’ll be up soon. Forgive the way the links work, I had to consider that this would be printed and bound in the Congressional Record. I might post a shorter version that I read in as my verbal remarks next…we’ll see.
God, “innovation.” First banalized by undereducated entrepreneurs in the oughts, then ground to pablum by corporate grammarians over the past decade, “innovation” – at least when applied to business – deserves an unheralded etymological death.
Back in December of 2011, I wrote a piece I called “The Internet Big Five,” in which I noted what seemed a significant trend: Apple, Microsoft, Google, Amazon, and Facebook were becoming the most important companies not only in the technology world, but in the world at large. At that point, Facebook had not yet gone public, but I thought it would be interesting to compare each of them by various metrics, including market cap (Facebook’s was private at the time, but widely reported). Here’s the original chart:
I called it “Draft 1” because I had a sense there was a franchise of sorts brewing. I had no idea. I started to chart out the various strengths and relative weaknesses of the Big Five, but work on NewCo shifted my focus for a spell.
Like you, I am on Facebook. In two ways, actually. There’s this public page, which Facebook gives to people who are “public figures.” My story of becoming a Facebook public figure is tortured (years ago, I went Facebook bankrupt after reaching my “friend” limit), but the end result is a place that feels a bit like Twitter, but with more opportunities for me to buy ads that promote my posts (I’ve tried doing that, and while it certainly increases my exposure, I’m not entirely sure why that matters).
Then there’s my “personal” page. Facebook was kind enough to help me fix this up after my “bankruptcy.” On this personal page I try to keep my friends to people I actually know, with mixed success. But the same problems I’ve always had with Facebook are apparent here — some people I’m actually friends with, others I know, but not well enough to call true “friends.” But I don’t want to be an ass…so I click “confirm” and move on.
We’ve seen this debate before — Google refused to call itself a media business for years and years. Now, well…YouTube. And Play. Twitter had similar reluctancies, and now…the NFL (oh, and college softball!). Microsoft tried, but ultimately failed, to be a media company (there’s a reason it’s called MSNBC), and had the sense to retreat from “social media” into “enterprise tools” so as to not beg confusion. Then again, it just bought LinkedIn, so the debate will most certainly flare up (wait, is LinkedIn a media company?!).
I double took upon arriving at Medium just now, fingers flexed to write about semi-private data and hotel rooms (trust me, it’s gonna be great).
But upon my arrival, I was greeted thusly:
Now, I have no categorical beef with Facebook, I understand the value of its network as much as the next publisher. But it always struck me that Medium was forging a third way — it’s not a blogging platform, quite, at least as we used to understand them. And it’s not a social network, though it has a social feel. It’s something … of itself, and that’s a good thing.
Way back in 2012 – four years ago in real time, three decades or so in Internet time – I predicted that Facebook would build an alternative to Google’s AdSense based on its extraordinary data set. I was right, but…off by a few years. From Ad Exchanger:
AdExchanger has learned Facebook Audience Network is one month into a test involving about 10 publishers that would see the ad network’s placements run on mobile web pages. The expansion brings its own set of technical hurdles, along with a large revenue expansion opportunity for Audience Network, which reached a $1 billion run rate last quarter.
…A Facebook rep confirmed the test and Diply’s involvement, but declined further comment.
For years I’ve been predicting that mobile apps were a fad – there’s no way we’d settle for such a crappy, de-linked, “chiclet-ized” approach to information and services management. Instead, I argued that a new model would emerge, one that combined the open values of a link-powered web with the mobility, sensors, and personalization of apps. It wasn’t easy to make this argument, because for years Apple, Facebook, and even Google were steadily proving me wrong. Apps (and the mobile platforms where they lived) marched steadfastly to dominance, surpassing the PC Web in both attention and most certainly investor buzz. I mean, who’d ever invest in a “website” anymore?!
Then last week, Google announced App Streaming. This is the chocolate meeting the peanut butter, folks. If this can scale, we may finally be close to breaking the app’s stranglehold on our collective imagination.
But lately I’ve noticed a strong theme running through a number of interesting and successful businesses: Integrations. From Acxiom and sovrn (where I am a board member) to Slack, Gecko and Zapier (where I am a happy customer), these companies are thriving because they have built a platform based on the integration of many different products and services. At NewCo, we call this “being platform’d” – an inelegant but apt descriptor.