We Have Met the Evil and It Is Not Google or Apple: It Is Us

Cross-posted on my Forbes blog, The New Persuaders.

So much talk about evil these days. Google is evil for promoting results from its Google+ social network on search results pages, and even for changing its privacy policy to make clear its services share data. Apple is evil for not coming down hard enough on harsh working conditions at its Chinese suppliers’ factories.

Well, maybe. But if they’re going to be honest, the many pundits piling on to today’s titans of tech need to look up from the screen and into the mirror. Google’s and even Apple’s businesses, warts and all, don’t exist without our explicit participation. As Pogo famously said, albeit in a different context: “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

Now, I’m still not so sure Google’s actions on either score rise to the level of evil by any reasonable meaning of the term. (In fact, the furor over Search plus Your World  makes me think of Pogo creator Walt Kelly’s second most famous line: “Don’t take life so serious, son. It ain’t nohow permanent.”) But it sure looks like Google’s at least edging closer to the evil line than its hifalutin ideals ever seemed to suggest.

For its part, Apple has taken considerable effort improve the factories that produce the gleaming iPhones and iPads we love. But if today’s New York Times story is correct, it’s clearly culpable in its seeming ambivalence about coming down hard on its suppliers exploiting workers.

Fact is, though, these companies get away with things we don’t like only because we let them. As powerful as Apple and Google seem, they both answer to customers and users. That would be us. And unlike politicians, they must answer to us every day–if we insist they do.

But we can’t do that just by bitching about them on blogs. You want Google to back off on personalized search and data-sharing? Opt for the plain results (click the Hide Personal Search button up there on the right), sign out of your Google account, or even delete it entirely. Or try Bing, or DuckDuckGo. Easier than blogging about it! And if enough of you do it, rest assured that Google’s data crunchers will notice, and if they’re as smart as they like to think, they’ll figure out how to change things.

You want Apple to fix its factory conditions? Don’t buy that next iPhone or iPad, and tell Apple why. If enough of you just say no, Apple will notice, and maybe start to use some of those unbelievable profits to change things.

Everything else is just talk. And there’s been quite enough of that already.

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What’s Coming in Internet Advertising: 12 Predictions for 2012

I did my annual predictions first on my Forbes blog, The New Persuaders, since they’re focused largely on the Internet media and advertising I cover there. On that blog, they’re done as separate posts, but I wanted to gather them up in one place here, as I’ve done in previous years. So here’s what I think will happen (or in some cases, not happen) this year in my corner of the technology and startup world:

Facebook goes public, but won’t start an IPO landslide: Facebook will make the signature stock offering of the decade, one that reportedly will value the social network at up to $100 billion. But it won’t launch a thousand IPOs as a gazillion venture capitalists and angel investors hope.

Of course, the first part of that prediction is a gimme. But I can’t go without mentioning it because the Facebook IPO will be one of the biggest stories of 2012. Assuming Goldman Sachs or Morgan Stanley don’t stumble in pricing and selling the offering, Facebook’s IPO will be every bit as important as Google’s in 2004. It will be a sign that Facebook is a real, sustainable company (if there was any doubt left by now), but also a sign that social networking is getting woven into the fabric of our entire online experience.

The second part of the prediction depends less on how the Facebook IPO goes than on how (or whether) the economy recovers. If the recover remains slow to nonexistent and the stock market reflects that, IPOs will be sparse. If we get the slow but growing economic improvement we seem to be seeing now, more companies will go public but not a gusher. But the point is that Facebook is such a singular success that it’s not going to set the tone for lesser (often far lesser) Internet companies.

Facebook’s ad business booms–but not at Google’s expense: Facebook’s social advertising looks promising, but won’t come close to challenging Google’s huge success in search ads this year–maybe ever.

Obviously, Facebook is having no problem raking in the bucks from advertisers eager to reach its 800 million-plus audience–or more specifically, the millions of people in whatever target markets they choose. EMarketer reckons the company will gross nearly $6 billion in ad revenues this year, up from $4 billion in 2011. And that’s before we know anything about Facebook’s likely plans for mobile ads or an ad network a la Google’s AdSense that would spread its ads around the Web.

From reading a lot of articlesyou’d think Facebook is stealing all that money directly from Google. That’s not mainly the case, given Google’s own considerable growth in display advertising, though Facebook’s success may well blunt that growth in the future. Instead, Facebook currently is eating Yahoo’s and AOL’s lunches, and those of many ad networks that, until Facebook ramped up its ad business, were the main alternative for advertisers looking to target sizable audiences.

What would make Facebook a huge Google-scale company is the theft of an entirely different meal: television advertising. After all, Facebook shows much more promise as a brand advertising medium than a direct-marketing medium like Google. It needs only to draw a small fraction of the $60 billion or so spent on television advertising, the biggest brand medium, to be enormously successful. But even then, it’s not mainly a Facebook vs. Google contest.

Facebook still needs to answer a big question, however. That’s whether its “social ads,” which incorporate people’s friends in ads in a 21st century version of word-of-mouth marketing, will have nearly the effectiveness in driving attention and ultimately sales as search ads, which appear in direct response to related queries, often involving products people are looking to buy. The potential is intriguing, and there are some nice examples of how well social advertising can work.

But despite Facebook’s considerable work in providing new kinds of metrics on marketing and advertising impact on its users, marketers and agencies aren’t yet universally convinced they need to spend a lot of money on Facebook ads. After all, they can get a lot of mileage out of their free Facebook Pages and Like buttons around the Web. (Not to mention, it remains to be seen whether these ultra-personal ads will cross what blogger Robert Scoble calls the Facebook freaky line.)

Bottom line: If Facebook is to be the Google of the this decade, its advertising has to at least approach the engagement of search ads, especially as Google itself moves to become more of a brand advertising platform with YouTube and continues its push into display ads. While Facebook is building what seems likely to become a great business on anew vision of advertising that could change many decades of tradition,2012 won’t be the year it closes that deal.

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