Thursday, May 4, 2017

Facebook | Lefsetz Letter

When was the last time you changed your word processor? Remember arguing over WordPerfect and WordStar? Maybe you were a fan of the Mac-only WriteNow. But now you just use Word, or some notes app, maybe something built-in, Google Docs, something that is free. The point being we saw decades of constant evolution, tumult, change, and then it all stopped. Now maybe word processors will be superseded, by collaborative tools like Slack, but you give not a thought to your word processor of choice, assuming you pay at all.

That’s another thing that’s gone by the wayside. Used to be you needed not only a word processor, but a standalone spell-checker. Then spell-checking and all the rest of the add-ons were baked into the behemoth word processing programs and the little companies disappeared. Hell, even the little mobile app companies have disappeared. Hell, software in general, the kind you buy, is a moribund field.

Change happens.

But so does consolidation.

We were so busy watching the movie, jumping from stone to stone, from Friendster to MySpace to…that we thought it would never stop. We believed this was the way of the world. The internet begat constant refinement, innovation, we were wowed on a regular basis. Then we saw no need to replace our iPad, our mobile phones lasted a lot longer, almost no one buys a desktop computer and the laptop you own, unless the company gives you a new one, provides service for the better part of a decade.

Yesterday Facebook delivered astounding numbers. But most of the talk on the street is negative. Commentators want the social network to solve the unsolvable. Decades on we still have e-mail spam, we’ve never been able to eradicate piracy, but somehow Facebook should be able to cleanse its system of all heinous activity and provide a fair and balanced look at the world.

Never gonna happen. No matter how much money Zuckerberg throws at the problem.

And before the brouhaha about Live, the advertising community was up-in-arms about metrics. If Facebook was so bad, wouldn’t you pull your spots?

But no, Facebook is the new network TV, the one of yore, before cable, when there were only three outlets, you bitched about the content, you bitched about the price, but Madison Avenue overpaid for the privilege of reaching its customers, network TV was nearly the only game in town, it blew everything else away in terms of reach and effectiveness.

But now it’s even worse. Because newspapers and magazines, those that still exist, pay fewer dividends than ever before. And other than Google, so much online advertising is pissing in the wind, you just pays Facebook and hope for the best.

No one saw this coming. No one saw the consolidation in power. No one saw this rise in power. No one saw the calcification of systems.

But that is where we are.

And one can argue this concentration of power is even more important than what’s happening in D.C. Because just like politicians learned you got elected on television, now the populace pays attention on the internet. So if you’re not Google, Amazon, Apple, Microsoft or Facebook, you’re not in the game, you’re irrelevant.

And it’s funny how the same people complaining about Facebook are lauding Apple. Is it because those running Apple are older and more experienced? Is it because Facebook is always testing the limits? Is it because you denigrate the newbie and laud the establishment?

And let’s not forget, that unlike Apple, Facebook laid down beaucoup bucks, double digit billions for the lack of income WhatsApp and the burgeoning Instagram. Credit Zuck for making good bets. For taking a risk. For knowing that you’ve always got to stay in front of your competitors online, however few those might be…

Facebook has become an institution. Like the radio chains of yore, it’s got AM and FM, the original service and Instagram. You built your life there, your friends are all there and there’s no reason to go anywhere else.

So the belief that a big, unforeseen revolution is gonna happen online? A tsunami from left field that’s gonna blow us away? Ain’t gonna happen, that’s all in the rearview mirror. The internet has been carved up and distributed.

And Facebook rules.


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