Google dominates search, and hence the internet, like no other company. Everything seems to be about collecting data on users and their habits then turning this into money by selling advertising. It’s a strategy that works. Android, Google Apps and everything else seems to fit somewhere in this plan.
Facebook and Google will be forced to share advertising revenue with Australian media companies after the treasurer, Josh Frydenberg, instructed the competition watchdog to develop a mandatory code of conduct for the digital giants amid a steep decline in advertising brought on by the coronavirus pandemic.
This is the same steep advertising decline that has New Zealand media companies in a tail spin. Things have been tough for nearly 20 years. Depending on which set of numbers you read, Facebook and Google take as up to 85 percent of advertising revenue.
Media extinction event
Elsewhere pundits have described the Covid-19 pandemic as the extinction trigger for traditional media. The comparison is with the meteor that wiped out most dinosaurs.
Frydenberg said it was only fair that media companies that created the content got paid for it.
“This will help to create a level playing field,” he said.
The communications minister, Paul Fletcher, said the decision was about a strong and sustainable news media ecosystem.
If we are realistic, it is too late to talk about a “strong and sustainable news media ecosystem”. Today’s game is all about survival.
Level playing field
Likewise “level playing field” is a nice idea, but we’re talking about a playing field where one side has 85 percent and the other has 15 percent.
Yet Frydenberg is correct when he says it is only fair that the tech giants should pay media companies that create content. The same goes for small publishers and individual journalists.
It’s correct to say Google doesn’t take much material from media companies. Often it isn’t much more than a headline and an opening paragraph. Although that is where most of the gold sits in a news story.
Google gives something back in the way of a link to the original story. Yet often, once a Google reader has seen the head and the opening par, the incentive to click a link has gone.
It’s more complicated with Facebook. Sometimes people cut and paste entire stories into Facebook posts. That means when someone reads the story in that timeline, Facebook gets to sell the advertisement, not the publisher. It means Facebook gets rich on someone else’s work. But then that is the Facebook business model.
The flip side of this argument is that media outlets depend on Facebook and Google to deliver links to help readers find stories. It’s a form of dependency that means relying on the parasite that is eating you to also continue feeding you.
Australia’s approach may not be the best way of tackling the problem. Yet it is good to recognise that there is a problem and to attempt to tackle it.
If recent history is any guide, the big social media firms will resist. They will spend a fortune on legal and lobbying attempts to overturn the decision. By the time that fight draws to a conclusion there will a quite different media landscape.
“Some storytellers and influencers are also migrating from personal sites toward individual channels on Medium, Blogger, Twitter, Instagram, and Youtube. But there’s a risk here — those creating and sharing unique content on these channels can lose ownership of that content. And in a world where content is king, brands need to protect their identity.”
As you might expect, Morrison is keen on changing the downward trajectory for domain name registration, but he has a valid point – why would you put the fate of your business in the hands of a platform owned by someone else? Sure, use Facebook etc to engage with your customers, but why not maintain control over your own brand? It baffles me, especially as creating a website is so much easier than it used to be.
At ITP Techblog Sarah Putt sees the issue of using Facebook or another social media site as a matter of branding.
She is right. Branding is important.
Yet the issue doesn’t stop there.
A site of your own
Not owning your own domain name, your own website, means you are not master or mistress of your online destiny. It’s that simple.
If you place your trust in the big tech companies, they can pull the rug at any moment.
This isn’t scaremongering. It has happened time and again. In many cases companies have been left high and dry. Some have gone under as a result.
The big tech companies care no more about the small businesses who piggyback off their services than you care about the individual microscopic bugs living in your gut.
Media companies learned this lesson the hard way. A decade or so ago Facebook and Google have made huge efforts to woo media companies. They promised all kinds of deals.
Many of those companies that went in boots and all are now out of business. Gone. Kaput.
Pulling the plug
Google pulled the plug on services like Wave and Google+ almost overnight after persuading media companies to sign up.
Big tech companies change their rules on a whim. Some of those whims meant cutting off the ways media companies could earn revenue.
Few media companies ever made any much money from the online giants. Those who managed to survive in a fierce and hostile landscape had nowhere to go when the services eventually closed. Many sank without a trace.
Sure, you may have heard stories about people who have made money from having an online business presence on one of the tech giants’ sites. You may also have heard stories about people winning big lottery prizes. The odds are about the same.
Yes, it can be cheap, even free in some cases, to hang out your shingle on Facebook or Google. But it is never really your shingle. It’s theirs.
The case for your own domain name
On the flip side, starting your own web site is not expensive. You can buy a domain name and have a simple presence for the price of a good lunch.
It doesn’t have to be hard work. You don’t need something fancy. And let’s face it, most Facebook companies pages are nothing to write home about either.
Use WordPress. It is not expensive. There’s plenty of help around to get you started.
The important thing is the site is entirely your property.
I often hear one argument in favour of working with Facebook. It goes somewhere along the lines of ‘fishing where the fish swim’. It’s true, your customers probably are on Facebook. There’s nothing to stop you from going there to engage with with them… just make sure you direct them to your independent web site.
This meant Google suspended its business with Huawei. That was a blow for the Chinese phone maker, Huawei phones run on Google’s Android software.
The ban goes beyond Android. It means Huawei phones can’t use the Play app store. Nor can they use Google Maps, Gmail or the official Search app. Google Mobile Services features are central to the Android phone experience.
Huawei makes some of the best Android phones. It has a huge market share, now second only to Samsung. Yet the company sells little in the US.
With Huawei phones unable to ship with Google apps installed, sales have fallen outside China.
Otherwise, Huawei appears to be in good shape. In October it announced revenues were up 24 percent on the previous year. The company signed 60 contracts to build 5G networks last year.
Huawei could sit out the ban. Many think it is as much about US trade protectionism as anything to do with security.
Subscribers to this school of thought believe the US could lift the Huawei ban as part of trade negotiations.
While that is plausible, Huawei never wants to be in this position again. It cannot afford to be dependent on Google when the US could turn off the tap again at any moment.
Huawei has offered Chinese customers a non-Google version of its phones for years. It isn’t a problem there. It is more of an issue in places like New Zealand, Australia and Europe where people rely on Google services.
To get around the ban, Huawei is replacing Google Mobile Services with its own services. It aims to spend US$ 3 billion this year getting developers to improve Huawei Mobile Services. It has set aside another billion to market those services.
Harmony in my head
Huawei is also developing its own Harmony OS. It scheduled release for early this year. Now Huawei says it is running late and could take years to emerge.
The acid test for Huawei’s post-Google life is the P40 phone launch. It will have no Google services. Huawei expects to lose some market share.
Joining Huawei are Oppo, Vivo and Xiaomi. For now, the other Chinese phone makers are not locked out of Google. Yet the move amounts to admission they fear the ban could extend to them.
Between them, the four account for 40 percent of handsets sold worldwide. Yet for now they restrict their project to nine regions including India, Indonesia, Malaysia and Russia.
It is still early days. Yet it seems the US ban on Huawei is speeding up Chinese tech companies becoming independent of US ones. They already buy less American hardware, software and services. Google and Android remain strong, but one outcome of the ban is to undermine the near monopoly.
“Anyone saying that Android apps on ChromeOS are a good experience is delusional.”
In Chrome OS has stalled out, Dave Ruddock says Google’s Chrome OS has failed to live up to its potential. Ruddock is a Chrome user who says he does 95 percent of his work using the operating system.
When Chrome OS first appeared it looked like the future. Or at least one version of a potential future.
It’s a great idea on paper.
Take a minimal specification computer. One that costs almost nothing to make and almost everyone can afford. Give it just enough hardware to connect to the net and handle a web browser.
Then let efficient remote cloud systems do all the heavy lifting. After all, that’s what most people now do most of the time anyway. Few MacBooks or Surface Books are not web-connected.
ChromeOS users mainly connect to free services. That’s a problem because in the online world free can be a high price to pay.
Large companies don’t give services away out of the goodness of their hearts. They want to advertise their client’s products or manipulate you into voting a certain way. And we all know that works. It’s an aspect of surveillance capitalism.
This gets worse.
ChromeOS uses Android apps to plug functionality or entertainment gaps. The experience is bad.
Android apps can be cheap and nasty at the best of times. They collect far too much user data. Many Android apps live at the seamy end of surveillance capitalism.
Ask yourself why you need to give someone your home address to write a document or your first pet’s name1 in order to put an interesting filter on your uploaded pictures.
If that wasn’t bad enough, the Android app on ChromeOS experience is dismal. I can’t bear to use it.
Many apps were clearly written for phones and make little or no allowance for larger screens and keyboards. They are buggy as anything and many are a security nightmare2.
There’s something else bad about Chrome. We live in a world where technology iterates towards a kind of nirvana. Each successive line of Windows or MacOS computers is a step up on what went before. Each new generation of mobile phone has a better camera, faster processor, is packed with more oomph.
This applies even when there are two-steps forward, one step back messes like the butterfly keyboards in recent Apple laptops.
As Ruddock points out, the problem with Chrome, the OS and Chromebooks, the computers do not appear to be moving in any direction.
ChromeOS going nowhere
Chromebooks are not as clunky as they were, some are nice to use. But it isn’t going anywhere. The Chrome experience has barely changed over the years. There’s little prospect of it changing in the near future.
Sure this might not matter to school students who need a fast, low-cost route to the web. It matters to almost everyone else.
Ruddock says there are aspects of Chrome life that amount to computing barbarism. He is being generous.
Sure, a MacBook or a Surface Book might cost getting on for ten times the price of a Chromebook. But the experience is on another plane. You can do so much more. It’s a struggle doing everyday work on a Chromebook, it’s a challenge being creative.
Maybe not literally. But they often ask for information they have no right collecting ↩︎
Although I doubt the average Chromebook users cares much for security or privacy ↩︎