How do you get absolute control? That quest for world domination has been around for a couple of millennia. There are ways: become a dictator, a Kaiser, a God, Charlie Sheen, President of the United States or start a religion.
But there are other ways. 5 big companies are silently plotting their ways to world domination. They hide in the open, their battle so obvious that it stays hidden. Bruce Sterling, Sci-Fi writer, Visionary in residence and Transglobal Futurist exposed them already at his #SxSW2012 closing keynote:
“There is a new phenomenon that I like to call the Stacks; vertically integrated social media. And we’ve got five of them — Google, Facebook, Amazon, Apple and Microsoft. The future of the stacks is basically to take over the internet and render it irrelevant. They’re not hostile to the internet — they’re just looking after their own situation. And they all think they’ll be the one Stack… and render the others irrelevant. And they’ll all be rendered irrelevant. That’s the future of the Stacks.
People like the Stacks, because the internet is scary now — so what’s the problem there? None of them offer any prosperity or security to their human participants, except for their shareholders. The internet has users. Stack people are livestock — ignorant of what’s going on, and moving from one stack to another. The Stacks really, really want to know you’re a dog.
They’re annihilating other media… The Lords of the Stacks. And they’re not bad guys — I’d be happy to buy them a beer. But really, a free people would not be so dependent on a Napoleonic mobile people. What if Mark Zuckerberg trips over a skateboard?
This structure won’t last very long… But you’re really core people for them and their interests. You are them. I’m them. And your kids are going to ask embarrassing questions about them. And there are voices here and there complaining about them, [like] Jonathan Franzen. He says Twitter is destroying literature. And he’s right. So don’t make fun of him. He’s telling the truth.”
What does it take?
Bruce has his way with words, and is passionate beyond suspicion. But is he right? Are Google, Facebook, Amazon, Apple and Microsoft silently taking over our lives? What would it take, to achieve Social World Domination?
1. Knowing where you are
Have you noticed it? That small side remark during Apples latest event? “We have our own maps now!”. So, maps are important. Knowing where you are, where you go, and how you get there gives the Stacks priceless information. That is why Google is happily mapping the whole planet, why Facebook is desperately trying to make its Places work (killing Gowalla as an afterthought). Apple just got its hands on the trusty Tele Atlas digital maps through its deal with TomTom. Microsoft nicely obtained direct access to the maps of Tele Atlas’s direct competitor Navteq, currently owned by… Nokia.
2. Owning your hardware
So Microsoft got a lot more out of the Nokia deal than meets the eye. They have access to maps. But also, they secured an option on a vital world domination component: hardware. After decades of software-only, Microsoft is desperately trying to get a bridgehead in hardware land. Through Nokia and HTC they aim for the smartphone, with the Surface they bring their technology into your living room, and their version of a tablet was announced last week.
Apple of course has a plethora of hardware devices, two of them sticking to your life as glue: the iPhone and the iPad. Google is making sweet eyes with Android, ensuring Google phones in every store. And tablets. Rumors of an upcoming Facebook phone are all around…
Amazon has a hesitating first step into the hardware through its Kindle. You might not have noticed it, but Microsoft, Apple and Google are even making it into the car…
3. Owning your operating system
The heart, core and soul of your machine: your operating system. They own it. Apple and Microsoft obviously with their OS and Windows versions. Google is quietly improving its Chrome OS.
Facebook has hired enough brainpower with Kean Wong, Christopher Tremblay, Georges Berenger, Li Fang, Robert Boyce and Zachary Landau (top-notch specialists from Palm, Apple and RIM) for an own mobile operating system and applications platform… Amazon is doing unspeakable things with its Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2) and experimented with own versions of android.
4. Owning your browser
The power lords have direct access to your online life through the browsers they own. Apple and Microsoft obviously through Safari and Explorer. Google through its Chrome browser, Amazon is working on it with Silk, and Facebook is rumored trying to buy Opera Software and its 200 million users worldwide of the Opera web browser. Controlling the browser means controlling the internet history, and the internet behavior of the user. Controlling the browser means having the most intimate communication and marketing tool to influence people directly through their preferred web tool. Priceless.
5. Owning your data, owning your search
Facebook, Youtube, Google,and Microsoft’s Bing. That is what people use to find what they are looking for: from social search, to factual search. Apple has no apparent own search engine, but is getting paid an amazing 1 billion dollar a year by Google to keep Google as the default Apple’s search.
With literally billions of user generated videos, pictures and texts hosted on their servers and platforms, and petabytes of personal data ready to be analyzed and data mined, the five power houses have more insights in consumer personality, profile, habits, spending behavior, and socio-environmental context than anyone else. The combined stock value of the Stacks is only a fraction of what this goldmine in personal data is worth to seasoned marketers.
6. Owning your cash
Amazon’s One Click Buying, Facebook’s credits, Apple’s iTunes and AppStore, Microsoft’s e-stores: the Stacks make it easy for you to spend money, or to get paid by third parties for anything you do online. Click on a sponsored link in Google generates hard cash. For Google. Not for you. Your online social life generates mountains of gold for Facebook. Apple is getting a whopping 30% on every paid application that gets downloaded from its AppStore . Amazon is getting a cut in every sale made through its notorious online long tail store.
7. Owning your life
Quietly, the five Stacks are wrapping their mighty tentacles around the online consumers, sneaking their influence at the deepest caves of personal lives, thriving on direct hard cash and precious personal data that can (and will) be cashed in. The battle for World Supremacy is fought in the shadows, but it’s fought hard and relentless by young billionaires equally at ease on a skateboard, as in a corporate jet. It’s fought by mercenaries with great corporate hair, the whitest teeth you will ever see, and a lot at stake through their stock in the stack…
Bruce Sterling was right. Again. He always is ;-).