Essays, Analyses and Meditations

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The Age of Advertising Platforms

  • A search engine and a social-networking environment are only superficially what they claim to be: they are actually advertising platforms. Google and Facebook, to name the two dominant companies in 2011, sell advertising.
  • Radio and television had also been advertising platforms (supported by advertising) from their inception.
  • A first difference, though, is that radio and television created a lot of content (like entertainment shows and news programs). Search engines and social-networking environments do not create content: we (the users) create the "show" that we watch.
  • A second difference is that radio and television stations could not sell advertising on the scale that Google and Facebook do because radio and television are not software platforms so it's more difficult to tailor adverts to every single click of your remote.
  • It is relatively easy to start an alternative radio station. The financial cost is relatively small; whereas it is very expensive to create an alternative search engine or social networking platform. Hence you cannot easily have the equivalent of a college radio in the realm of search engines.
  • We could have the equivalent of a government-funded ad-free television channel if a national government decided to fund a public search engine to compete with Google and a public social network to compete with Facebook.
  • Ontologically speaking, the likes of Google and Facebook are not the same "thing" as radio and tv stations. Those stations (as well as newspapers and magazines) still exist on the Web and will exist (some of them will charge a fee to support the production of content so that it doesn't depend only on advertising revenues).
  • Google and Facebook are something that did not exist in the world of broadcasting, and probably cannot exist outside the Internet. A better comparison would be with the tv set itself, the appliance that you use to access the space of television broadcasts: imagine if your tv set was given to you free of charge but it was used by the manufacturer to display ads in real time based on which tv programs you are watching.
  • Currently, your tv set comes ad-free: you pay for the tv set upfront. The equivalent on the Web would be to pay upfront for a search engine (one's personal "Google-set") that will simply do its job without ever displaying an ad.
  • Famous last words: "It is inconceivable that we should allow so great a possibility for service, for news, for entertainment, for education and for vital commercial purposes to be drowned in advertising chatter" (Herbert Hoover talking about the radio in 1922).