Opinion

Paul Smalera

from MediaFile:

Instagram’s Facebook filter

May 11, 2012 20:28 UTC

The startup had millions of users, but, from the beginning, just one customer.

The predominant way of interpreting Facebook’s billion-dollar purchase of Instagram, in light of the social-networking giant's forthcoming IPO, is that Mark Zuckerberg had to pick up the photo-sharing app to boost his company’s mobile engagement. That would allow him to guard the mobile flank against incursions from Google, Twitter, and whatever other social-media tools might next arise.

That may be true – and it may even be the way Zuck thought about the deal when he swallowed hard and ponied up the purchase price. But that way of analyzing Facebook’s pickup, and the pickup of dozens of other startups, not just by Facebook but by Google, Twitter, LinkedIn and others, is probably not telling the whole story. Here’s a different theory, one that better describes the tech world that we, the users of the Internet, now inhabit: Instagram may have had millions of us as its users, but it was really built for just one customer: Facebook.

Silicon Valley, for too long, has confused the issue of what it means to be a user of a website, service or app, and what it means to be a customer of the app. Intuitively, you’d think they would be one and the same: The person using the app is the person consuming the app. But increasingly, apps are being made to grab the attention of the hegemonic companies in tech. Whatever it takes to get bought.

Sure, startup CEOs are careful to refer to their user bases as just that – users – but even when money changes hands, those users are cattle to be herded toward a cell on a venture capitalist’s spreadsheet, to help the VC decide whether to fund another pivot, engineering acquisition, rack of servers, whatever. Users are just another dart, basically, that startups have to hurl at the bull's-eye and ensure success.

A colleague of mine tells a story: You can tell when a tractor was made to be purchased by a farmer, and you can tell when a tractor was made to be purchased by a corporation to be used by its employees. Tractors whose users are also the customers come equipped with every convenience, from a satellite radio to Wi-Fi to all the cupholders a farmer could dream of. They drive well, and their controls are intuitive, because that’s what the average tractor driver wants, and what the tractor competition provides. Tractors bought by companies, for earthmoving, rock breaking and the like, come equipped with nothing but a hard seat and a prayer. Employees – mere users – don’t get any say on the amenities, or lack thereof.

The piracy of online privacy

Feb 10, 2012 18:28 UTC

Online privacy doesn’t exist. It was lost years ago. And not only was it taken, we’ve all already gotten used to it. Loss of privacy is a fundamental tradeoff at the very core of social networking. Our privacy has been taken in service of the social tools we so crave and suddenly cannot live without. If not for the piracy of privacy, Facebook wouldn’t exist. Nor would Twitter. Nor even would Gmail, Foursquare, Groupon, Zynga, etc.

And yet people keep fretting about losing what’s already gone. This week, like most others of the past decade, has brought fresh new outrages for privacy advocates. Google, which a few weeks ago changed its privacy policy to allow the company to share your personal data across as many as 60 of its products, was again castigated this week for the changes. Except this time, the shouts came in the form of a lawsuit. The Electronic Privacy Information Center sued the FTC to compel it to block Google’s changes, saying they violated a privacy agreement Google signed less than a year ago.

Elsewhere, social photography app Path was caught storing users’ entire iPhone address books on their servers and have issued a red-faced apology. (The lesser-known app Hipster committed the same sin and also offered a mea culpa.) And Facebook’s IPO has brought fresh concerns that Mark Zuckerberg will find creative new ways to leverage user data into ever more desirable revenue-generating products.

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