Far be it of me to downplay the impact of activists on the Facebook ToS issue but it raises interesting questions about why some companies get pilloried while others seemingly get a free pass.
There is no need for me to rehash the story as Techmeme is all over it, along with others in the echo chamber. I do have a warm regard for the work my friend Anne Petteroe put in that has seen her Facebook group explode to more than 75,000 members as of the time of writing and is STILL growing despite the fact consumer victory has been declared.
No doubt Anne will now become a feted social media rock star although I think we should all remember that results of this kind are the cumulative effect of many factors. In any event, I'm first in line to act as Anne's business manager and all for a modest 10% of engagement fees instead of the usual 15-20%. I eat my own maintenance story dogfood. In post update: Anne wants to negotiate: cue Vinnie. But I digress.
We can safely say that Facebook has now been consigned to the trash can of businesses we all love to hate and will pillory at the first opportunity. Somewhat tongue in cheek, Gartner is already fictionalizing Facebook's future. Others spring to mind like our friends up in Redmond aka Microsoft. Goodness knows how much virtiol that company has had to swallow over the years. Let's not forget our German friends from Walldorf, SAP. I put my hand up straight away as one who's quick to offer an 'alternative' opinion to that of the lawyered up PR driven 'stuff' SAP's execs are prone to trot out. Oracle doesn't escape either though it is something of an elusive target these days. We'll have to remedy that.
Then we have Google and Apple. These two companies seem oblivious to the criticism that comes their way. The general volume of critique is way below the ear splitting decibels washing over the interwebs about Facebook in the last couple of days.
From time to time, someone will write an 'Is Google evil?' style of article or blog post but they rarely get much traction and in any event, Google has plenty of apologists. That despite the fact Google routinely tells invited bloggers that their very existence inside the Googleplex is covered by NDA. I've had my own gripes at Google and advise prospective GAPE users to read the ToS very carefully before signing up. It has not gone un-noticed that Google has quietly established a lobbying office in Washington. Every now and then you'll see photos of Google CEO Eric Schmidt in pole position next to Obama at some event or other. You can't beat having your hand up a political leader's...oh never mind. Do no evil? Are you kidding me?
Rachel Happe, super bright social computing maven and I were noodling around this topic today. She made the valid point that it would be really cool if media companies all turned off their Google spiders simultaneously. Google survives on content and media provides a lot of that fodder. Cutting off the food supply would send the strongest message possible to Google that media is no longer prepared to be gutted in the name of unpaid use of content as a prop to support Google's advertising model. To rephrase one of Rachel's more salty messages: "That would tell Google to take their hands off media's genitals."
And then we come to Apple. I'm a self confessed Mac Bigot of the kind who must make Steve Jobs smile. What better than a convert from Wintel and that after 24 years? You just know I'm never going back. Even so, when I see some of Apple's egregious and arguably anti-competitive practices, especially around the iPhone, I have to question why I have developed a seemingly undying love for all things Apple. Check this from our sister title CNet asserting:
With little clarity on what constitutes "duplicate functionality", Apple rejected the iPhone podcast client Podcaster on the grounds that "since Podcaster assists in the distribution of podcasts, it duplicates the functionality of the Podcast section of iTunes".
No one should expect Apple to include competitive applications in it's walled garden. That would be the equivalent to Salesforce.com putting other CRM apps on the AppExchange. It's bad business for them. And it's just not realistic.
Nonetheless, this calls into question just how you can have a "platform" when the platfrom vendor arbitrarily decides to eliminate competition. The company shouldn't encourage developers to embrace the iPhone as a way to make money without clear ground rules on how to interact with the company.
The article received plenty of comment in support such as this:
The only power Apple has is the power that we the consumer give to them in the form of our dollars! Remember that the next time you buy something! Shop around, there's better products out there! Stop the abuse!
But is that we do? Is it heck. While in London at the back end of last year, I recall the Apple store was heaving with people. It always seems that way. I had no compelling reason to shop there but Apple still managed to relieve me of around $100. More to the point, Google and Apple have hit on a formula I cannot quite identify that seems to have made us into the IT equivalent of crack heads. That's screwy at best. How can we continue to support companies that walk all over our perceived rights? Yet that's exactly what many of us do at both personal and corporate levels. It's a dangerous road to walk.
I'm a social psychologist by education but I can't come up with a rational explanation as to why we behave in this way. If anyone can offer something that makes sense then I'm all ears.