Welcome To The Centralised Web

Digital Strategy12 Comments

The number of industry stats that get published every week is truly remarkable, but two in particular released in the last few weeks really made me sit up and take notice:

  • Smartphone and tablet sales are continuing to grow as PC sales decline [1]
  • Google and Facebook account for over 70% of mobile advertising revenue [2]

As a long-time citizen of the web, I fell in love with the Internet precisely because unlike the traditional media that it would go on to fundamentally disrupt, it grew from the premise that it is open and decentralised. Anyone could access the network and establish a presence.

It struck me then, that those two stats – particularly when taken together – are a clear signal that things are not like what they once were. While the web is still vast, expansive and continuing to grow, for many users their entire online experience revolves around just two web properties: Facebook and Google.

Facebook users check the smartphone app an average of 14 times a day, while Google handles over 4 billion search queries a day. Not being on Facebook can be seen as either a badge of honour, or being horribly out of the loop (but mostly the latter). I’ve long contended that as we continue to share more and more of our digital selves on Facebook, the gravitational pull of Zuckberg’s network will grow exponentially making it increasingly harder to leave. While in the case of Google, we have simply outsourced our memory while simultaneously gaining access to the entirety of our digitised knowledge.

Add to this the impending demise of Google Reader (and by extension RSS which gave us the ability to consume what we want, where we wanted), the pervasiveness of Android devices (750 million and counting) and the recent launch of Facebook Home, there will soon be no escaping either of these two online behemoths anytime you’re connected – which is already close to ‘always’, especially with Google Glass on the way.

Why the aforementioned mobile ad spend is important is that where the dollars are spent is where innovation and content will follow. Publishers and developers who still primarily look to ad-supported as their monetisation strategy will by default seek to develop closer and closer ties with the networks that control the ad dollars.

The unavoidable truth is that in a post-PC world, Facebook and Google will command our attention more than ever. When two companies have effectively become our gateway to the rest of the Internet, we run the serious risk as marketers of turning it into something bland and derivative as we rinse, recycle and repeat ideas we’ve seen work elsewhere in order to get a higher search rankings, likes, +1’s or shares.

Let’s hope we don’t.




Comments are open

Morgan Martin-Skerm

Agreed. The very essence of the web is in the open-ness of it and always has been the powerful driving factor in innovation and competition. Particularly worrying is the battle to garner “messaging” in the form of email, dm, message etc. Just think about how many phone numbers or email addresses you know by rote? Easier to just Facebook message right? A tremendous amount of centralised control and we’re simply along for the ride.

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Wow, 14 times a day checking FB on the phone? I’ll be interested to see how Facebook changes and how it’s used by people. I’ve gone off it a bit in the last year or so and am very conscious of what information I share because who knows where it might end up. And I’m a person who shares a lot via other platforms. There’s aspects to the mobile app I really dislike at the moment, like it trying to push other apps onto me in my newsfeed. That really annoys me. And further to Morgan’s comment above, a Facebook message won’t suffice because not everyone’s on it, so I find I still need to send emails or, *gasp*, call people.

Google on the other hand. Apart from getting rid of Google Reader (bad decision), there’s no escape and they provide some very useful tools. Although I try not to think about how much they’ve information they’ve got stored about us. Scary.

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Meg Drechsler

Great article Mal, thanks! It’s such an interesting time in our online evolution. There may be two dominant players developing, but that’s against the background of what is still a new way to communicate for monkeys whose evolved behaviours are adapted for face-to-face communication. We human beings are still sorting out the social rules and norms around privacy, sharing, etiquette in this very new space. The risk to such a big duopoly is that they will become somewhat set in their ways and fail to evolve as social norms continue to develop around virtual communication. That will leave the way open for other new players to re-interpret the space. (it happened before. remember alta vista? newsgroups?) People will always seek the path of least hassle…facebook and google have made establishing a presence and finding others online possible and simple for the mainstream population. I think Facebook is already showing cracks, yes ‘conent intertia’ may exert a big gravitational pull. A matter of time before someone works out a way around that barrier.

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