Here's the thing we are discovering about the Internet:
It is a winner take all environment.
That is, by design it tends not to lead to competition, but rather to monopoly.
What do I mean by that?
Walk down the street and take a look at all the different stores that compete with one another in the bricks and mortar world. There may be Macys and Gimbels (are they still in business), but there is also Bloomingdales and H&M and Nordstroms and a dozen other options. In the world of fast food, but to take one example, there is McDonalds but there is also Burger King or KFC or Wendys or In and Out or whatever.
In every commercial endeavour there are almost limitless choices.
Until you go online.
Then, increasingly, there are fewer and fewer choices.
Gucci may be the competitor to Prada which may be the competitor to Hermes, but who is the competitor to Facebook?
I don't think so.
Are there other options besides Facebook? Other companies that offer the same thing?
I don't think so.
Who is the competitor to Amazon?
They don't exist. And if they do exist, they are soon going to die.
The Internet does not like competitors.
It does not support them.
Because it is a level playing field, unlike any playing field that has ever existed before, there is no competitors edge to real estate, for example. There is no advantage to having your store on the ground floor or on Fifth Avenue. There are no avenues. It is there all the time.
And, once a social media company starts to take off, there is no physical limit as to how fast or big can scale.
If The New York Times wants to publish another 100,000 copies and try and get readership in Chicago, it costs money to print the papers and to physically transport them to Chicago, so there was a countervailing force to competition. But in the world of the web, you are all over the world, all the time, and for free.
The web takes away the natural disincentives to limitless expansion.
So, when you have a winner, like Amazon or Facebook - it is REALLY a winner. It can own the planet.
Which it seems to.
Do you think anyone could now launch a viable competitor to Facebook or Amazon?
It's possible, but somehow I doubt it.
Winner take all.
Is this healthy for society in the long run?
I doubt it. We generally like the idea of competition.
But the web tends to militate against competition, ironically.
It tends to favor monopoly, by its very architecture.
When it comes to the world of journalism, it seems increasingly likely that this monopoly on distribution is going to have a vast influence on what we read, see and ultimately think.
As a platform for the distribution of ideas, you can't beat Facebook. It is already in 1.2 billion homes, and growing.
In a recent piece in The Columbia Journalism Review, Emily Bell writes
SOMETHING REALLY DRAMATIC is happening to our media landscape, the public sphere, and our journalism industry, almost without us noticing and certainly without the level of public examination and debate it deserves. Our news ecosystem has changed more dramatically in the past five years than perhaps at any time in the past five hundred.
Today, most Americans are on Facebook, and fully 40% of Americans consider Facebook a source of news.
I certainly do.
I find myself rolling through my 'newsfeed' on Facebook to see what articles catch my eye.
It's more than a social network (whatever that means), it's increasinlgy becoming a distributive platform. It's a way to distribute content to more than one billion people.
And, it would seem, we are just at the very beginning of what Facebook might become and what this centralization of distribution might mean - certainly for journalism but also for a good deal more.
With Facebook, it is now possible to feed content directly - and not just print, but video as well. And why not?
Will Facebook become the mediator of video? Of television news? Of entertainment?
But it certainly seems possible.
As Amazon continues to eat up retail, will Facebook begin to eat up content?
The thing about technology is, once unleashed it takes on a life of its own, and as we are married to technology, we have no choice but to follow its lead.
What does that mean for us, as content creators?
We have to look at where our content is going to be published, and more significantly, how we can be paid for it.
As Emily Bell says
We are seeing huge leaps in technical capability—virtual reality, live video, artificially intelligent news bots, instant messaging, and chat apps. We are seeing massive changes in control, and finance, putting the future of our publishing ecosystem into the hands of a few, who now control the destiny of many.