Sell a man a fish and he’ll feed his family for a day. Sell him a rod and reel and he can eat more regularly and you can become a mega-billionaire.
Apple became the highest-valued company in the world by selling the digital devices that catch, not fish, but information.
Apple’s domination of the computer, tablet, and smartphone market is bad for its less successful competitors and worse for consumers who pay prices set by, or in reaction to, Apple. If a new iPhone is $1000, a new Android might be 900, and so on down the price line.
For the billions of people around the world who are fishing for communication and information, 2 companies rule. Google and Facebook rent the metaphoric boats, have radar guidance to where the fish are, and then offer expert advice on what bait to use. Anglers who can afford those services usually catch more fish.
But right here is where the metaphor twists.
The ordinary netizens who use Google and Facebook are led to believe that they are the fisherman, using an incredible range of communication and information free services to learn more about their world.
But really, in the Google/Facebook business model, they are the fish, whose every online move provides information paying clients can use to hook them into buying a pair of fancy shoes or a package of fake news.
The two digital giants haven’t gotten rich selling footwear or “zero tolerance.”
Their money has come from selling others the best opportunity to push their products. Good products; bad products, that’s not for them platform-providers to say.
What Google and Facebook do say to their billions of users is, “Stick around. You’ll be happy you gave us your time.” Because that’s the currency of their fortunes, your time. Because every minute you’re on Facebook is an advertiser’s opportunity.
By one recent estimate, Google and Facebook already account for 85% of the global revenues from online advertising. Every year their share gets bigger and their competitors’ shrinks. So, for Facebook now, it’s not about growing market share. Growing profits will come growing the whole market by increasing consumers’ time on their platform.
Hence, Facebook’s big project for 2018, Community Boost, and outreach program to be offered in 50 American cities to get more people to spend more time on Facebook. Community Boost is built around a multi-day conference marketed as digital skills training, supplemented by Facebook partnerships with local community colleges, and a select number of scholarships to coding boot camps. Not coincidentally, a lot of the training focuses on how to use Facebook and its subsidiary Instagram. Facebook says it will train 1 million “people and small business owners across the US by 2020.”
That would make Community Boost a great boon for Facebook, but is it a win-win for the 50 communities its approaching this year?
Marie C. Baca is a staff writer for the Albuquerque Journal specializing in business and economic development. Her writing has also appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, Wall Street Journal, ProPublica, and Salon, among other publications.