Will today’s tech giants reach a century? It’s all in the quality of the product | John Naughton

A question: what is the average lifespan of an american company? Not just any old company, but one big enough to make it onto the Standard and Poor’s Big 500 Index. The answer is surprising: the seven-year moving average is 19.9 years. In 1965 it was 32 years and projections indicate that the downward trend will continue.

Remember that we are talking about averages here. The trend does not mean that no currently existing company will reach its first century. Some almost certainly will, as some have in the past: AT&T, for example, is 137; General Electric is 130; Ford is 119; IBM is 111 years old; and General Motors is 106. But most companies wither or are swallowed up long before they qualify for a Telegram from the President.

With that thought in mind, let’s take a look at the giant tech corporations that are now straddling the world and impressing our lawmakers. Apple is 46 years old; Amazon is 28 years old; Microsoft is 47 years old; Google is 24 years old; Meta (born Facebook) is only 18 years old.

Which of these, if any, is most likely to make triple digits? The answer depends on two things: which provide the goods or services the world really needs and which are most vulnerable to changes in public opinion and political attitudes towards their business and business models.

Seen through this lens, Microsoft and Amazon look like safe bets. In the Western world at least, every major organization – public or private – runs on Microsoft software and operating systems. (In the NHS alone, there are probably more than a million PCs and laptops running Windows.) For its part, Amazon has already established itself as part of the logistics infrastructure of Western companies. And between them, cloud computing services from Amazon and Microsoft host a growing number of mission-critical services.

Apple has become the most valuable company in the world by making beautiful kits, whipping them up with high margins, creating a closed hardware-software ecosystem, and leveraging it to create an increasingly profitable services business. It’s not a race certainty to hit 100, but it’s worth it.

Which leaves us with Google and Facebook. Both have the same business model – using close monitoring of their users to facilitate targeted advertising. Of the two, Google seems safer, because at the heart of its business is the dominance of something every internet user needs: a powerful search engine. In a sense, the company has built a prosthetic memory for the planet and while other search engines are available, none have been up to challenging it for dominance. The world would miss Google if it didn’t exist.

Is it the same for Meta/Facebook? Its business model is basically the same as Google’s – facilitating targeted advertising using the kind of close monitoring the search engine giant originally pioneered. In addition to Facebook, Meta owns Instagram and WhatsApp, with a contingent rat’s nest of challenges, caused by toxic user-generated content, that it seems unable to handle effectively. In what’s billed as a bold strategic gamble (but looks awfully like an attempt to get out of the resulting stench), the company boss has bet the company ranch on building a ‘metaverse’. “.

If he thought that with this single leap he would be free, however, he was wrong. Instagram was originally a playground for the legions of young people fleeing Facebook and for a time worked well in that role. But then came TikTok, a Chinese-owned platform for people to upload funky short videos, which proved irresistible to these youngsters and drove Meta executives crazy.

Their first response was to create a copycat product called Reels to allow Instagram users to create TikTok-like videos. Strangely, it didn’t work. Or rather, he has worked – but perversely. It turns out that a significant proportion of Instagram reels actually come from TikTok videos! If imitation is, as the saying goes, the sincerest form of flattery, TikTok executives are no doubt delighted.

But, as an internal company report that was leaked to the the wall street journal reveals, Meta bosses are anything but. Instagram users, it turns out, spend 17.6 million hours a day watching Reels, less than a tenth of the 197.8 million hours TikTok users spend on that platform every day. form.

It’s strange to see a huge company flailing around ineffectually like an elephant tormented by a wasp, but that’s what happens at Meta. Plus, the metaverse project is burning through cash like it’s out of fashion, which may be why the company is hiring 30% fewer engineers than it originally did. scheduled for this year. A survey conducted by the Hustle The newsletter revealed that the number of open augmented reality (AR) job openings shows that Apple now has more vacancies than Meta in this critical area.

Above all of this, however, is the realization that if liberal democracies are to survive, they will eventually realize that surveillance capitalism is such a danger to democracy that it will have to be outlawed. If that happens, then the odds that Meta (and possibly Google too) will be here in 2122 are, well, extremely low. So the glory and all that.

what i read

Antisocial Media
What the social truth flop says about Trump is a beautiful Policy Jack Shafer’s column on Trump’s attempt to create his own Twitter.

words have eyes
What does GPT-3 “know” about me? is an interesting article by Melissa Heikkilä about what she discovered when she started asking an AI about herself.

Lost connections
The Chaos Machine is a helpful review by Tamsin Shaw of Max Fisher’s new book about how social media has rewired our minds.

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