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February 28, 2010

Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, Apple: Corporate twisty-turny things of value

The murky diktats of the market have seen the four titans of technological social interaction resolve their coagulated visions of common sense into a battlefield. It is here that coalition leaders and party magnates pounce on minimalist twists of innovation that only serve to seep down into messy duplication. But, according to Lord Melchett, or perhaps Rorty, one day this could have genuine social utility.

Let’s  take a look at recent events in the corporate world of the internet, mobile phones and social media; what I refer it to as corporate twisty-turny things of value. For a start, Google and Microsoft. This time it’s not the Chinese government but the unruly Microsoft that is being accused by the mighty Google of being the “invisible hand” behind the European Commission’s (EC) preliminary anti-trust inquiry into its practices. The US Justice Department and European regulators declared, much to Google’s irritation, that Microsoft’s partnership with Yahoo was fine by them.

Hence, Microsoft Deputy General Counsel Dave Heiner opined on the case: “This is the way that competition law agencies function: They look to competitors [and] the practices of dominant firms and the competitive significance of those practices … Ultimately what’s important is not … whether or not the challenged practices are anti-competitive.” The last bit he surely didn’t mean, did he, when he went on to admit that Microsoft had told the EC that Google’s behaviour “may be harming publishers, advertisers and competition in search and online advertising”, which although may not be “challenged” as anti-competitive practices, were most certainly declared to be so.

Yahoo must be mightily relieved, as it views this partnership as going a long way in its bid to cutting costs and raising its operating margin to 20% within two years from now. So, mysteriously, back in its silicon ranch and in tandem with the Commission’s findings, Microsoft is funding Yahoo’s internet search service as part of this “newly-formed partnership”, with the company commenting that Microsoft is to “reimburse us for the costs of running our algorithmic and paid search services,” with reimbursements in addition to the $150 million the company has already agreed to pay to help fund Yahoo’s transition under the partnership.

So, not only does Google have ongoing issues with the Chinese government and the Microsoft-Yahoo partnership, Yahoo has now entered into an agreement with Twitter. Only six months ago, Carol  Bartz, the president and CEO of Yahoo, announced: “We have never been a search company”, which at the time sounded decidedly bizarre as its core business was search. However, as competition in the search and mobile markets ratchets up, Yahoo has now entered into another bout of in-fighting, this time in the social media ring, which will allow tweets to be directly accessed within all Yahoo-related sites. It also comes at a time when the company announced a similar deal with Facebook, who don’t really do search either.

Not to be out-routed by these acts of corporate treachery, Google launched Android, an iPhone lookalike in direct competition with Apple, with its own services, of course. So that’s three of them ganging up on Google now. Further, Google has launched its own Twitter-based service, dubbed Google Buzz, which essentially copied most of Twitter’s social networking features in the hope it will tweet a verb into a buzz.

Twitter, of course, is far more buzzier, and Yahoo has said its search engine results will display tweets in real time with a marginally different approach to its results, announcing that there will be two tweets and displayed alongside related YouTube links. It is here that we can clearly see the culmination of corporate innovation at its zenith of awakening.

It certainly seems congested in those unscaled heights, with so many similar services being placed on competing platforms. Where, for self-reference, I concluded, could I find an rational description of this unromantic pragmatism? I liked Lord Melchett’s quip in the BBC’s Black Adder series, which was abstractly and drunkenly delivered as: “You twist and turn like a … twisty-turny thing”. That helps. A bit.

But if anyone finds no cogent correlation between Lord Melchett and the corporate labyrinthine muddle above, then good. If so, try Rorty. His vision was of an anti-representationlist transformation of common sense, where no real attempt whatsoever should be made to name any concrete instruments that could serve as the means for the realisation of it. Instead, he merely hoped for a lucky turn of history which could one day lead to idiosyncratic mutations that, once in a while, seep down into common sense. This is the realm in which the spin-offs of twisty-turny things hope to turn into genuine social utility.

Let’s hope he’s right, but I doubt it.

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John Sylvester is media director of V9 Design & Build (http://www.v9designbuild.com) and an expert in search engine optimization and web marketing strategies, and all this really doesn’t help his cause.

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