Hi. I'm Rick. I write, advise, and invest.
Currently consulting at Tumblr.
Forget Instagram’s billion-dollar payday. Forget IPOs, past and future, from Facebook, Groupon, LinkedIn and the like. And ignore, please, the online ramblings of attention-hungry venture capitalists and narcissistic Silicon Valley journalists with the off-putting habit of making their inside-baseball sound like the World Series. Their stories, to paraphrase Shakespeare, are tales told by idiots, full of sound and fury, but signifying very little about the impact of technology on most of our lives.
While this is probably directed to my ilk, I take no offense. Most people, including myself, don’t particularly know what they’re talking about with this deal. And we’re all guessing on the future impact of technology.
But do feel compelled to point out to you that the Facebook-Instagram deal is significantly bigger than the World Series by every conceivable measure: economic, number of people effected, societal, cultural. The most profitable world series ever raked in about $50 million in ad revenue and attendance revenue: 1/20th the economics of this single deal. The largest viewership ever totalled 25 million: 1/40th the number of people involved this deal. Americans spend about 12 times more time per year on Facebook than they do watching even a 7 game series. Even in terms of games, Zynga makes forty times more money per year than the World Series does. Most of that is on Facebook. Though sadly they do not have a baseball game yet.
With all due respect, the World Series is child’s play compared to this deal. A poor metaphor.
In all of these cases, the medium — a blog, Twitter, the Kindle, even the Internet itself — isn’t the important thing. It’s just a way of connecting people with things that matter to them, and with other people who matter to them. That is the real power, regardless of the medium.
I don’t debate what this article says, essentially, but as an intentional play on MacLuhan’s maxim “The Medium is the Message,” it’s kind of a mess. I recently re-read Understanding Media, for the book I’m working on. There’s a new critical edition out that helps immensely in understanding Understanding Media.
If you take the message behind MacLuhan and apply it to this article, it’s actually exactly backwards. MacLuhan uses the medium of the lightbulb as an example of a medium without a message. That medium, even without a message, changed our world, by bringing us the ability to work at night. Through this reading, MacLuhan would say, absolutely, that the medium is the important thing. Blogging, as Malik points out, totally changed the news industry. That’s the important thing. Twitter totally changed the way news was collected in repressive regimes. That’s the important thing. And the kindle is changing books. As Jonathan Ames put it the other day, “these gadgets are going to change the way novels are written and conceived, and I’m against change when it comes to things I do.”
Twitter, the medium, is very much the message in blogging, along with Tumblr. They are changing the way we blog. The fact that we’re still saying something is important, but they have lowered the barrier in how to say things. They’ve made it easier. And they’ve changed the conversation in the process. They’ve encouraged a simpler type of conversation and message, which is more incluive but has had an impact on more nuanced, lengthy discourse. The’re not “just a way of connecting people with things that matter to them and with other people who matter to them.” They shape the volume and strength of those connections. They change and forge the connections themselves. They’re not dumb pipes any more than electricity was just a dumb pipe for getting lamplight into your house. MacLuhan would argue that THAT is the “real power” - the radical medium transformations and the impact we’ve had.