As Silicon Valley Infighting Gets Ever Nastier, Let's Be Careful Out There
Last week, BoomTown was in Washington, D.C., my old stomping grounds for 15 years, from attending Georgetown University as an undergraduate to covering the beginnings of the Internet at the Washington Post.
I miss a lot of things about living there, but most definitely not the poisonous political partisanship that you get sucked into from the minute you arrive.
Most recently, for example, it was ugly battles over financial reform, some tough remarks by President Barack Obama toward the GOP and–I swear–the “controversy” over some airbrushing of House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi on a magazine cover.
In other words, it does not take much for the denizens there to descend into the mud-slinging swamp the city was built on.
But it’s almost a relief to be in D.C. rather than in California, given how increasingly hostile the atmosphere is getting as a range of companies wrestle over a range of issues both key and trivial.
The hostilities especially center on the three main powers of Silicon Valley today: Google (GOOG), Apple (AAPL) and Facebook.
And, specifically, the conflicts include Apple versus Google and Adobe (ADBE) and HTC and the First Amendment; Google versus Apple and Facebook and Microsoft (MSFT) and the Federal Trade Commission and–oh, yes–China; and Facebook versus Google and Twitter and anyone who gets in the way of its Manifest Destiny of Like-buttoning the Web.
Even Yahoo (YHOO) is entering the fray, with CEO Carol Bartz taking please-don’t-forget-us shots at Google and Facebook recently.
The Apple shooting match with Adobe over its Flash video technology is perhaps the most riveting, especially because it is the computer giant’s CEO, Steve Jobs, personally and relentlessly conducting the assault.
While issues around the use of Flash are a lot more complex, of course, they illustrate just how much the digital sector is at a critical inflection point.
That’s especially true as the game moves from the laptop/desktop, Web-centric world to one more social, mobile and focused on innovative new devices, such as smartphones and tablets.
This means the potential for a shift in power, obviously–which, in turn, means more wrangling among and between the digital powers-that-be.
It’s the top of mind as the next D: All Things Digital conference approaches in less than a month. In our eighth foray out, there have never been more overt power struggles among the various players who will be onstage.
Last year, in our opening essay for D7, titled “Welcome to Web 3.0,” we made a prediction.
“So what’s the seminal development that’s ushering in the era of Web 3.0? It’s the real arrival, after years of false predictions, of the thin client, running clean, simple software, against cloud-based data and services,” we wrote, specifically referencing the growing popularity of Apple’s iPod and iPhone as the harbingers of this important trend.
We continued: “But this is not just about one company, one platform or even one form factor. No, this new phenomenon is about handheld computers from many companies, with software platforms and distribution mechanisms tightly tied to cloud-based services, whether they are multi-player games, e-commerce offerings or corporate databases.”
Looking back over the last year, we think we got it pretty right, as companies of all kinds and in all arenas raced to be part of the social, mobile, cloud-centered action.
This fusion and, really, collision of key trends will be at the heart of what we’ll be focusing on at D8 as the major companies in tech and media try to figure out how consumers want to conduct their digital lives going forward and with what devices.
And inevitably, that has begun to cause some major rifts among and between the powers that be throughout tech and media. It’s clear to us that a major realignment of consumer expectations and desires is taking place, along with a fundamental shift in how we all relate to computing.
Still, with all the changes, it’s important to keep a respectful tone, which seems to have gotten a bit lost of late, especially now when every tiny shift and disagreement enters the digital echo chamber and quickly moves from loud to strident.
Such noise inevitably makes the whole competitive necessity of Silicon Valley–which is one of its greatest assets, of course–seem tinny and small, much like what you hear out of Washington all the time.
One of the reasons I moved out West was that it always seemed that–whatever the rivalry or wrangling–Silicon Valley was much better than that.
So even though healthy and robust competition is what makes it all work in tech, as Sergeant Esterhaus of “Hill Street Blues” used to say in the trademark phrase, which you can see in this video, “Let’s be careful out there”:
[T-shirt photo courtesy of Zazzle]