Will Google kill Gmail?
This topic is slightly off the beaten track for The Krehbiel Report on Publishing, but it grabbed my attention.
Mike Elgan wrote a very interesting prediction over at computerworld.com on why Google will eventually kill gmail. His argument is that there’s no money in simply being a conduit for information — a “dumb pipe,” he calls it. And that’s pretty much what email is — a service that simply delivers information without adding anything to it. He says Google wants to mediate everything, which is why they keep trying to push people into other services.
I think he makes an interesting case, and he highlights an inherent problem with many online services, which is the disconnect between what the user wants out of the service and how the provider wants to monetize it.
Why, for example, doesn’t Facebook have a decent search engine? I don’t know the answer, but I’m sure it has everything to do with Facebook’s interests in monetizing our cat discussions and absolutely nothing to do with what Facebookers really want.
Email has become a crucial component of modern life, but, if Elgan is right, there is a disincentive for companies to provide it for us without monkeying with it and finding annoying ways to monetize it. Will we eventually have to make email some sort of public utility?
There is hope for decent content
When I was a kid I watched the Popeye cartoon from time to time, and the plot usually went like this: mild-mannered and long-suffering Popeye continues to put up with abuse from somebody (usually Brutus), but there comes a point where he’s had enough.
At that point he’d say, “That’s allz I can standz and I can’t standz no more.” Then he’d eat his can of spinach, his biceps would bulge, and he’d set his sights on restoring proper order in the world — which usually meant pummeling whoever it was who was annoying him.
The lesson is that you can only annoy people so much.
If I might take some liberties with that concept, I’d say it applies to other things as well. For example, when it comes to content, you can only inflict so much unthinking crap on people before they’ll get sick of it and insist on something a little meatier.
Modern art (which, excuse me, but I regard it as unthinking crap) didn’t take over the world. There is still real art out there. “Reality TV” hasn’t taken over our sets. Some new shows are actually worth watching. On that point, see Amazon and the triumph of television.
In the same way, the slide towards clickbait articles and shoddy, typo-ridden journalism won’t last forever. People will get sick of it and will yearn for solid, well-researched, professional content.
Things tend to go in cycles. Hemlines get longer, then shorter, then longer again. People opt for feel-good fluff, then they get more serious, then they get tired of being serious and go for fluff again.
Sometimes I hear a quiet despair among publishers who create good content, as if they can’t compete with the sexy, frilly, fluffy, titilating stuff that’s free on the web.
It’s a problem, and it’s a serious problem, but it won’t last forever.
Magazines are not like TV shows or music
As I said before (follow the link then scroll to “Magazine articles don’t go on a playlist”), efforts to squeeze magazines into a Netflix-type model aren’t going to work.
As of today, there is no evidence that magazine readers are clamoring for Netflix like experience …
I’m sure the digital boosters think this is just some kind of lingering Neanderthalishness that will eventually pass and then we’ll all come skipping and smiling into the sunshiny world of “everything on my phone,” but I disagree with that sentiment and that view of the future. I think a magazine is a different sort of thing that, as a general rule, doesn’t translate well to digital, and definitely doesn’t work with this smorgasbord concept.