I’ll Tell You What’s Fair

Speaking of Joe Wilcox, in the midst of a 1,500 word piece last week accusing yours truly of “not being a man” because there aren’t comments on Daring Fireball, Wilcox wrote the following in response to my “Google started this” entry on the Apple / Google / Android / AdMob imbroglio:

If Daring Fireball accepted comments, I would have responded to John’s fantasy land assertions about Apple and Google there. John mimics Steve Jobs, who in March told employees: “We did not enter the search business. They entered the phone business.” Steve has since made similar assertion [sic] — that somehow Google encroached on Apple’s phone business. That’s simply not true.

Google bought Android in August 2005, about 18 months before Apple announced iPhone and nearly two years before the device shipped. Google effectively announced its intention to go into the mobile phone business when buying Android. Maybe Google’s intentions spoiled secret Apple plans, but there was nothing unclear about them.

There are two points worth examining here. Dan Lyons as Fake Steve tried to make a similar one here. One point being that it’s delusional to argue that Google wasn’t in the mobile phone business pre-iPhone. But no one is arguing that. Google bought Android in 2005 and the iPhone wasn’t unveiled until January 2007. No one disputes that. (Note that the quote Wilcox attributes to Jobs is paraphrased.)

It’s not that Google changed course and got into the phone business, period. It’s that they got into the iPhone’s segment of the phone business. This is what Android looked like in 2007. Here’s an actual hardware prototype from then. It didn’t look anything like an iPhone, nor like anything Apple would ever be interested in making. It looked like a BlackBerry or Windows Mobile phone — hardware keyboards and non-touch screens.

Look at those 2007 Android designs compared to the original 2007 iPhone. Now compare a 2010 Android design to a current iPhone. Don’t tell me Google’s mobile strategy hasn’t changed.

Which brings us to Lyons’s point, which is that it’s precious to believe that Google has done anything to affront Apple — that there’s a “How dare Google compete with Apple?” sentiment. But no one is arguing that, either — or at least I’m certainly not. It wasn’t unfair for Google to decide to compete directly against and copy ideas from the iPhone. That’s competition. It may be angering to Apple, but it’s not out of bounds.

What’s goofy is the idea that Google would do this — to aggressively change Android from a BlackBerry/Windows Mobile competitor into an iPhone competitor — and that anyone would expect Apple not to retaliate, to instead just sit there and take it and allow all other aspects of their previous buddy-buddy corporate relationship with Google to continue as though nothing had changed. (And to continue allowing their biggest mobile OS rival to accumulate copious amounts of iPhone application analytics.)

Google’s apparent idea was to set up a “heads we win, tails we still win” scenario, where if Android wins they’d own the world’s leading mobile ad platform and if instead iOS wins they’d still have the world’s leading mobile ad platform with their presence selling ads for iOS apps. What other company, given Apple’s position, would sit back and let that happen? What’s interesting is that it didn’t have to be this way. If Google had kept Android targeted at BlackBerry, I don’t believe Apple would have unveiled iAds. Maybe I’m wrong, and Apple would have done it anyway, because it always comes down to money, and there’s soon going to be an awful lot of money in mobile advertising. But we’ll never know, because Google started shooting first.1

None of this is nice. Competition isn’t supposed to be nice. (Some companies, though, are less nice, or at least less trustworthy, than others.) But Google and Apple weren’t really competing in any important way until Google turned Android against the iPhone.

No company wins in this racket without being ruthless. You gain control and then you use it. The difference with Apple isn’t that they’re the nice guys who won. (I would argue that they’re an honest company, at least relative to other companies of similar size — but nice? No way.) The difference with Apple is that they’re the first winners with taste.

As for Wilcox’s arguments regarding user-submitted comments:

It’s easy for John to revise history when there is no easy place to respond to him. Daring Fireball is his blog. It’s his voice. He is under no compulsion to offer anyone an easy mechanism for dialog or response. But his no-comments approach is out of place in an era when so many Websites or services provide discussion tools and encourage readers/viewers to use them.

I don’t care what’s out of place. I care about what’s best.

But there’s something about the no-commenting approach that irks me. John has whacked me and my writing a few times at Daring Fireball, but I couldn’t respond there. It was a one-sided argument with his supporter minons [sic] adding to the noise.

You write on your site; I write on mine. That’s a response. I don’t use comments on Wilcox’s site to respond publicly to his pieces, but somehow it’s unfair that he can’t use comments on my site to respond to mine? What kind of sense is that even supposed to make? And if there aren’t any comments on DF, how are DF readers “adding to the noise”? (I realize, alas, that DF readers do sometimes leave noisy comments on sites to which I link. But how is that an argument for allowing comments on DF itself?)

What makes DF an efficient and effective soapbox is exactly that it is not noisy. My goal is for not a single wasted word to appear anywhere on any page of the site.

Is my soapbox bigger than Joe Wilcox’s? Yes it is. But that’s fair, because I built this soapbox myself. It’s my firm belief that all websites eventually attract the attention and respect that they deserve. The hard work is in the “eventually” part.

Used to be, back in the early days of DF, that those complaining about the lack of comments simply were under the impression that a site without comments was not truly a “weblog”. (My stock answer at the time: “OK, then it’s not a weblog.”) Typically these weren’t even complaints, per se, but rather simply queries: Why not?

Now that DF has achieved a modicum of popularity, however, what I tend to get instead aren’t queries or complaints about the lack of comments, but rather demands that I add them — demands from entitled people who see that I’ve built something very nice that draws much attention, and who believe they have a right to share in it.

They don’t.

In July 2009, Missouri School of Journalism’s Doreen Marchionni wrote about the importance of “conversational journalism.” She offers good advice for John or anyone else writing professionally on the Web.

I happen to know Doreen personally, and agree that her advice is sage and her research insightful. But perhaps if Wilcox had read more than just the title of this brief piece of hers that he linked to, he’d have realized that the word “comment” does not appear anywhere in it, and that much of her advice describes what I in fact already do — e.g., her recommendation to “actively engage audiences via Twitter, Flickr, Tumblr, Facebook and/or other social-networking tools”.

In fact, I’d argue that Daring Fireball is, in a way, a deeply “conversational” site. When I write, I try to write well, and the incoming attention is mine. When I link, though, I try to send my readers away. I share every bit of my traffic that I can. Do I tend to link more frequently to pieces with which I agree, or which I think are correct? Of course, because those are the ones I tend to consider most worth my readers’ time. But it’s certainly not true that I never link to pieces with which I disagree — or which are written by people who disagree with me.

Comments, at least on popular websites, aren’t conversations. They’re cacophonous shouting matches. DF is a curated conversation, to be sure, but that’s the whole premise.

  1. Think of it this way: if you agree that Apple might not have ever created iAds and/or moved to block Google from collecting iOS app analytics if Google had not repositioned Android against the iPhone, and if the iPhone winds up the dominant platform for mobile advertising expenditures in the long run, then Google may well wind up with less revenue than if they’d never gotten into the phone business in the first place. They’re an advertising company that has deliberately chosen to make enemies of a former ally in possession (and tight control) of a rich, fast-growing advertising platform. Mark this footnote — Android may wind up a long-term mistake for Google, financially. ↩︎