September 3, 2010

The Internet Trinity

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Brice Le Blévennec

Microsoft dominated the 90’s with its Windows operating system. Google and its high-performance search engine have been the flagships of the 2000’s. The next decade will probably be a ménage à trois. While Google may continue to dominate the foreground, two other protagonists are now vying with it for the lead role: Apple and Facebook. Three players with the same ambition: to become the indispensable platform for access to the contents and services of the Internet.

Brice Le Blevennec, CVO

Each member of the trio is trying to reach this objective using a different philosophy. Google has become the high priest of an open and anarchic Internet, with no barriers at any of its multiple entry points: browser, smartphone, soon Google TV. For its part, Apple is aiming at creating a more controlled experience, which will include hardware (Mac, iPod, iPhones, iPad, Apple TV) and software and also the distribution and payment platform. With regard to Facebook, the global social network is striving to make itself into a veritable “web operating system” which provides the user with the necessary tools to interact with his/her entourage.

Three different visions of Internet and three different development environments.

Google is an ardent promoter of the so-called “free” development standards of HTML 5 and Flash, which they have even integrated with Chrome, their browser. Google makes numerous development technologies available, such as GWT, Native Client, GAE. But Google can literally make any web site impossible to find which, to gain a better position, infringes Google’s regulations. To develop Android, Google provides an open-source framework and free tools but maintains control of certain key parts of Android.

Although Apple is the origin of HTML5 and supports the Flash plugin on its computers, in the case of mobile applications, Apple imposes the use of particular languages and frameworks and does not hesitate to reject those that it considers to be obsolete, as is shown by the elimination of Flash from the iPhone and iPad.

Furthermore, the mobile world provides a good illustration of this major difference between two rivals: while Android, the Google operating system for the mobile world, is open to all applications without any entry filter, Apple carefully validates each application available on AppStore to make sure of its quality, safety and compliance with certain ethical standards (with all the ambiguities implied in this last criterion).

With regard to Facebook, while in a semi-free context developers may create applications on it using a proprietary framework, the social network reserves the right at all times to suppress applications which infringe its rules of good behaviour, themselves constantly changing.

For the brands this battle between the three giants has meant two major developments. Firstly, the Web is no longer the one and only destination of Internauts. It is therefore necessary to offer one’s brand and message in three distinct worlds, each with its own specific characteristics. Secondly, the cost of interactive marketing may very well be reduced by this competition: the environments developed by Apple and Facebook are fertile ground for the word-of-mouth approach and the viral effect. Once an application proposes an innovative or relevant service, rumour and viral mechanisms take care of the rest with regard to propagation. Search advertising and display advertising campaigns become superfluous.

Consequences for agencies: agencies will have to (learn to) master these three platforms, in terms of development and design but also of strategic planning. In the future it will mean guaranteeing an optimal user experience, integrated with the brand or service whatever the point of contact: today the computer and mobile phone, tomorrow touch screens and interactive televisions. A fine challenge which, once again, is destined to transform the business of all those dealing with the interactive media.

Brice Le Blévennec

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