Is Google really Sauron?

is google really sauron

The big news this week is that Twitter retired the Tweet count button, and the blogosphere naturally exploded with outrage. Well, a little controversy gives us something to write about I suppose.

I think the more important story here is how Silicon Valley companies continue to grow and thrive the more they become like Sauron, the evil power of The Lord of the RIngs fame. Let’s unpack that, shall we?

In the grip of Sauron

When I first heard about this tweet button news, I was actually supportive of Twitter (maybe one of the ONLY people!) because I assumed they were going to charge for this data, and I think that is a smart thing to do. If I were the Twitter CMO I would probably do the same thing as part of a larger strategy of monetizing data.

However, that’s NOT why they did it.

The company explained the reason behind this development came from their engineers — they had to make a decision about their investment priorities as they upgraded their operating system and the tweet counter did not make the cut. In fact, BuzzSumo founder Steve Rayson told me they WANTED to buy the data from Twitter in the aftermath of the change and it was unavailable!

I have thought a lot about this, trying to be rational and realizing that as a blogger, the Twitter button means more to me than most people in the world. And here is what I concluded. This is a really dumb decision on their part because sometimes a business decision cannot be made because of engineering preferences. It has to be made based on the needs and wants of your customers.

This is just one in a long line of examples where the Silicon Valley tech stars favor engineering decisions instead of market-based decisions that favor customers, and it is getting really tiresome.

It’s a sign of the times. Perhaps we are witnessing the dawn of The Sauron Business Model.

The Sauron path to success

Like the mythological Sauron from The Lord of the Rings, these Silicon Valley entities seemingly grow increasingly powerful the more evil and abusive they become.

Most Silicon Valley companies still see customers as “users.” They develop software and launch it to “see what happens” instead of thinking through the implications for their fans and their brand. The mantra is to “fail fast” (oh how I hate that phrase) instead of patiently building something that lasts.

In the most ridiculous example of this, Google convinced customers to pay them $1,500 for Google Glass, aggressively built a community around the product, and then ended the program due to performance issues they could have discovered in a 48 hour consumer test. The end result was embarrassment, the betrayal of its most loyal customers, and a sign that we can never, ever trust this company.

And yet, there was no real consumer outrage with this development. In fact, Google’s power and popularity grows unabated. How can that be?

Is Google really Sauron?

Growing up in business I always was taught how important it is to put your customers first. I mean, continually taking advantage of people is a recipe for doom, right?

But maybe there is a new way of doing business from the Sauron Playbook:

Have you ever had a problem with Facebook (like having your page disappear) and try to get some help? For most people and businesses, there is none.

Facebook made headlines last year for mindfully manipulating customer emotions through a research project. And don’t forget that Facebook is still subjected to 20 years of U.S. government audits because of their abuses with personal information. Meanwhile the company is rapidly attracting new customers and making record profits.

The LinkedIn customer interface is so atrocious it is nearly impossible to do something simple like filter your contact list. And the company recently paid out $13 million in a lawsuit settlement against its spammy emails.

And Google? Sheesh. Google may be the biggest tech bully on the planet for doing stuff like

I could easily fill this entire page with news of lawsuits against Google and the moves they have made to tweak the trust of their customers. In Europe people actually stormed the streets last year in protest of this company’s arrogance with private data.

And here is proof that the Sauron Business Model really works. If you look at all the lawsuits heaped upon Google in the past few years you might guess they are in the same category as Exxon or BP in terms of brand popularity. Nope. They are among the Top 10 most-admired companies in the world, according to Fortune.

Succeeding without trust?

What’s going on here? Has the world turned upside down? Some of the world’s most powerful and popular tech giants act like they hate their customers, all the while getting more popular, powerful, and profitable.

I have written a lot in this space about the importance of building loyalty and trust to win a world of crazy competition but perhaps this is an old-fashioned notion. Maybe today a company can get too big to care.

Sure, Twitter shut down its Twitter button as an engineering decision instead of a marketing decision but it’s simply upholding this great Silicon Valley tradition of growth through customer abuse, the Sauron Business Model for success.

Of course this article is written as a bit of a jest but there is some weird truth behind the Teflon-coated reputation of these companiest, isn’t there?

mark schaefer

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  • I like the fact that Twitter changed some things around a bit. I see a lot of the larger bloggers screaming about the Twitter counts, but I still don’t see Twitter’s move a big of a change as what you mentioned with Google.

    The fact is, it doesn’t matter what we think about Google. They’re going to keep on with whatever world domination tricks they have up their sleeve and I don’t think anyone can stop them now. So yes, I would have to agree, Google is the all-seeing-eye of middle earth. I’d say we’d be really surprised at everything they could do, and probably are doing, with our privacy.

  • I think that would be an shocking insight … but probably would not change a thing.

  • Mark, very interesting perspective. A few days ago you took on Facebook and now Twitter and Google? Huh. In jest or not, you seem to be feeling some underlying angst.

  • Mia Sherwood Landau

    Big Brother is all around us… we’re on camera as we walk through buildings on the sidewalk, travel on public transportation and on public roads. And it’s all without our express permission. Wherever we go online the same is true. We give up our privacy without consent, and worse yet, people growing up digital don’t even fully understand privacy anymore. It’s not just Google, it’s Big Brother, and it’s everywhere, although Google is probably the most powerful tool now.

  • I don’t really see myself taking on anybody. I just say what’s on my mind. : ) If they do good stuff, I say that too.

  • Hard to say who owns the most information now. What happens when China buys Google? : )

  • It’s not just Glass that led me to have trust issues in my relationship with Google. The birth and death of Google+ (and now it’s rebirth) are also a pain point of mine. I find comfort in using tools and resources from smaller startups such as Buffer, Contentacle and BuzzSumo. I can connect a real person with a business; not just a looming Big Brother shadow taking advantage of my naivety.

  • Tara Marlowe

    If I “Like” this page, will my Facebook be shut down? Possibly. Do I care. Not really.

  • Mia Sherwood Landau

    Oh, Mark, that idea is sending shivers down my spine. Have to admit I never thought about a sale or merger/acq like that. Yipes. Scarier than CSI:Cyber…

  • : )

  • I actually had a big section on here originally about G+ but I took out to be more direct with the content. Don’t even get me started with how they screwed that one up …

  • There is no reason something like this won’t happen. Will Google and Facebook last forever as independent entities? Of course not. Whoever picks up the pieces will own our data.

  • Great post, Mark. In the US we have a lot of respect for entrepreneurs and successful businesses. That’s usually a good thing, and it’s one reason most tech growth stories originate in the US. When it comes to privacy, though, we might borrow a little sensibility from the EU. (But not the right to tell Google to forget anything about you that you don’t agree with.)

    And, this post would be even better with your flaming preso animation. 🙂

  • I love any content that crosses over Lord of the Rings with business realities. Now every time I check gmail, I’ll whisper ‘my precious…’

    A few years back, the world realized we have a banking industry that was ‘too big to fail’. Perhaps today, we have a Tech industry that is ‘too big to care’.

  • Kitty Kilian

    Hm.. I only read this article now. You accidentally put question marks in 3 places, all the while answering the main question in the affirmative. As you should.

  • You’re not the customer, you’re the product. Google’s and Facebook’s customers are advertisers who buy your attention. You just get lured by Google, Facebook etc. with usually free tools.

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