Where Some Ideas Are Stranger Than Others...
But, Is It Tech? (2016-09-06)
Here is a question not for the faint-hearted. What is a "tech company"? Seriously. For a question of this kind my usual dictionary is useless and quaint, which means a visit to Wikipedia. According to Wikipedia, a technology company (absolutely no slang for Wikipedians): "A technology company (often tech company) is a type of business entity that focuses primarily on the development and manufacturing of technology. IBM, Lenovo, Huawei, Microsoft, Apple, Oracle and others are considered prototypical technology companies. Information technology (IT) companies and high tech companies are subsets of technology companies." High-tech is of course the stuff that is so bleeding edge it will either mess up whatever you plug it into because its driver is missing or has no obvious utility at all.
The Wikipedia community has left a few companies out whose spokespeople or owners insist are tech companies, yet could not be considered another example of the ones they have listed. Notice the list includes companies that design and sell hardware and software or just software. The currently otherwise omnipresent twitter, facebook, and even google,* are not on the list. This strikes me as anything but mysterious, because fundamentally what these three companies sell is not so much technology as advertising. Not that they will admit it, even as facebook declares war on adblockers, apparently in the belief that people will not walk away if they can't block annoying and intrusive ads, which nowadays is something like 95% of them. Nor does selling access to any amount of information about the users of the services maintained by these companies strike me as equivalent to a technology.
So it seems that the way the word technology is used by on-line based advertising companies has many parallels to the software patents being laboriously and expensively overturned by litigation over the past few years, the ones based on the idea that implementing an obvious idea on a computer should be patentable. In other words, if a company does whatever it does on the internet by means of computers, it's a "tech company." Which if we took it absolutely seriously would probably force us to relabel most newspapers, entertainment companies, and distributors technology companies. This seems absurd. On the other hand, it is easy to see why new age advertising companies would prefer to be considered tech companies instead. It deflects the general disgust with advertising while clothing them in the golden glow of something we have all been relentlessly trained to consider always good and wonderful and an improvement, no matter what it consists of or does. I think it is fair to concede that this is an outstanding bit of marketing, though it is no more true than the manic claims on many household products, especially soaps, that they are NEW, IMPROVED, and BETTER THAN EVER. They can't possibly be, and everyone knows it, from the marketing team to the eventual purchaser of the soap. And we all know the likelihood any company would agree to an advertising campaign that instead said, "We changed the packaging and how the soap smells. It's still soap. It'll clean stuff. Don't get it in your eyes," is pretty low.
Unlike the new-age ad companies though, it is also not likely that the companies selling household products are going to see any grave issues with their sales from people treating their claims as mostly silly. If a part of the air in a new-age ad company's profit balloon is hype rather than something substantial, things could get ugly when that air leaks out, as indeed it has for a range of smaller fry, some of which were bought out, others of which quietly went belly up leaving most of us none the wiser. For the bigger fish in the "social media" and search engine parts of the pool, it will be interesting to see how things work out, and which of them manage to outmanoeuvre hype hits and how they do it.
*Due to the google re-organization and spin-off derby, I understand "google" is the search engine related part, not the part that sells chromebooks. Even if I'm mistaken, the chromebooks are definitely a sideline, not the main business, so I think the contrast holds.