The Great Game: Tim O'Reilly Rates the Contenders

By May 06, 2010

Today’s internet is a massive struggle for control, Tim O’Reilly said in today’s keynote at Web 2.0 Expo in San Francisco. "I’m increasingly framing what’s happening with Web 2.0 as a battle for control,” O’R

eilly said. “Like the Great Game in the Victorian era when Great Britain and Russia were fighting over Afghanistan in order to control to routes to India.”

Nobody know how this great game is going to play out, especially now that Facebook has put its footprint all over the web. O’Reilly outlined the strengths and weakness of the five major powers in computing during a presentation that was sadly elided due to time constraints:

Apple’s strengths are that it has the front-end devices to beat; an app ecosystem that’s a first real rival to platforms; a new monetization engine for developers; total aesthetic control and vision of world domination; and boatloads of cash.

Apple is weak in data subsystems that will drive many future apps and shows a seeming failure even to understand the importance of these data subsystems. Witness Mobile Me.

Google understands the internet operating game better than anyone else. It’s making a front-end device play. It understands and is building for a future that is not yet here. It has a rich mobile app ecosystem and unparalleled experience in algorithmic intelligence. Google also shows sophisticated strategic use of open source and open standards where they know its weak.

Besides trying to own too much of the pie, Google’s biggest weakness is just that it’s Google, the new anti-trust target.

“I don’t think this [Google as Evil] is really fair because everyone is playing this game,” O’Reilley said.

Microsoft’s strength is that it’s the underdog and shows a willingness to partner. Its weakness is it has a strategy tax from legacy business.

Amazon is the leader in the cloud and the “thing graph.” They have massive amounts of data about stuff. Its weaknesses are that it has less cash than rivals and a weaker device play. It also has strategy tax issues.

Facebook has the social graph. In describing Facebook’s strength, O’Reilly quoted Archilochus: “The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.” Facebook also has the platform strategy of adding value to other sites.

O’Reilly emphasized that the strength of the internet today is the intense competition.

“Everyone is stronger than everyone individually,” O’Reilly said. “As you build your apps, think about being part of cooperative ecosystem.”

(O’Reilly really sped things up towards the end of the presentation, so a lot of his insights on Microsoft, Amazon and Facebook were skipped. Video of the speech is at the top.)

Legal mentions © L’Atelier BNP Paribas