Another Bubble; Not Housing

by francine Hardaway on April 25, 2012

The great value of listening to the Gillmor Gang in the middle of the night in a strange hotel room is the ability to shout my opinion at the walls without fear of being heard. However, I want this opinion to go further.

Guys, we ARE in a bubble. I don’t care what you say. As an outsider, I can see it.

Yes, we have somewhat shifted to apps. But the average person isn’t using PlaceMe, Concur, or Kayak when he wants to find something. He is using Google. Many people still don’t know how to get on the Internet without using Google, and even though they have iPhones (as all three of my former foster kids do), some still use Google to go anywhere but Facebook. They don’t spend hundreds of scarce dollars a year buying apps, like we do, and then deleting them. That’s for people like us, who have disposable dollars. Once you get outside the bubble, people have to buy diapers and gas.

They use their iPhones to post to Facebook. That’s about it for apps, except for the stock quotes, wether, and calendar; it will take a while for app development companies to prove they are worth billions. The app economy itself may be worth billions, but one app?

As for Instagram and Pinterest, they are not companies. They are tools. Just tools. Without being bought, they are worth nothing.They do not change the world. They merely curate and filter it.the New York Times has been doing that reliably for centuries without those valuations. Why? Because online advertising isn’t working very well.

Like Facebook, Pinteresf and Instgram have valuations that are guesses about the future of advertising.Will they be the next great places to advertise as we shift to mobile?

Pinterest may be worth more “nothing” than Instgram, however, because as Scoble pointed out, women have buying power, which is why brands cozy up to mommy bloggers. But they haven’t bought BlogHer, the platform on which those women express opinions, have they? Lisa, Jory and Elisa were pioneers in bringing women’s voices to the marketplace, and no one has offered them a billion. That’s because BlogHer is not a tool. But it should expose also the fact that simply being favored by women doesn’t confer $7b in value on a company.

More worrisome is the supposition that these apps will someday be good carriers of mobile advertising, even though as yet the advertising industry hasn’t solved the online ad effectiveness problem and even Facebook reported diminished revenues this quarter.

The advertising industry is in upheaval, over the value of online advertising per se, before it even tackles mobile. Publishers are going under right and left because customers don’t want to see ads online, and truly hate them on mobile . Here, especially, the user will control the conversation.

So the valuations of Pinterest and Instgram/FB are merely expensive guesses about the future of advertising, about whether the ad tech industry will figure out mobile in a non-invasive way. Yes, the open graph will be part of it, and the advertising will be targeted. But I am guessing that Doc Searls will be quoted here gain and again: markets are conversations, and customers will control them.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Eric Keosky-Smith April 25, 2012 at 7:47 am

The only thing I disagree with you on in this whole thing is that there is a “bubble”.  I state either “there’s not” or “who cares” because without Facebook, Google and maybe Apple playing, the 1B valuation becomes 10M. Maybe 20M.  But no one in their right mind would feel the need for such a $1B gamble, except the rare few companies where $1B is … devalued.  And yes the advertising industry is in a huge conundrum as the move to mobile accelerates (pre coffee – sorry can’t filter my puns – hmmm is there an app for that?) the move to user control over their “ad experience”.  Check out Googles last Q1 Financial call.  There are some *great* insights into their acknowledgment of that problem, and their admitted lack of present day “solutions” …

hardaway April 25, 2012 at 9:24 am

I actually knew about that and meant to mention it. My view is that advertising as a standalone is fading. Paid. Owned, and earned media have converged. Brands will create content. Perhaps that will be pinned.
Francine Hardaway, Ph.D

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