Mark Zuckerberg began with the same aversion to advertising, famously rejecting a million dollars from Sprite to turn Facebook green for a day in 2006.
He thought obtrusive advertising would disrupt the user experience he needed to perfect in order to undermine his main competitor, Myspace, which had become infested by mischief-making trolls. By requiring the use of real names, Zuckerberg kept the trolls at bay. But he was ultimately no better able to resist the sale of advertising than his predecessors. Facebook’s vast trove of voluntarily surrendered personal information would allow it to resell segmented attention with unparalleled specificity, enabling marketers to target of its users, but practically any conceivable taste, interest, or affinity. And with ad products displayed on smartphones, Facebook has ensured that targeted advertising travels with its users everywhere.
Today Google and Facebook are, as Wu writes, the “defacto diarches of the online attention merchants.” Their deferred-gratification model, by which the company only starts selling advertisers the audience that it assembles after operating free of ads for a certain period, is now the standard for aspiring tech companies. You begin with idealistic hauteur and visions of engineering purity, proceed to exponential growth, and belatedly open the spigot to fill buckets with revenue. The sequence describes the growth of tech-media companies including YouTube, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, and Snapchat, their success underpinned by kinds of user data that television and radio have never had.
– Jacob Weisenberg, They’ve got you, Wherever You Are, New York Review of Books
October 27, 3016