Recently, I had the opportunity to deal with a government agency that was reviewing its digital strategy. Like many government entities, the organization functioned as a monopoly. However, during our engagement, an executive pointed out that they couldn’t be complacent because FANG might come after them one day.
FANG stands for Facebook, Amazon, Netflix, and Google. You may wonder why a non-commercial entity would have to worry about FANG. Quite a lot, actually. In many countries, governments are suffering a crisis of legitimacy. Businesses are seen as efficient. Governments are seen as inefficient. Businesses are usable. Governments are often seen as clunky, awkward, time-consuming, and unyielding of results.
FANG is sucking up all the data into which it can sink its teeth. It’s sifting, organizing, and then presenting that data in often easy-to-digest bites. Often, it’s easier to get an answer from Google than going to the government site that created the data from which the answer is built.
The problem is that if FANG presents the answers, then many people may think that FANG did all the hard work to create the base data from which the answer was built. All that hard, monotonous, boring, behind-the-scenes work that governments do is invisible to most people. Nobody cares. They just want answers, and they get the answers from FANG, thinking “that’s cool.” When they go to government websites and are faced by poor search and navigation options as well as lots of jargon, they think, “that’s not cool.” Some of them even begin to think, “What good is government if it can’t even give me the answer. Google gives me the answer.”
FANG has a wonderful business model. They usually let others do all the hard work of creating the base data (Netflix is a bit of an exception). Then they organize and present it better and make money off of it. Just like Google News doesn’t create news. Just like Apple doesn’t create music. Musicians and the media are being bled dry as Google and Apple suck out more and more profits. They will do just enough to keep their hosts alive, just about.
Regardless of whether you’re a government agency, a non-profit, or whatever, if you’ve got potentially useful data and information, then FANG is your potential competitor. If you’re neglecting your search engine, if you’re not investing in your navigation and the general usability of your digital environment, then you’re just asking for trouble.
The interface is the product. The interface is the service. FANG wants to own the interface for everything. All the boring, necessary, costly stuff that make societies work will still be left to governments. But the public won’t see that effort. They’ll just see the cool FANG interface and wonder why governments can’t be like that.
Moreover, the crisis of legitimacy for governments will only grow as more and more people question what good are governments. Nobody will ever remember that government funding and research created the entire computer industry and the Internet in the first place. Nobody will care. Whoever owns the interface will own the future.