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
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.
Interviews with prominent thinkers outlining what can be done to make digital as sustainable as possible.
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