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It's Curtains for Google! And Facebook! And Tumblr! And ...

Should You Believe All the Apocalyptic Predictions About Today's Hot Tech Companies? Yeah, Maybe

By Published on . 1

The tech-startup sky is falling!

The tech-incumbent sky is falling!

The entire tech sky is falling!

No, seriously, I'm pretty sure they're all falling. So when you're done tweeting or updating or pinning things or checking in, or whatever it is you're doing, run for your lives!

Tumblr CEO David Karp changed his position regarding advertising.
Tumblr CEO David Karp changed his position regarding advertising.

And don't blame me. I'm only repeating what I've heard and read. Consider, for example, just from the past couple of months:

  • "The Beginning of The End of Google+" by TechRepublic's Adam Metz, on April 4, riffing on the fact that Google+ users spend an average of just three minutes per month on it (vs. 405 minutes for Facebook). "Google is a fish out of water -- they're a great search and advertising company that is simply not good at making social-media products used by consumers," Metz wrote, echoing what plenty of people (including Ad Age 's own Ken Wheaton) have been saying about Google and Google+. (Ken, to his credit, was an early adopter of hating on Google+, trashing it less than a month after its June 28, 2011, beta launch.)
  • Also, Dan Lyons of Newsweek/The Daily Beast on April 27: "Antitrust Suit Could Bring Down Google"
  • So that leaves Facebook, right? Not so fast! On April 30, Forbes contributor Eric Jackson published a column titled "Here's Why Google and Facebook Might Completely Disappear in the Next 5 Years." His thesis: The internet has run through the Web 1.0 era, companies founded from 1994-2001, and the Web 2.0 era, aka the social era, and is now in the mobile era. Google and Facebook, Jackson wrote, "may have all the money in the world to try and adapt to the shift to mobile but history suggests they won't be able to successfully do it."
  • But wait! Google has its Android mobile platform, and that 's huge, right? Uh, see Business Insider's post from last week: "Android Developers Can't Get Paid And It's Killing The Platform."
  • So maybe simple, mobile-friendly social sites like Tumblr own the future? Well. Um. First off, there's plenty of dark chatter about the fact that Tumblr Founder/CEO David Karp is suddenly pro-advertising -- witness his star-turn at Ad Age 's Digital conference last month, where he talked up Tumblr's "Radar" ad unit -- which may turn the stomachs of fickle Tumblr users who haven't had to endure pesky interruptions from sponsors. (Just two years ago, Karp told the Los Angeles Times, "We're pretty opposed to advertising. It really turns our stomachs.")

Even worse, the very premise of Tumblr as a free-for-all haven for people who get off (so to speak) on sharing images that were just "found" somewhere on the web (with nary a cent going to copyright holders) is being challenged right now.

As Jeff John Roberts of paidContent reported last week, "In a case with big implications for the booming market in photo-sharing, a publisher is suing popular blogging site Tumblr for copyright infringement."

That company is porn purveyor Perfect 10, which told Roberts that while other companies readily respond to its DMCA take-down requests, Tumblr just totally ignores them. Roberts also linked to a CBS MoneyWatch report that not only claims that Tumblr is an advertiser-unfriendly porn haven but suggests that its non-porny precincts face an uphill monetization battle. "If Tumblr and its bloggers begin earning revenue by running ads next to copyright-infringing images, lawyers will descend on Tumblr and its users like lions on an injured antelope," wrote CBS MoneyWatch's Jim Edwards.

That's delightfully gruesome imagery, but the reality is that if -- or should I say when? -- Tumblr goes down (along with, sooner or later, Google and Facebook and Twitter and Pinterest and everything else that seems so robust right now), it won't involve sudden carnage. It's just that users will move on. The world will move on. And advertisers (those that showed up) will move on.

And perhaps more to the point, venture capitalists and average investors will move on, too.

Speaking of which, see the April 20 Silicon Alley Insider Chart of the Day titled "Groupon Has Completely Collapsed" -- a scary EKG showing what's happened to Groupon's stock price since the company went public. Or better yet, check out Groupon's Chicago-area offer from (eerily) that very same day: "95% Off Online Stock-Trading Courses." Specifically, five online stock-trading courses from an outfit called the Lex van Dam Trading Academy. A $630 value for just ... drumroll, please ... $29! ("Professional trader seen on "Million Dollar Traders' teaches novices to turn profits & design balanced portfolios in five steps.")

Coming from Groupon -- whose stock is , as of this writing, 67% off its all-time high of $31.14 -- well, that 's gotta be the most unintentionally hilarious Groupon offer yet. (Unless I missed, like, an 83%-off anal-bleaching-for-cats deal or something.) Yeah, Groupon, the white-hot startup that not so long ago Forbes crowned "THE FASTEST-GROWING COMPANY ... EVER."

My point is that the lesson of the "Attention Economy" is that we all get sick and tired of everything -- so much so that the epic tech upstart-vs.-incumbent narratives of yore now seem not so much like business-school case studies, but universal memento mori. Remember when AOL beat CompuServe? And Yahoo beat, what was it, Lycos? And MySpace beat Friendster? (And VHS beat Betamax, for that matter?)

To understand tech-company life cycles, you can skip the Harvard Business Review. Instead, study "Citizen Kane." And "Death of a Salesman." And "The Anatomy of Melancholy." And the Old Testament.

And while you're at it -- if, on the eve of Facebook's $100 billion IPO, you really want to grasp tech investing -- "120 Days of Sodom."

Although, given how fast investors turned on Groupon after its IPO last November, 120 days might be a bit generous.

Simon Dumenco is the "Media Guy" media columnist for Advertising Age. You can follow him on Twitter @simondumenco.

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