Real Web 2.0 Mantra? Be Evil. Very Evil.

There Is Nothing Utopian in the Bare-Knuckled Brawls Between Old-Media Titans and New-Media Boy Wonders

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Sigh. I'm suddenly gripped by raging nostalgia. I was just thinking about one of the great catchphrases of the web era: "Don't be evil," Google's famous corporate slogan. Sure, it's turned out to be as much wishful thinking as an actual statement of corporate intent (just ask anybody whose intellectual property has ever been stolen by, say, Google's YouTube), but when Sergey and Larry first informally adopted that mantra early this century, you really felt like, hey, those dudes actually meant it.
Mark Zuckerberg recently hired a No. 2, Sheryl Sandberg -- and not a moment too soon.
Mark Zuckerberg recently hired a No. 2, Sheryl Sandberg -- and not a moment too soon.

Allow me a moment to wipe a doleful tear from my eye.

Now that Web 2.0 seems, with each passing day, to be less and less magical -- what with softening click rates and the rising realization that it's going to be insanely difficult to effectively monetize social networking -- "Don't be evil" sounds increasingly hilarious. If anything, the old-media titans and new-media boy geniuses defining the future of the web are in a battle to out-evil each other.

The gloves are off, and so are the freakin' rose-colored glasses, suckas! Let's stop kidding ourselves: The webby arms race isn't going to involve quasi-utopian technological advances so much as bare-knuckled brawls (mostly in courtrooms, although sometimes in digital back alleys), hostile takeovers and -- sorry, consumers -- increasingly brazen attacks on personal privacy in the name of "relevant" advertising delivery. Let's consider the playing field and what the big boys have been up to lately, shall we?

I hate you, Dad!
Papa John Malone entrusts young whippersnapper Barry Diller with the keys to the jalopy (InterActive Corp). So how does Barry thank him? He not only concludes that the jalopy is his -- all his! -- to do with as he pleases, he decides he's going to take the jalopy to the scrap yard so poor Papa can never see it again! That's the pathetic internecine drama now being rehashed in a Delaware court, given that Diller wants to break up IAC, a sorry collection of mostly middling internet also-rans such as and LendingTree, into five smaller companies, which would conveniently eliminate ├╝ber-mogul Malone's supervoting stock. Oh, man. Watching Barry weave down the Information Superhighway in one pokey, jerry-rigged clunker has been bad enough. Now he's gonna have five? You're gonna chase after Google with, what, a Yugo, a Pinto, a Fiat, a go-cart and a pair of in-line skates?

You've got pink slip!
I was actually somewhat (stupidly, I now realize) optimistic last year about AOL's attempts to reinvent itself as a lean, mean advertising-delivery company, led in part by acquisition Platform A. But, geez, last week's ouster of Platform A's prez, Curt Viebranz, after just half a year -- which continues the executive-suite and rank-and-file carnage that has claimed thousands of heads? It's just gotten way too ugly, way too erratic, way too scary. Does anybody in new media really aspire to work at AOL anymore?

That takes Ballmer!
Microsoft, the company that never really knew how to effectively innovate -- unless you call leadership in derivative bloatware innovative -- keeps grinding forward with its hostile bid for Yahoo, the company that forgot how to effectively innovate. Awesome! I haven't been this excited since Sears and Kmart merged!

Mom! Help!
Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg just hired a No. 2, Sheryl Sandberg -- an actual grown-up who is technically old enough to be his mom -- and not a moment too soon. Google vet Sandberg's first order of business should be sending Mark to his room without his supper. Or at least getting him to shut up already, because in blandly yammering on about the joys of "enabling communications" (see his notoriously inane SXSW keynote interview), he's doing absolutely nothing to justify his continued leadership of the company, with its daft valuation and murky privacy policies.

Speaking of which, if you haven't already, be sure to visit cyber-privacy activist Steven Mansour's funny, chilling "2,504 Steps to Closing Your Facebook account" screed, in which he writes, "It's one thing when I choose to leave a web service (Flickr, YouTube) because I don't want them profiting from my content. It's another when they prevent me from leaving" -- as he claims Facebook effectively did (until he spent countless hours raising holy hell to extract a tiny bit of cooperation from the company). "Is this really the only choice we have left?" he continues. "Shitty web companies vs. shitty web companies that keep and distribute your personal data ad infinitum even when you request your account to be closed?"

Actually, Steve, yes. Exactly. And don't even get me started on Murdoch!
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