In recent years, Google users have complained about the ubiquitous search engine in a very specific way: they can't find answers. A simple search for "best gaming PC" returns a page dominated by sponsored links rather than helpful advice on which computer to buy. Meanwhile, the actual results are full of low quality, search engine optimized affiliate content meant to make money for the publisher, not to get good responses. As a result, users resort to hacks and workarounds in an attempt to find useful information among low-quality ads and commercials. In short, Google Home is bad right now.
And Google isn't the only tech giant whose core product is slowly deteriorating. Facebook, a website ostensibly designed to find and connect with your friends, constantly floods users' feeds with sponsored (or "recommended") content and seems to mask what people want to see, what Facebook needs to see. As journalist John Herman wrote earlier this year, Amazon's "garbage" has made it almost impossible for users to find the high-quality products they want, instead redirecting them to ad-filled search results pages of low-quality sellers. Who knows how to beat the system?
All of these unfortunate online experiences are symptoms of a malignant underlying disease. In Silicon Valley, user experience was tied to a company's stock price. Google, Amazon, Meta and other tech companies have capitalized on this confusion by constantly experimenting with how they can infiltrate and manipulate users. Instead of innovating and improving the useful services they provide, these companies have either followed short-term fads or tried to completely overhaul their businesses in a desperate attempt to attract Wall Street investors. As a result, our collective online experience is deteriorating. It's getting harder to buy what you want to buy, harder to find information and connect with people.
Rejection of the main product
In the 2000s and early 2000s, tech companies came out with some really cool new products. They have made our lives easier by transforming our phones from mere two-way communication devices into ways to learn more, connect with our friends, and move on with our lives. This led to explosive growth in Silicon Valley as companies saw their valuations skyrocket, revenues skyrocket, and new users join. In recent years, simple math has dictated a slowdown as fewer and fewer people join the ranks of new users online. This slowdown caused a crisis in the valley. Technology companies over the past few years have been trying to find a magical second growth engine that would replicate the explosive growth of the first few years. In the process, many of these companies abandoned their original mission completely and resorted to accumulating money for every customer interaction in an attempt to generate revenue from their outdated products and gain Wall Street attention.
In some extreme cases, tech giants have chosen to completely abandon the ideas that made them famous in a desperate attempt to regain relevance. The best example of this second disastrous search is Meta, formerly known as Facebook. Meta became the most successful social network because it was a relatively easy and fun way to connect with friends. But over the years, the company has hidden much of its experience with an abundance of sponsored content and a ton of extra features. As a result, the number of Facebook app users has dwindled and the once-explosive revenue growth has slowed. But instead of getting people to use their product again, the company decided to move to a meta version (hence the name change). It is clear that CEO Mark Zuckerberg's goal is to create a kind of "second internet", the next place where users will go online, except that the concept of virtual worlds ends on arrival because few people register because it is absolutely disgusting . However, the company managed to spend more than $13 billion on the idea last year trying to make it a reality. As for the flagship product, it has suffered a lot. Facebook and Instagram, arguably the company's biggest products right now, are engaged in a never-ending battle between users who only want to see content from friends and people they already follow, and app developers who are trying to force the feed. People. He produced TikTok-style videos and lucrative content that even celebrities complained about.
This is not the first time in history that the company has unsuccessfully tried to abandon its core business. Take, for example, General Electric, the once great giant of American manufacturing. For the first 100 years of its existence, GE focused on what it did best: whether it was aircraft parts or light bulbs, GE was a solid manufacturer. But when former CEO Jack Welch took over in the 1980s, GE's focus began to shift away from making better products. Welch acquired spin-off businesses such as NBCUniversal and invested in spin-offs such as GE Capital's financial services division. Such a turn in financial operations and transactions almost led to the bankruptcy of the company. During the financial crisis, GE Capital became a huge burden on the company and had to sell many of its business units in order to survive. Since then, GE has become a shell of what it was and its valuation has dropped by 80%. Instead of inventing basic products and delivering the products customers want, GE has taken a second step, destroying its core business in the process. While Meta has yet to see such an explosion, GE's downfall should serve as a warning to Zuckerberg and his fellow executives.
Even when companies claim to be working on their core products, more often than not, their attempts at "innovation" are aimed at spinning Wall Street by pursuing irrational trends that detract from the user experience.
Take, for example, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella. Nadella stated in the midst of the metaverse hype in 2021 that he "can't advertise the metaverse trend." But less than two years later, the company fired almost the entire Metaverse team, and the future of its technological advances was in doubt. Nadella, who has laid off thousands of people in recent months, is now turning his attention to artificial intelligence. These new products were proposed as a way to improve Microsoft's core products, but so far they have suffered from problems and most likely worsened rather than improved Internet search.
Instead of thinking about what's best for the user, outdated Frankenstein technology is created by fad.
Google delayed the release of its automated chatbot for several years due to ethical concerns, but then quickly released an awkward and partially broken version in response to Microsoft's actions. And these two companies aren't the only ones trying to jump on the "generative artificial intelligence" bandwagon. Wall Street and venture capital have pushed all of Silicon Valley to catch up, injecting artificial intelligence into confusing places like Snapchat or even the privacy-focused search engine DuckDuckGo. Even Meta announced that the new team would create "artificial intelligence tools and characters," which helped boost the company's stock slightly.
Billions of dollars have been invested in a whole new class of technologies without any real consideration of whether they will be good products that users will like, or whether these products can actually harm users because these companies are not interested in innovation. . In fact, they improve their products depending on what they are intended for. Instead, they are interested in increasing the stock and being able to increase their dividend every quarter, even if it doesn't reinforce the true purpose of the company.
There are ways to incorporate new technologies into core products that don't end in disaster. For example, Netflix has successfully transitioned from DVD-by-mail to streaming and has attracted hundreds of millions of users. But the reason this twist worked was because the product, experience, and timing were right; The average internet connection speed for consumers has increased so much that the same services could be offered to more people with little effort. In other words, Netflix already knows that people love watching movies at home . Netflix has been able to improve on its core product by allowing people to watch movies in a way that has really improved the experience.
Rather, unscrupulous companies such as Microsoft, Meta, and Google are trying to inject untested or pointless technologies into their products for short-term profit. Instead of thinking about what's best for the user, outdated Frankenstein technology is created by fad.
Growth mindset kills technology
These companies have moved away from their core product of helping them find information, buy things, or connect with people because their focus is no longer on innovation or service delivery, but on finding a “good enough” service with which to sell ads. . . . Despite their claims of commitment to users, employees, or the world, it is clear that tech companies and executives are completely enslaved to one interest group: Wall Street. CEOs hired and then fired thousands of people or introduced new technologies, only to reverse course a few months later, all to attract investors. This brutal focus on market activity breeds a corrupt economy, a stable but unsustainable path that promotes the illusion of growth instead of real development.
The biggest tech companies are advised not to aim for growth, not for satisfied customers or becoming a stable and profitable business, but rather for impressive numbers to boost their share price. Investors don't care that Mark Zuckerberg spends billions of dollars a year showing nothing, or that the core experience of using Facebook products went wrong 10 years ago. Zuckerberg announced a "year of efficiency" to showcase his new sense of discipline, but layoffs will only make employees more dissatisfied and productivity will drop. Even internal evaluation and reward systems in these companies encourage employees to develop large “new” projects that generate immediate customer interest, rather than building or maintaining existing products for existing users.
This mindset has even made its way into early-stage startups, which are usually seen as a proving ground for innovation. Venture capital and other investors are promoting a growth-driven model, prioritizing “results” over creating a useful product and sustainable business. Aggressive investors are also pushing companies to follow whatever hot trend gives them the highest return on their initial investment, instead of doing what provides the best user experience.
The end result of this corrupt economy is a real lack of innovation. When companies care about growth at all costs, even if it means worse user experience, they will never seek to change or improve the world. Innovation can be expensive, time-consuming, and unprofitable, meaning that the only innovation we'll see are short-term innovations that make VCs smile but annoy regular users.
That's why finding what you want or buying what you need becomes more stressful. That's why social media is full of sponsored videos and not photos of friends. Why sales software makes sales difficult, or why accounting software doesn't really help you move your money, because a "successful" technology company must always be good enough.
Ed Zitron is the CEO of EZPR, the national technology and business public relations agency. He is also the author of the technology and culture newsletter, Where's Your Editor.