Why Facebook, Apple And Google Will Fall Like The Roman Empire

John Naughton at The Guardian has made this observation: Despite their overwhelming dominance, Facebook and Apple will eventually fall. "History should teach us that for today's technology industry titans, the only way is down." That goes for Google too. And Amazon. It's inevitable.

Naughton's argument — familiar to historians and Guns 'n' Roses fans alike — is that nothing lasts forever. He realised aptly that truism applied to today's tech giants after re-reading Paul Kennedy's The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers, which chronicles the history of Rome, Imperial Spain and Britain.

All of them reached world domination and the then-unthinkable eventually happened: they fell. They started to crumble and eventually faded into history, losing more and more political and cultural relevance as time passed by. The farther the falling, the more irrelevant they are. Ask Spain, Rome or the UK. Each fell because they tried to control it all. They tried to impose their ways, close their walls and command commerce, and thought their way, their culture was the only answer to everything. In that confidence, and with absolute power, they thought nobody else could compete with them. And they failed.

But why look at ancient history? Might as well ask companies like Ford, Microsoft or Kodak, all of whom once dominated the market they had created and set trends for decades to come. But ultimately they faded into irrelevance.

Some of them went bankrupt, like Kodak. Some, like Ford or Microsoft, became just another face in the crowd, still big but no longer setting the agenda, no longer dominating 90 per cent of everything. Some were superseded with new markets that made their markets obsolete, thus killing their power — like the fall of the PC in favour of phones and tablets. Some just lost relevance, like Kodak's chemical business replaced by the ascendance of digital photography.

When these companies were dominant, it was inconceivable that they would ever not be. Apple, Amazon, Google, and Facebook won't be any different. They will not fall at the same time, but they all will. From his article:

Although the eclipsing of Apple and Facebook is inevitable, the timing and causes of their eventual declines will differ. Apple's current strength is that it actually makes things that people are desperate to buy and on which the company makes huge margins. The inexorable logic of the hardware business is that those margins will decline as the competition increases, so Apple will become less profitable over the longer term. What will determine its future is whether it can come up with new, market-creating products such as the iPod, iPhone and iPad.

Facebook, on the other hand, makes nothing. It just provides an online service that, for the moment, people seem to value. But in order to make money out of those users and satisfy the denizens of Wall Street, it has to become ever more intrusive and manipulative. It's condemned, in other words, to intrusive overstretch. Which is why, in the end, it will become a footnote in the history of the internet. Just like Microsoft, in fact. Sic transit gloria.

It's not that Apple will disappear. With over $US100 billion in the bank and the ability to churn out desirable products with great margins, they will continue to be a successful, profitable company for a long, long time. Most probably, it will become a Sony. Relevant, but not dominant. Amazon, despite its razor-thin profit margins, is likely here to stay in some capacity. Google may turn into yet another Microsoft.

As for Facebook... like Naughton says, Facebook may become completely irrelevant and disappear, because it doesn't make anything irreplaceable. As it continues to push the limits of privacy to satisfy the demands of advertisers and shareholders, its users will seek higher ground.

Facebook may be the first one to fall. But all of today's tech giants will follow its path into dull obsolescence, just like every empire before them. At least we can look forward to whatever takes their place.


Comments

    Why oh why is there a still from Caligula on the top of this story?

    Unless you are suggesting that Facebook, Google and Apple will have an orgy?

    Anyone who remembers that movie....man.

      Why not? As far as I'm concerned they can all go and f*ck themselves anyway. ;)

        Haha, yea - i dont really care who is the leader - ill still be doing what i want :)

      I remember Helen Mirren was in it. .. Naked.

    I would hardly call Microsoft another face in the crowd! They still have the most popular and ubiquitous OS on the planet... at least for now. As for FB, the sooner the better!

    Last edited 29/01/13 12:41 pm

      Yeah, especially if you are going to suggest that Sony is in a better position. I'd suggest that Sony is a long way further down the slippery pole than MS. After all, what was the last thing they did that got half as much attention as Surface or even Windows Phone? PS Vita? Not likely.

      Last edited 29/01/13 1:09 pm

        The amount of attention a product gets is directly proportional to how much money they spend on marketing it. Compare the amount MS spend on plugging their products to how much Sony spend and the resulting discrepancy in media attention isn't that surprising. Hell, they spent something like $500m just plugging the launch of Kinect, not even counting what they've spent on it since. They probably could have got a bigger user base for it just giving away $500m worth of Kinects and not spending anything on marketing.

          So you're suggesting that Sony aren't interested in selling their products, are you? Surely their lack of marketing is an indication of the accuracy of my observation? Successful businesses market the hell out of their products.

            It's more a case of not having the same amount of cash to splash around that the likes of MS and Apple have got.

              Exactly my point - the once dominant giant, who got so fed up with the music industry not playing their game they bought one of the biggest record companies in the world just to put the wind up the others, can no longer afford the big marketing campaigns that we once took for granted.

    Man, what a brave prediction. So Facebook is doomed.. in a thousand years.
    Also, Roman culture has left a profound mark long after its collapse. A thousand years after Rome, we're still talking about them and fascinated by them.

      Indeed.
      I would argue that the British diaspora succeeded, and continues to succeed to this very day. British Empire did not last, but to say that the cultural significance of the English-speaking world is fading fast really takes a narrow view of what the British Empire really achieved.

    Rome, Spain and the British empire failed because they tried to control it all but over extended their reach, they didn't have the means to control it all. These days and with these particular companies their reach is nearly limitless. While I'm sure they will ultimately topple as predicted, but comparing them to ancient political powers is a bit of a stretch.

    Scarier thought is, what happens if one of them doesn't?

      That's easy.. you will be booking a flight on Galaxy-Facebook to board a Sony spacecraft on route to planet Microsoft

    I've often thought about this subject. Apple, particularly because they reached such a point of prominence, is more likely to see losses sooner rather than later. Eventually they'll climb up a tiny bit again but never reach the same height. They'll drop a tiny bit, rise a bit, and eventually flat line until they start seeing a long term decline. Really they can only make tactical decisions to modify this but generally speaking this is their likely path. As far as I figure, anyway.

    Last edited 29/01/13 1:42 pm

    What's wrong with Microsoft? 90% dominance of desktops, dominance of business servers. Microsoft Office not another face in the crowd, it is *the* office software that a business can't run without. XBox gaming console dominance.
    I agree that the downfall of Apple is likely because of it's attempt to dominate with closed walls.

      Because Microsoft is going closed system.

        Aren't they the most open now? ActiveSync is the only mail/calendar/contacts protocol that is on every device even $50 cheapie phones. Apps for sharepoint and skydrive are on almost every desktop and mobile platform. And you can use the online version office for free if you have a free windows account (hotmail, outlook, etc). Apple has Apple only iCloud/iMessage/Facetime etc. with no x-platform support for most of it's apps, Google is closing up GMail contacts and calendar support.

    Microsoft makes the majority of their profit from Office/Exchange/Server based products, not their desktop O/S's. Unless a company comes along overnight that can develop all the same stuff they have to the standard that it is... I don't see them going anywhere down any time soon.
    Facebook I probably would jump ship if something decent came along to replace it, but I'm not one of those "this is so shocking I'm going to close down my account forevers" types.

    These brands are just part of the "ruling class" of Consumerism. The brands are like the wealthy families and merchants who influenced the running of the Roman, British, Spanish empires. They will all crumble along with the whole system. The patent wars, SOPA etc are a great example of how they are trying to control everything, from supply, to distribution and even ideas.

    "XBox gaming console dominance."

    Oh really? PS3 has sold more consoles than the XBox 360 and it came on the market some 12 months later.

    Windows 8 is not selling. Current sales are less than those of the incredibly hated Vista across the same period. What's more, W8 is being sold at a fraction of the cost of Vista. In two days, the cost of W8 will significantly increase, and that will do nothing to assist its sales. Yeah sure, Windows has a huge dominance on desktops and laptops but W8 is a good reason to go elsewhere . . . absolutely anywhere else! Linux still surpasses Windows Server and Windows basically doesn't exist in HPC clusters.

    >Microsoft
    >"faded into irrelevance"

    ................

    Wow no mention of Yahoo? thought that would be the obvious example of going from huge dominant front-line tech company to still existing still (highly) profitable but no longer an industry leader.

      Good point re Yahoo! Nokia should also be added.

        Nokia haven't quite yet proven their ability to remain profitable after falling though (not that they're bankrupt but they're still struggling through rough times). But are certainly a good example of falling rapidly from the one of the largest names in their sector to virtually non-existent over a couple of years

    " like the fall of the PC in favour of phones and tablets."

    Wait, PC's have fallen?

    Facebook holds all your friends, and for the coming generation, all their childhood. It's as replaceable as a diary, a photo album, home videos, millions of richly interwoven life stories... and if it becomes the first in the "automatically recorded complete digital double" game, it will hold the throne possibly forever.

      Silly. I think you forgot a few 'will nots' there.

      Besides, Facebook will fall this year or the next.

    The same goes for America.

    16.5 trillion...tick tock, tick tock.

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