Geordie Guy, Vice Chair, Electronic Frontiers Australia, offers the enticing analogy that Senator Lundy is like Google and Senator Conroy is like Apple. Will Apple win this battle, too?
Google and Apple have different business models, for better or for worse, and they’re examples of a common dichotomy in technology and the one facing today’s ministerial shuffle. While people argue the extent and merits, few people would disagree that there are fundamental differences to the way they go about what they do.
Google is an engineering company. They use technology to solve problems in two categories; the first category is populated entirely by Google employees and includes problems such as “how can we see, in real time, where bush fires are in Australia?” and “how can I map a route from point A to point B, seeing the traffic density as I do?”. The second category contains one sole problem, “how can Google get more money?”. Solutions to the latter category fund solutions to the former one, and because Google’s revenue model is predicated on its popularity, solutions to the former category drive revenues in the latter.
Apple’s products consider aesthetics and build design above the actual tech inside their products, and when they do consider the tech inside their products the focus is ease-of-use and consistency. They’re experts in “ooh!” factor from non-technical types, wrapping solutions to life’s problems in glass and metal.
Google wants to make the world’s best fishing rods, whereas Apple wants to bring about a magical unending supply of fish.
So is Australia’s Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy a Google or an Apple?
It’s an Apple, and I’ll tell you why.
The products that DBCDE “sell” at the moment include a national broadband network that few users of it will ever comprehend, it’s already being advertised as a magical method to deliver services such as e-health and education benefits. There’s also a push to move Australia to digital TV which is analagous to some of Apple’s pioneering of new standards, and more specifically driving the demise of depreciated ones. The third thing that DBCDE is pushing towards in the mind of Australians, is regulation of media in order to frame these innovations in a family-friendly, consistent way that will drive it’s popularity with a perceived mainstream Australia – in both the mandatory Internet filtering proposal and Apple’s iron fisted control of its distribution platform, the protagonists have been described as censors.
In light of this, is anyone surprised that Kate Lundy is not in the DBCDE portfolio and Steve Jobs’ namesake is? I want her there as well, I think she’d be better for the country (which is why I’m backing Gizmodo’s campaign here), but Lundy is a Google not an Apple. She’s about using technology to bring a government closer to its people, about the community around technology and how fostering a flat and open understanding of it can bring about grassroots benefits across all of society. Pia Waugh infuriates me, but her orbit around Lundy as her adviser is rolled-gold evidence that Lundy stands for these things because they are what that the open-source community that serves as the context for Waugh’s thought leadership stands for.
Conroy is Apple all over, controlling the conversation and brand foremost and leaving projects and policies that will produce “magical and revolutionary” results up to organisations like the NBN Co. You can tell because he surrounds himself with… exactly nobody – while Lundy has ties to technology thought leaders, Conroy is a lone figurehead with no visible technology connections because for him it’s about the brand.
I’m hopeful that our communications portfolio can return to being about communications, and that a communicator who surrounds herself with communicators can lead it. Realistically, I know it’s about brand identity, and an identity that surrounds himself with brand will continue to be in charge.
Image: Charles Brewer, news.com.au