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Why Twitter, Facebook, Google and Amazon want to be each other

Mike Elgan | March 31, 2014
Suddenly, major tech companies are flipping out, remaking themselves to be more like their competitors

What does a search engine company want with a gas-powered robotic mule? In Silicon Valley, that's the wrong question.

What does a search engine company want with a gas-powered robotic mule?

In Silicon Valley, that's the wrong question. The question is: If a robot mule exists and can be bought — and you've got billions to spend — why wouldn't you buy it?

Besides, the future will arrive sooner than you think. The only way to survive as a technology company is to re-invent yourself. You can't wait until the future is clear. You have to buy everything that looks promising and hope for the best.

That's the lesson Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg learned from Google. Suddenly, his company is going nuts with the moonshot projects.

Facebook this week announced the $2 billion acquisition of Oculus VR, a maker of virtual reality products useful mainly for total immersion gaming.

Sure, Zuckerberg justified the purchase by saying that virtual reality might one day be social, or the platform of the future. But a future in which people socialize by entering shared VR spaces wearing giant goggles on their faces is so far away that acquiring Oculus VR doesn't really give the company an advantage in that future.

Zuckerberg also announced this week something called the Facebook Connectivity Lab, which is a new division of Facebook that's bringing Internet connectivity to the poor using — wait for it! — drones, satellites and laser beams.

Why does a social network need a space program? Wrong question!

I suspect the real reason for all this is that Zuck is tired of Google having all the fun.

Google wants to be Amazon
Google, meanwhile, appears to have a case of Amazon envy. Sure, Amazon is a killer online retailer. But two aspects of Amazon really stand out. The first is that the company was an early leader in the provision of cloud computing services with its Amazon Web Services offering.

The second is that Amazon always favors low profit margins in order to cut costs to aggressively take customers from competitors. By using a zero- or less-than-zero margin price to suck the oxygen out of a market, Amazon is able to suffocate the competition, then take over. Consider the case of, in which Amazon deployed its sophisticated army of price-undercutting bots to sell diapers cheaper than no matter what. And once the company was near death, Amazon swooped in and bought it cheap.

Now, Google is going after Amazon's business of general cloud services, and it's using Amazon's price suffocation strategy to do it.

Amazon wants to be Apple
Amazon, we learned this week, looks to be making a play for the living room to compete against Apple for the future of streaming, on-demand video content. In that area, Amazon would also be competing against Microsoft. And Google. And Roku. You get the picture.


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