The Congressional spotlight shone on the Silicon Valley behemoths exposes one of the great weaknesses about Internet firms in the past two decades that has had little attention.
Contrary to common sense, technology platform companies, including Facebook, Google, Twitter and hundreds of their peers, do not know—nor will they know in the future—all of the myriad ways their platforms will be used by millions of users. These platforms leverage new and creative technologies to enable many activities and capabilities. But what they fail to anticipate are all of the ways that users of these platforms create, maintain and deliver old and new kinds of content.
Fake news, graphic videos, 140-character messages fueling terror networks, and your banking app on a hand-held device are recent manifestations of a connected society enabled by technology platforms that were unforeseen, except in in broadest terms, by everyone. We do not know how people and organizations will use existing platforms, nor can we project what new technologies will become available in a few years—and the innovative uses they will be put to. For example, augmented and virtual reality technologies are becoming readily available. Yet do we really know how we will be using them?
There is confusion as to how to classify these platform companies. Are they technology companies? Media companies? Content providers? Adding to the confusion is the fact that the platform companies have multiple sides. Typically, one side has responsibility to maintain and add more functionality to the platform, while the other sides are actually users of the platform. They use the platforms in separate and creative ways.