Don Marti

Wed 05 Dec 2012 05:11:11 AM PST

Internet trend: people love trends

One of the great things about Silicon Valley is that you can say, "look, shiny!" and get people to run off and do pointless things for a surprisingly long time.

For example, let's have a look at 2012 Internet Trends (Update) from Mary Meeker and Liang Wu at Kleiner Perkins Caufield Byers.

Pinterest gets a whole slide. A new device that automates the process of getting up and changing the thermostat (which has to be the best First World Problem since "My guitar tuner is on top of the TV so I downloaded a guitar tuner app so I don't have to get up." ) gets a whole slide.

Healthcare is a $2.6 trillion industry in the USA, so it probably has to get mentioned somewhere, but it gets a third of a slide (78) buried under credit cards ("ooo, mobile payments, shiny!") and education ("ooo, Internet classes, shiny!").

Now look at slides 83 and 84, about the US budget. "Entitlements," which mainly means Social Security and Medicare, get lumped together. This is usually not helpful. Social Security is solvent until some time around when the (32-bit) Unix clock wraps around in the 2030s. Meanwhile Medicare, because of rising health care costs, is in just as much trouble as anyone in the US who has to pay for health care.

The "growth of entitlements" problem is just the public-sector side of the rising health care costs problem. If San Francisco Bay had a sea monster that was eating private boats and public ferries, the problem wouldn't be Ferry System Reform. Actually, around here it probably would. Forget I said anything.

But back to "Internet Trends." Look! Shiny! Asset-light generation! Let's think about all those people who work short-term jobs and buy their stuff from Rent-A-Center and get it repoed...and make everybody live like that! That would be cool. Because then instead of just doing something with their own stuff, people would be paying a percentage to some VC-funded entrepreneur every time they did anything. It's like micropayments for everything!

(What looks like reduced hassle and freedom from the POV of the 1% looks like Precarity to the rest of us.)

So it's pretty clear that this presentation is a carefully crafted "hey look over there", to get all the other VCs fired up about the hot new "Social Predatory Finance" sector while KPCB really puts its money into cost-effective health-related startups. Good one.

So that was the main point of this, and you can stop reading now. One more thing, just to go back and look at the "% of Time Spent in Media vs. % of Advertising Spending" slide.

Print has 7% of time spent and 25% of spending. And those two bars, the 7 and the 25, get nice little down arrows on them, as if as soon as Madison Avenue gets back from its three-martini lunch, smokes a Lucky Strike, and catches up on twenty years of back issues of Wired, it's going to realize, hey, wait a minute, what's up with all those insertion orders for print advertising that we've been signing in our anachronistic stupor? We have to catch up with this online stuff, and maybe even lose the IBM Selectrics!

But there's a reason that print still gets extra ad money, and it has nothing to do with ad industry inertia or marketing people who fetishise that crisp paper and inky-smelling ink.

Advertising exists to send a signal about the advertiser's intentions to make and support a product, and online and mobile advertising reduce that signal by making it easy to target individual users. Meanwhile, print advertising has a combination of two excellent qualities: it's easy to place advertising that's matched to relevant content, but hard to track users. Print is going to keep its advantage until newer media fix their privacy problems. Anyway, more on that topic here: Creepiness and conventional wisdom.