Mark Getty had famously said that IP ( Intellectual Property) is the oil of the XXI st century. What he should have said is that photography is the oil of the 21 century. Four mega tech companies today are making Rockefeller turn in his grave with envy. As you might remember from your economy classes, Rockefeller build his massive oil company by owning and controlling every step of the process. From oil fields, to drilling, fabricating the pipes, railroads, gas stations and everything in between, Standard Oil owned everything and was in complete and full control of its entire vertical, allowing it to crush its competition.
Today, Flickr, Instagram and Twitter are fighting the same battle for absolute control. Not with oil, but with photography. By releasing their own filter sets, Flickr and Twitter have now entered the production side of photography- the drilling – with the firm intention to be the only ones in charge. Google, no so long ago, bought Snapseed, another popular filter company. All already have their own massive distribution ( sharing) platforms.
Already we have seen Instagram disabling its virtual association with Twitter so that their users can only properly share their images on its social site and nowhere else.
Here are the forces in the battle:
Flickr, the oldest, originally just a sharing platform. With the arrival of Melissa Meyer, ex Google, it is now waking up to the fact that it could too become a social network platform as big as Facebook, especially since the latter bought Instagram
Twitter: The text/link sharing platform who has competed with Facebook since its inception and lost the Instagram acquisition.
Instagram: the newbie disruptor who built a fabulous sharing empire by stripping the Facebook idea to its core : photography. Now associated with Facebook.
Google : The Giant. With almost unlimited funds and a huge intelligence pool, it thrives on demolishing competition and the only one to produce cameras, via their cell phone division.It also owns the pipelines in the form of fiber optic cables. It is also probably the one that has the most solid financials.
The intent is clear: Each company wants to be the only player in the photographic space. Period. Because photography is 75% ( if not more) of the internet space and growing rapidly. People communicate, share, comment, discover via photography. Even successful sites like Tumblr and Pinterest could have never succeeded without photography.It is, in other words, the oil of the internet. You cannot, today, own a successful ( think high traffic) website without photography being a major part of it.
Interestingly enough, none of the traditional big players of the photography space, like Getty or Corbis, are remotely close to being in this battle. Neither are Canon, Nikon or the defunct Kodak. They could have. They just did not see it coming and took the wrong path.
Apple could come in as an outsider to this battle. They certainly have everything in place and would only need to turn it on. Just imagine if they launched an app that would perfectly integrate with they cameras ( which they already have with the Iphone/Ipad) and enable an itune-like discovery and sharing platform. Just by the sheer power of their “coolness” amongst cell phone photographers, they could easily grab a huge share very quickly and become a dominant player.
Who will be the winner is anyones’ call and chances are that another company currently under the radar might win this race for complete domination. It could also very be that it might not work at all and that multiple players end up sharing the space. After all, not even Rockefeller succeeded in owning 100% of the oil industry.