It’s a floor wax and a dessert topping

Gilda Radner: New Shimmer is a floor wax!

Dan Aykroyd: No, new Shimmer is a dessert topping!

Radner: It’s a floor wax!

Aykroyd: It’s a dessert topping!

It may not be quite as confusing (or funny) an issue, but for some reason the debate over whether Google is a media company or a technology company made me think of the old Saturday Night Live skit. In case you never saw it (or like me, your memory is going), Buck Henry eventually came in from offstage and said “Hey, calm down you two — new Shimmer is both a floor wax and a dessert topping.”

My friend Scott Karp at Publishing 2.0 is quite right to be aghast that anyone would think Google isn’t a media company — after all, about 96 per cent of its revenue comes from advertising, which is something we all associate with media companies. And John Battelle makes a similar point, for which he gets props from none other than Henry Blodget himself, the former Merrill Lynch tech-analyst kingpin, who notes that “you are what you sell,” and Google sells advertising.

Let me play the role of Buck Henry here for a moment. Google is both a media company and a technology company. Let’s face it, the fact that the company sells advertising (a whole lot of advertising, mind you) is really only part of the picture. The reason Google managed to become dominant in that field in the first place is its search algorithms, which are based on proprietary technology.

Does Google’s ad business involve anything proprietary, anything that other companies don’t offer? No. But its technology does. If anything, it is more of a distributor of media than it is a media company, as Rex notes here. If anything, all this debate underlines is how much those two businesses are changing, to the point where it’s difficult to tell what fits in which category and what doesn’t.

(P.S. My thanks to Paul Kedrosky for his inspired use of movie dialogue as an opening gambit for a blog post, which is where I got the idea).

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