Googles acquisition of YouTube gives me new respect for the notion of infinity. It proves that no matter how smart you are, you can still have more money than brains.
If you were trying to find a way to collect the attention of the worlds least discriminating media consumers—people who demonstrate 100 million times a day that they have more excess time than money—youd build YouTube.
We already had blogs to demonstrate that most people dont communicate effectively with words; now we have YouTube to demonstrate that its even more difficult to compose good cinema, although you can always just steal it.
YouTube is perfectly designed to skim the crud off the bottom of the audience barrel. Even the busiest person will glance at a blog to see if it has anything to offer: You can tell in a few seconds that a blog post is not going to tell you anything new in any interesting way, and get back to work.
A three-minute video, though, takes the full three minutes to watch—and you probably wont be able to tear yourself away. This means that the people whose attention you want most are probably going to train themselves to avoid your site, because they dont have time to spare.
Meanwhile, those who do come to a video site arent looking at the ads that sit next to the moving pictures, because the human brain is hard-wired to look at stuff thats moving. And even if something does insert itself right into that moving picture, the brain is amazingly good at ignoring things that arent part of what its finding interesting at the time.
Yes, YouTube is a brand, and brands have value. Brand-name recognition is among the few assets that a new competitor cant readily match in todays environment of mobile capital and globally networked talent.
Trademark value resonates in uncountable pop culture references to iconic brands, as when Paul Simon sings "I got a Nikon camera…" or when Toyota coins a new slogan ("I want my MPG") that is itself a pun on the tagline of MTV.
But brand names can also be remembered as epitaphs: How many people associate the phrase "The Edsel of…" with failure even if theyd never recognize a picture of the car that bore that name?
Does anyone—anyone at all—actually want to defend the proposition that the YouTube brand is fairly valued at $1.6 billion? Reality check: Even world famous brands like Levis and Starbucks, with real products and actual profits, are each worth less than twice that much.
Im open to the possibility that Web-based innovations can transform our ideas of how things should be done.
Amazon.com has turned its bookselling experience into a mastery of online storefront hosting that has liberated market efficiencies in many other domains.
The eBay auction and consignment models have scaled way up from selling Pez dispensers to collectors. I think I know value when I see it. As of now, though, Im finding YouTubes value picture far from clear.
Technology Editor Peter Coffee can be reached at email@example.com.