When I talk about how we should fight tech monopolies, I often make the point that tech companies used to grow by making things, but now they grow by buying them.

For example Google created 1.5 amazing products (a search engine and a Hotmail clone) and then bought a bunch of companies. Its in-house products - G+, Sidewalk Labs, smartwatches, Loon - are boondoggles, vanity projects and failures.


A couple weeks ago, a Twitter commenter challenged me on this, asking why Google's excellence when it comes to SCALE didn't qualify as "innovation"? In some ways, making a hit product is the easy part - keeping it running once it's a hit is the hard part.

I have a lot of sympathy for this argument. I'm a recovering systems administrator. I know how hard scale is. I remember when Youtube was all "buffering..." errors. Hell, I remember when Blogger crashed on a near-daily basis.

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Google's expertise in running reliable services at scale is humbling and astounding.

But it's not enough. The argument is complex, so I wrote an essay about it:


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The short version: doing things well at scale comes with the territory for monopolists. Standard Oil pumped a lot of oil and the Rail Trust moved a lot of rolling stock. If being good at scale gets you a pass from anti-monopoly law, then anti-monopoly law is meaningless.

What's more, much of Google's expertise at scaling (as well as that of other Big Tech, from Apple and Microsoft to Facebook) is the result of still more acquisitions - from server companies to cluster-management companies.

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In a world of vigorously enforced anti-monopoly rules, those companies would be standalones, selling products to anyone who wanted them - not allowing monopolists to better manage the nascent competitors they've gobbled up.


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