Data is the Commodity that Talent Isn’t

Why AOL-Verizon, Google and Facebook are absolutely nothing alike

One article about the impending acquisition of AOL by Verizon said that the “immediate takeaway is that this deal creates a potential competitor for Google and Facebook in the online advertising market”, and other observers/pundits have pointed to the not-so-hidden value in this deal being the immense amounts of data that a combined company like AOL/Verizon has/must have, perhaps to do a better job of deciding what advertising to show users.

I’m sure both Verizon and AOL have great data. Very nice data. Wonderful data, Data, DATA, whether pronounced “day-tuh” or (cue: Aussie accent) “dah-ta”. Website visitation data, click data, personally-identifiable-class-actionable search data, location data, supercookies, whatever.

Data doesn’t matter as much as this does

Facebook and Google, however, have a lot of data and they also have something much much better. They have the world’s smartest people wanting to work for them. They are the ones who make the data mean something, build machine learning algorithms to turn it into products, insights, ads that work, and more.

The main way Facebook and Google attract smart people is by possessing an enormous network effect: they have some of the world’s smartest people already working for them.

Everything else pales in comparison. But they also are generally working on interesting stuff, and both seem to have made a fair amount of (even) advertising software development seem cool, and they pay pretty well (though probably big-company-well). For some, it might tip the scales in Facebook’s favor that it has a woodshop (yes, really — it’s awesome!) or a candy store on campus, or ubiquitous bikes to ride around from one Google building to the next.

Facebook’s woodshop

The bottom line, though, is this: having a big business, hundreds of millions or billions of customers, deep pockets and an interesting set of data assets isn’t enough. You need to win the talent battle too.