The 2018 Stratechery Year in Review

In last year’s Stratechery Year in Review I noted that the predominant theme was the impact of tech on society; perhaps unsurprisingly, the dominant theme in 2018 was tech and regulation.

This year I wrote 139 Daily Updates (including tomorrow) and 40 Weekly Articles, and, as per tradition, today I summarize the most popular and most important posts of the year; the question of regulating tech generally and Facebook’s foibles specifically figure prominently. Frankly, I plan on making an effort to spend more time elsewhere next year.

In March I also launched Stratechery 4.0, with dramatically improved search; easier access to the archives via Concepts, Companies, and Topics; as well as a visual refresh and new logo.1

You can find previous Stratechery Years in Review here: 2017 | 2016 | 2015 | 2014 | 2013

A drawing of Amazon's Positioning as Healthcare Middleman

Here is the 2018 list.

The Five Most-Viewed Articles

Stratechery once again had record traffic in 2018, and although none of the articles matched the juggernaut that was 2017’s Amazon’s New Customer, the first two articles on this list were the second and third-most popular articles all-time.

  1. The End of Windows — The Windows division no longer exists at Microsoft, marking the end to a four-year process of changing Microsoft’s culture.
  2. Amazon Health — Amazon Health doesn’t seem like much now, but there are hints it could be the ultimate application of Aggregation Theory.
  3. Lessons From Spotify — Spotify has a marginal cost problem, but while the cause is unique to Spotify, the challenges are more applicable than it seems.
  4. The Bill Gates Line — Understanding the differences between aggregators and platforms matters both for companies interacting with them and regulators considering antitrust.
  5. Amazon Go and the Future — Amazon Go exemplifies how Amazon is building its monopoly in three ways: horizontally, vertically, and financially. Plus, why automation is worth being optimistic about.

A drawing of The Moat Map

The Evolution of Aggregation Theory

I am very pleased at the way I fleshed out Aggregation Theory this year, both in theoretical terms and also in its importance when it comes to thinking about regulation.

  • Zillow, Aggregation, and Integration explores why owning the customer relationship isn’t enough: an Aggregator also needs a way to transform a value chain. See also the afore-linked Lessons From Spotify.
  • Tech’s Two Philosophies, The Moat Map, and the afore-linked The Bill Gates Line explore the differences between platforms and Aggregators: the former facilitates a connection between suppliers and users, while the latter intermediates it. This distinction is critical for regulators.
  • Aggregators and Jobs-to-be-Done filled in a missing piece of Aggregation Theory: when I say that Aggregators win by having the best user experience, that means they are the best and most all-encompassing option to get a job done.

A drawing of Platform Businesses Attract Customers by Third Parties

Tech and Regulation

There were three broad subcategories when it came to tech and regulation: the tendency of regulation to entrench incumbents, antitrust, and Facebook. Lots and lots of Facebook.

Regulation:

  • Open, Closed, and Privacy — Just as encryption is only viable on closed systems, so it is that increased privacy regulations will only entrench walled gardens. That should affect thinking on regulation.
  • The European Union Versus the Internet — The EU is back to regulating tech companies, and getting the Internet wrong in the process. That, though, helps illuminate an approach that could work.
  • Data Factories — Facebook and Google and other advertising businesses are data factories, and regulation will be most effective if it lets users look inside.

A drawing of The Facebook Data Factory

Antitrust:

  • The European Commission Versus Android — Examining the history of Android explains why the European Commission may be right to fine Google for its actions around Android, even as the reasoning feels off.
  • Antitrust, the App Store, and Apple — Apple’s case before the Supreme Court is about standing; Apple has a strong case. That, though, doesn’t mean the App Store isn’t a monopoly — and that Apple isn’t increasingly predicated on rent-seeking.
  • The State of Technology at the End of 2018 — The State of Technology, at least in the enterprise space, is strong; consumer tech is another story, and it is time to question the dominance of big companies like Google.

A drawing of How The Internet Undid Microsoft's Platform Advantage

Facebook:

Facebook at the center of data exchange

The Old Guard

This year several companies from the first generation of tech had their day in the sun, in many cases because of acquisitions.

  • The Cost of Developers — Microsoft paid a lot for GitHub, because it had to pay directly for access to developers. It doesn’t have the leverage of users the way that Apple does on the App Store.
  • Intel and the Danger of Integration — Intel is in an increasingly bad position in part because it has been captive to its integrated model. Or, you could simply say they were disrupted.
  • IBM’s Old Playbook — IBM has bought Red Hat in an attempt to recreate its success in the 90s; it’s not clear, though, that the company or the market is the same.
  • The Experience Economy — SAP’s acquisition of Qualtrics shows how the shift in technology has changed business; it is a perfect example of using the Internet to one’s advantage.
  • Apple’s Middle Age — For Apple, hitting middle age means a strategy primarily focused on monetizing its existing customers. It makes sense, but one wonders what happens next (See also, The iPhone Franchise and Apple’s Social Network).

Integrated intel was competing with a competitive modular ecosystem

More Analysis

There was still room for Stratechery staples: analysis of industries and companies in the context of the bigger picture.

A drawing of The Asymptote Version of the User Experience

The Year in Daily Updates

This was another strong year for the Daily Update, which continued its trend towards being one fully-fledged topic with three areas of focus; the difference between Weekly Articles and Daily Updates is smaller than ever (you should subscribe!). Here are some of my favorites:

A drawing of Apple, Microsoft, Google, and Facebook on tech's compass
A special Daily Update drawing from Platforms Versus Aggregators, What About Amazon?, Walmart Buys Flipkart

I also conducted three interviews for The Daily Update:


I can’t say it enough: I am so grateful to Stratechery’s readers and especially subscribers for making all of these posts possible. I wish all of you a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, and I’m looking forward to a great 2019!

  1. And merchandise! [↩︎]