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Much-vaunted “Internet Trends Report” drops: A glimpse at how Silicon Valley sees the world


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Industry leaders salivate over Mary Meeker’s annual report, which explains how tech thinks the world works

 

Do you work in Silicon Valley? Do you know who Mary Meeker is?

 

If the answer is “no” on both fronts, you can probably be forgiven for your ignorance. For those within the tech industry, however, the annual slide deck from the soothsaying analyst and investor is the Silicon Valley equivalent of Moses reading from the stone tablets handed down from God.

 

Meeker presents an annual “Internet Trends Report” at ReCode's Code Conference in Rancho Palos Verdes, California, an event that is closely followed by those in the industry; in their eyes, "Mary Meeker seems to be somewhere between Alan Greenspan when he was running the Federal Reserve and an ancient Greek oracle," as former Salon writer Scott Timberg opinedReCode called it “the most highly anticipated slide deck in Silicon Valley” and, along with numerous other outlets, reported on its more salient details.

 

Meeker, it should be noted, is the consummate Silicon Valley insider. A partner at the venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, Meeker has a vested financial interest in depicting the state of the tech industry as rosy, its intentions as inherently good and government regulation as inherently suspicious.

 

At casual glance, Meeker’s slide deck — which you can view in full here — is perhaps most notable for its positivity; most of the graphs are going upward, in exponential or linear fashion. Everything is great and everything is growing — well, almost everything. Graphs of anything government-related look sour in Meekerville. Some graph-free slides consist merely of buzzy business-speak argot, single words in a series: “Devices / Access / Simplicity / Payments / Local” etc. It's the kind of stuff that impresses the kind of people who think Steve Jobs was deep.

 

In any case, it’s worth noting that Meeker's data is cherry-picked; many of the growth curves are for companies that are currently at the top of their markets. Shopify’s active merchants may have an exponential growth curve, and Spotify’s user-base growth looks linear, but we have to ask: Why not include MySpace’s year-to-year active user base for context? Or HomeJoy’s?

 

But Meeker knows her audience, and that’s part of the point. The Meeker slide deck spectacle is for the VCs and founders who have imbibed the Californian Ideology — what Salon writer Jason Rhode called “the religious creed of Silicon Valley,” and specifically the idea that “the machines would fix everything,” in his words:

Tech is an ideology, although it pretends not to be. Tech is how you get a world obsessed with managerialism, with process over vision. Above all, tech privileges. And so, in the land of California, the paradise to the West, the powerful used the oldest trick in the book: disguising the interests of a few people as the law of nature.

It’s a pretty good summary of Meeker’s slide deck, honestly.

 

With those enormous caveats out of the way, it’s fair to say that Meeker’s Internet Trends Report talk is, if nothing else, a collection of moderately interesting and generally reliable data points — which, despite being presented in a manner scientifically designed to reassure rich people that they deserve to be rich, still offer some salient details on the state of our digital world. After all, Meeker is a venture capitalist, and VCs need accurate data and good research to know where and how to make their money.

 

If there's one overarching meta-theme to Meeker’s deck this year, it was, to paraphrase our president, China, China, China. Meeker called eyes to “China’s rising intensity & leadership in Internet-related markets.” To wit: almost 600 million Chinese use mobile payments systems; China is the No. 1 market in the world for online gaming; and Chinese Amazon-equivalent Alibaba is coming closer to matching Amazon in terms of its market capitalization.

 

Probably the most-reported point from the deck was Meeker's note that the number of Internet users worldwide — 3.6 billion — now represents fully one-half of the planet's population. She surmises this is a reason that smartphone sales aren’t increasing, as the market has been saturated.

 

Meeker also cites research that daily digital media consumption has hit a high of 5.9 hours per adult user. That sounds high, given that there are only 16 waking hours in a day, but the fine print explains that this data includes “home and work,” so perhaps people like me who are online for eight-plus hours a day at work are skewing the average.

 

Here's another stat I didn’t know previously: the average Facebook user is worth $34 a year to the company. All those little micro-labor actions you do, from liking to viewing to commenting, are helping make money for Mark Zuckerberg's company. So congratulations to all the unpaid employees — er, users— of Facebook. I guess.

 

If you want to read through Meeker's entire deck and make your own investment decisions (or whatever), you can find it here.

 

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