Visualization (word clouds) of the consumer-facing product lines of Amazon, Apple, Alphabet, and Microsoft from the book Fragmenting Your Exposure to Big Tech

[Updated August 11th, 2022 for Amazon’s acquisition of iRobot/Roomba]

In the Papercuts Library’s latest release, Fragmenting Your Exposure to Big Tech, the big idea doesn’t involve boycotting or otherwise trying to beat Big Tech, as it begins from the general assumption that these four companies are not going away anytime soon.

Instead, in this book the focus is on promoting basic strategies the average consumer could employ to fragment their usage of Big Tech, the goal of the effort being to avoid growing too dependent on any one of these ever-expanding blobs of industry.

Above you are seeing a modified version of the centerfold from Fragmenting Your Exposure to Big Tech, which we are providing online so as to share this timely information while it is still up-to-date.

You’ll note Amazon’s recent purchase of One Medical has already been added, though the print version still has the original list for the time being, which was finalized before publication in June 2022.

Future updates will be subject to our limited bandwidth, but while here, we’ll also take this opportunity to share a little bit about our process in putting together the visualization… because it was a challenge we frequently regretted giving ourselves!

Early sketches from fall of 2021 imagined much clearer product lines and far fewer industries than eventually ended up being on the table…

Spreadsheet prototype breaking out Big Tech via a grid of company by industry, though the grid is mostly empty at this point

…but to understand the need for fragmentation in the first place, there needed to be some sort of landscape mapped out of all this so-call Big Tech.

As such, the centerfold visualization seemed mandatory for this title, and it presented us with two key challenges:

  1. Identifying each company’s full consumer-facing product line
  2. Creating a consistent organizational system to cover all the market segments and industries involved

The third challenge would have been design had we not decided early on to keep the visual element as simple as possible…

With the plan being some kind of word cloud, it was on to compiling product lines and teasing out all the industries being touched on, which were processes we played out in an alternating pattern to avoid getting too lost.

It turns out that keeping up with the myriad manifestations of Big Tech is even challenging for the companies involved. As documented fully (along with all our research) in the References for Fragmenting Your Exposure to Big Tech, the lists that the companies themselves maintain on their product lines are just as likely to be spotty or out-of-date as are the other resources that have been built and posted around the web on this subject. … Of course, now that includes our visualization above, which will likely be outdated by the end of the week.

That’s why, though otherwise devoted to the print format, we are sharing a digital copy of this viz, to both make the most of the moment, and make the most of all the effort that went into it.

A company by any other name could be a product, service, brand, or subsidiary.

Going through endless lists, site maps, and Wikipedia pages, not to mention all the footers, it was an utterly intimidating project from start to finish.

It was obvious from the beginning that this visualization was never going to be perfect

…but great care was taken to cover as many bases as possible, even if many of the rules and reasons were not put into exact words. The priority was on elements that involve the average consumer taking on some kind of “exposure” to Big Tech… in all its various forms…

v2.5 of the Fragmenting Big Tech centerfold visualization

Assembling a complete product list was one thing, but arranging them was another.

What markets and industries do all these wildly varying product lines cover, what offerings do these four companies share, and how do they all relate to one another?

It’s a huge mess, but as we walk the reader through in the book, the thread begins with what is left of our personal computing, is picked up by our phones, and then led into the cloud, we enter the “Everything Else” of Big Tech…

Spreadsheet prototype of Big Tech products, services, and industries organized as a key for the centerfold

As discussed in our mailing list update from back in May, a lot of things didn’t make it into #8, as Big Tech proved a huge subject to encapsulate. Material for two or three other titles fell out of the fifty plus drafts of Fragmenting Your Exposure to Big Tech, with the focus slowly sharpening toward two goals: getting the reader’s head around the sprawling reach of these four companies, and identifying ways they might avoid falling completely into their plans, … all while not needing to be that technically inclined.

In terms of the visualization however, the main items likely to be noticed missing are basic components packaged in operating systems, like clocks and calculators. Conversely, among those things not likely to be noticed missing would be acquisitions. They were so numerous historically that we were left to trust the active lists more here than in other areas, but still checked those names to see which companies currently stand on their own feet versus having been rolled into their parent company’s machine.

With Amazon however, there were also two special case categories that were each considered but not included in the end. The first was the long, long list of named services within Amazon Web Services, which were tempting to lay out, but difficult and also unnecessary for the lay-consumer audience this book is aimed at.

The second special case was Amazon’s abundant private label products, where it is Amazon and Amazon-produced products being marketing by Amazon on Amazon but under non-Amazon branding… though it is usually stated somewhere… but not always.

These private label brands seemed far more important to include than the pieces of AWS, so we went through great effort to vet and confirm multiple lists currently online (and which can also be found in the References) to create an up-to-date catalog of Amazon private brands currently available in the United States, but as you can see below, you would have had trouble reading that list, even with a magnifying glass.

v3.3 of Fragmenting Big Tech centerfold viz, featuring Amazon US brands

Not to mention that it would in no way be complete. They’ve got so many irons in the fire at Amazon they probably don’t have a complete list anywhere either.

Also, in terms of exposure as discussed in our book, the types of housewares and clothing lines Amazon is cannibalizing their market with are partly out of scope, but if you are curious, here’s what we could confirm…

It was tough to drop Amazon’s brands, but otherwise a relief, just like when the word “non-exhaustive” was finally added to the introduction of this chart in the book.

From there, the last mile involved double-checking all the product lists once again to pick up stragglers and odd ducks for the final compilation.

The last step was deciding what would and would not go into the industry key, which at its busiest state looked like this…

What is Big Tech? It was the one question that felt impossible to answer all along, which is why we took the time to call these companies out on how far they have stretched the “tech” label.

Just because there are tech people involved doesn’t make it tech, and just as we might prefer other fields to stay in their lanes, maybe it is time for some honking at Amazon, Apple, Alphabet, and Microsoft.

The impossible question left for them is: Why are they going so far afield from where they started?

Is it just money now, because a lot of it doesn’t seem like tech.

If the point wasn’t to make tv shows, video games, and housewares from the start, … then maybe it’s not the best application of these companies’ talents now either… or just a funny use of it.

By the end of compiling this centerfold, it almost seemed like Microsoft might not really be big enough to merit inclusion in the Big Tech set, just as Meta was deemed from the start. Now however, in writing up this partial explanation, it is suddenly clear that most of the reasons we came to question Microsoft’s presence were sort of due to its general keeping to what could be called old-school tech.

And looking at this chart, if Microsoft seems to have stayed in the “tech” lines the most, Apple shows what an attempt to expand on that mindset looks like while Alphabet shows both of them how much they are missing. … And Amazon… is its own damn thing… reminding us that these Big Tech companies might be less of a like set than they are conveniently packaged as by the media and our easy labels.

Anyway… however you categorize this short list, the average consumer still has their work cut out for them dealing with such giants. With Fragmenting Your Exposure to Big Tech, as with all of the Papercuts Library’s titles, we hope to increase awareness of a situation being taken for granted, and offer little ways to make a difference where we can.

Interested in giving it a read? Order your copy today!