Back in the bad old days of the Cold War, one of the most revered branches of the inexact sciences was Kremlinology. In the West, newspapers, think tanks and governments retained specialists whose job was to scrutinize every scrap of evidence, gossip and rumor emanating from Moscow in the hope that it would provide some inkling of what the Soviet leadership was up to.
The commercial equivalent of Kremlinology is Google- and Facebook-watching. Although superficially more open than the Vladimir Putin regime, both organizations are pathologically secretive about their long-term aspirations and strategies. So those of us engaged in this strange spectator sport are driven to reading stock-market analysts' reports and other ephemera, which is the technological equivalent of consulting the entrails of recently beheaded chickens.
Let us examine what little we know and see if we can make any sense of it. We know first of all that these two companies are run by smart people who have a deep understanding of the capabilities and potential of computing technology. We also know that these folks have: total control of their companies on account of a cunning two-tier shareholding structure, which effectively liberates them from stock-market control; megalomaniacal ambitions; and — for the time being at least — money-pumps, which provide limitless resources and enable their founders to indulge their ambitions and visions.