It’s been a strange old week for Facebook, the social network service that improves self-esteem, finds lost engagement rings and cures cancer. As shares on the secondary market closed at an all time high, valuing the company at some $82.5 Billion, for one fleeting moment it seemed like the tide of opinion could turn against the mighty blue juggernaut.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t the tide of popular opinion.
Followers of the tabloid tech press will be aware that a handful of high profile blogs have taken to Facebook Comments and Connect in a cheap and cheerful attempt to improve the quality of reader engagement, or to put it more simply, as a means of starving the trolls.
As you might expect critics were quite vocal in pointing out Facebook’s complete lack of regard for anonymity in commenting. How would this effect free and open debate?
I particularly enjoyed Steve Cheney’s take on the big blue authenticity killer, thoughts that were picked up and elaborated upon by Lauren Weinstein, who took the argument directly to Godwin in a piece dripping with venom:
Facebook’s founder Mark Zuckerberg has been quoted as saying:
“You have one identity. The days of you having a different image for your work friends or co-workers and for the other people you know are probably coming to an end pretty quickly … Having two identities for yourself is an example of a lack of integrity.”
This statement, particularly the latter portion, could only have been made by someone supremely self-confident — and so young that they haven’t accumulated much “life baggage” as of yet.
In fact, it is an extremely alarming statement, one that would have gladdened the hearts of despots and government spooks all through human history. Coming from the man child who controls the Facebook empire, such a quote should trigger alarm bells of concern for every person, everywhere, who cares about free speech and civil liberties.
I have to say, though I don’t share the scathing sentiment, in many respects I’m with Weinstein on this. Only the arrogance of youth could insist that a silo meets a complex societal need to share and converse online. I simply do not believe the oft-trotted out wisdom that Facebook ‘gets’ social.
Yes, the big blue meanie understands ego, greed and avarice but the rich complexity of our social interactions? Well, if Facebook Groups is the answer to the question: ‘how do I fit my relationships with my teenage niece, aged aunt, high-school buddies and edgy-to-the-point-of-embarrassment pub friends into the same space?’ then no, Facebook doesn’t ‘get’ social – and they know it.
As yet to be played out, the truth is that we flawed and feckless humans require multiple social networks. We are not Everyman, this is not a morality play, it’s real life.
So what is Facebook good for? John C Dvorak summed it rather nicely:
I see Facebook as kind of a refuge for the meek and wary. I see Facebook as a ghetto for netizens who cannot survive on the real Internet; people who could never learn to ride a bike and would have stayed with AOL if it had not abandoned them.
Facebook is great at providing simple and familiar comforts to the many, apparently everyone feels a little better after a few minutes in the blue room. And if that weren’t enough reason to keep going back, there’s a bundle of money to be made as well. FMCG is leveraging f-commerce and whilst the eyeballs stay on it, Facebook is enormously good at advertising and product promotion.
Elsewhere the rising valuation on the secondary market means that Facebook will be the biggest and bluest of blue chips for as long as it takes for some folks at Goldman Sachs to fill their boots. At some stage the company will be very good at making a heck of a lot of rich people even richer. A great friend of mine, who just happens to be an Investment Banker specialising in Securitisation, put it thusly:
Companies that have a valuation of $82.5 billion have a twenty-year plan. It’s not a long term bet.
Take from that what you will but if you think the fellas that brought us Credit Default Swaps have a vision beyond 2013, you’re probably mistaken.
Of course, I might be wrong and in a world where Regulators and Network Operators decide that tiered-pricing is the way that data has to go, Facebook might be just what the doctor ordered to wrap up your online experience. Have a think about how Facebook0 plays into Net Neutrality.
As a friend, my advice is simple: If you’re on Facebook for more than 30 minutes a day, buy yourself a domain name and some hosted server space and pay yourself first. If you don’t you’re an idiot.
Image: When good networks go bad – from Mamoru Hosoda’s Summer Wars