It’s only been a week, but already everyone’s acting like nothing’s changed.
Facebook announced its astronomical $5 billion initial public offering last Wednesday, giving it a valuation somewhere in the ballpark of $ 75 billion to $100 billion, or possibly $125 for each of its 845 million users. If it even comes close to that number, Facebook will handily beat Google ($1.67 billion in 2004) for the largest U.S. Internet IPO ever, and mint an embarrassment of young millionaires. Now that the dust has settled, the media is moving on to other concerns, like the site’s plans for mobile ads, or – surprise! – privacy issues (Facebook doesn’t always really delete your embarrassing photos, apparently).
But before we turn the page, we gathered an email roundtable of some of our favorite smart Internet people to get a grasp of the real significance of the Facebook IPO. Real talk. The answers varied, but most of them carried more than an air of skepticism – if not the whiff of doom. Read on and friend the ghosts of Facebook’s future. - Compiled by Abe Riesman, Alex Pasternack, and Ana Tiawathia
NICHOLAS NEGROPONTE / FOUNDER, MIT MEDIA LAB, ONE LAPTOP PER CHILDTo me, the interesting part is what Facebook does with the money it gets. That is a real chance for growth and change. The rest is tiresome — whether it goes up or down, the final pricing and the paper wealth of those connected to it.
Facebook is fragile. It’s future depends on what it does with the money in terms of its own meaningfulness to people over the long term. So far, to me, it looks dated and it has already fallen out of favor with users who have been on it since early days.
DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF / MEDIA THEORIST
The IPO actually makes me like Zuckerberg and Facebook more in retrospect. They were wily as private companies. The party is now over. The big story here is that the operating system of Wall Street is still totally king of the hill. Get it? Facebook is running on the corporate capital operating system. Nothing has changed. Facebook changed nothing. It is part of the same old top-down money system. They are just another business. People don’t understand that money is a medium with its own biases. You take on enough money, and you begin to act like money.
EVA GALPERIN / ACTIVIST, THE ELECTRONIC FRONTIER FOUNDATION
Facebook’s filing certainly indicates that a lot of people believe that Facebook is worth a lot of money. But the future of Facebook is much less interesting to me than the future of early Facebook employees, who stand to become very rich after the Facebook IPO. We can expect many of the early employees to cash out and start new companies, which will lead to a new wave of innovation in a couple of years.
GARY SHTEYNGART / AUTHOR, SUPER SAD TRUE LOVE STORYCarmela Soprano starts playing the stock market and Tony cautions her “We don’t got those Enron-type connections.” IPOs remind me just how 99 percent I really am.SHERRY TURKLE / DIRECTOR, MIT INITIATIVE ON TECHNOLOGY AND SELF
I am hoping that the company’s publicness will cause more voices to be heard on how it handles privacy concerns. And that it will take a leadership role, as it should, in thinking through the question of online privacy. In this area, it has unparalleled power. It should exercise responsibility in proportion to that power. That is my most heartfelt wish.TREBOR SCHOLZ / CHAIR, THE POLITICS OF DIGITAL CULTURE AT THE NEW SCHOOL; AUTHOR, “FACEBOOK AS PLAYGROUND AND FACTORY”
On Facebook, we are paying rent in the form of data and tracked subjectivity without knowing what exactly is collected and who is given access to our data portrait and what they are using it for. The pressure of shareholders to achieve the imperative of a 30% growth rate is likely to result in even more brutish privacy invasions than we were served by the service thus far.
TERO KARPPI / AUTHOR, “DIGITAL SUICIDE AND THE BIOPOLITICS OF LEAVING FACEBOOK”
Entering into financial markets may end the era of the individual in social web. With over 400 million daily users, Facebook is so big that the quitting of one individual user has actually become irrelevant for them. In fact, since individuals are now connected, Facebook needs to focus on keeping the masses online. Currently Facebook has the best tools of tracking and controlling the desires of the masses but this may not be enough. As Facebook acknowledges, there are things that could become potential threats. Governments may restrict access to Facebook. Third parties handle their servers and they could be disrupted. Financial markets bring many rules and regulations that need to be followed.
Without a doubt mechanisms that prevent people from leaving Facebook will be developed further. Emotions are exploited in order to keep users within the system. Quitting is made difficulty through technology: deactivating the account does not mean deleting the account totally. The bigger its ecosystem grows the harder it is to leave. Almost every web page has a Facebook like button that at least indirectly connects people to its ecosystem. In other words, you do not need to be in Facebook to be a part of its ecosystem. It has become encompassing.
BARATUNDE THURSTON / ONLINE EDITOR, THE ONION; AUTHOR, HOW TO BE BLACK
It’s significant that a company with under 5,000 employees is worth around $100 billion (I assume they have amazing health insurance!) and that most of this value is based upon aggregation, analysis and sales of its users’ data. Hundreds of millions of people have agreed that easier photo sharing and messaging should be fully subsidized by the industry that gave us the GoDaddy commercials.
BEN MEZRICH / AUTHOR, THE ACCIDENTAL BILLIONAIRES: THE FOUNDING OF FACEBOOK, A TALE OF SEX, MONEY, GENIUS, AND BETRAYALTo me, the most significant thing in the Facebook filing is the amount of users, and how much those users use it! 850 million users, 450 million or so of whom use it every freaking day! That’s amazing. It outporns porn!
Zuckerberg and crew need to keep the site from being eaten alive by advertising. Advertising is 85 percent of their revenues, but people using Facebook see ads as annoying. I’ve never met one person who has clicked through a Facebook ad on purpose.
PHILIP ROSEDALE / FOUNDER, SECOND LIFE
There were many more great opportunities for great new products created by the basic technology of the Internet than we as humans have yet discovered or built. And that gap is increasing, not shrinking, as the core technology accelerates its evolution. So the digital economy will continue to deliver and exploit these kinds of huge changes.As tech increases our power to do almost anything to the world around us and to each other, we much hope that our ability to all get along or at least protect ourselves from each other outpaces our ability to do harm. Where that balance will tilt is impossible to predict. As an entrepreneur, my best thinking for how to help with this outcome is to aggressively build and support technology that connects people and makes the world more transparent, with the hope that we’ll all get along sooner.