Email of the day
Comment of the Day

January 11 2011

Commentary by David Fuller

Email of the day

On Facebook:
"I saw this tonight on CNN and thought, finally a voice of reason in the Facebook Frenzy. I have never understood the why of Facebook, and am completely unable to grasp how it could ever produce revenues, but then I am really old, and we all know that the kids of today know everything we don't, and that Goldman Sachs has our best interests close to its heart."

David Fuller's view Thanks for a very interesting and topical article, posted above, by Douglas Rushoff for CNN. Here is a section:

Now, it's Facebook's turn. This week's news that Goldman Sachs has chosen to invest in Facebook while entreating others to do the same should inspire about as much confidence as their investment in mortgage securities did in 2008. For those who weren't watching, that's when Goldman got rich betting against the investments it was selling.

This time, Goldman is putting up some millions of its own -- as if this skin in the game means they couldn't be up to their old tricks. But the commissions and underwriting fees Goldman is earning for selling that other $1.5 billion of private Facebook shares could be enough to offset the cost of their own investment. And bets against Facebook could be leveraged any number of times.

These are the kinds of points those of us who lived through the AOL-Time Warner merger, the MySpace deal and the rest of the dotcom and real estate crashes now raise about such deals. These are also precisely the kinds of points that don't get addressed under the new, privatized and utterly opaque scheme Goldman has devised on behalf of its client, Facebook.

Unlike a public offering of shares, this private offering to Goldman's clients doesn't obligate Facebook to come clean on its real profits. It doesn't have to submit to standard accounting practice, or indicate how well it's really doing or isn't doing. It gets to remain in the safe cloud of hype that protects all such ventures until they either make a real profit or die trying.

The object of the game, for any one of these ultimately temporary social networks, is to create the illusion that it is different, permanent, invincible and too big to fail. And to be sure, Facebook has gone about as far as any of them has at creating that illusion.

If you were there for Compuserve, AOL, Tripod, Friendster, Orkut, MySpace or LinkedIn, you might have believed the same thing about any one of those social networks. Remember when those CD Roms from AOL came in the mail almost every day? The company was considered ubiquitous, invincible. Former AOL CEO Steve Case was no less a genius than Mark Zuckerberg.

Further confirming that the hype and market has reached its peak, social networking competitor LinkedIn is maneuvering toward its own IPO, which it likely hopes to complete before Facebook eventually gets there and poisons the well. These companies are being valued as if they will be our permanent means for identifying ourselves.

Yet social media is itself as temporary as any social gathering, nightclub or party. It's the people that matter, not the venue. So when the trend leaders of one social niche or another decide the place everyone is socializing has lost its luster or, more important, its exclusivity, they move on to the next one, taking their followers with them. (Facebook's successor will no doubt provide an easy "migration utility" through which you can bring all your so-called friends with you, if you even want to.)

Facebook has always seemed frivolous to me but I am the wrong generation. I know smart 30 to 40 something techie business people who think it will rule the world of internet advertising, which is currently Google's domain. They believe that Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg is right in saying that social consumerism is the future. He is a lot smarter than I am but that sounds frivolous as well.

What I do know is that I use Google 20 to 100 times a day. I have yet to join Facebook. More importantly, Douglas Rushkoff has persuaded me to reverse my brief enthusiasm for a Facebook IPO.

Incidentally, the gentleman who sent the email above may have exceeded his 'three score and ten', but he is probably the most tech savvy of contemporaries known to me.

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