The recent public float – and subsequent unceremonious sinking – of shares in Mark Zuckerberg’s social networking behemoth got me to thinking about the true value of Facebook.
Facebook – that microcosm of social consciousness that’s become so much a part of everyday life for so many. Something like 900 million people worldwide are more than happy to use it for free; far fewer, it seems, were willing to pay the price – quite literally – of becoming a shareholder. Within a week of the float, the Facebook share price had lost 15% of its IPO (Initial Public Offering) value. What shareholders there were promptly sued Marky Mark & The Floaty Bunch because they reckoned he hadn’t disclosed ”a severe and pronounced reduction” in revenue growth forecasts while he was busily pitching the big stock market début to anyone who cared to listen. The contributing factors were many and varied and, frankly, a bit jargony and a bit financey-sharemarkety-boring. Let’s just say the short-lived bloom was definitely off the Facebook rose.
All of which begs the question: what’s the true value of Facebook? More importantly, how would life in the 2010s change if we suddenly found ourselves without it?
It sometimes feels like Facebook’s been around forever – look at how long we’ve been ‘checking in’ everywhere we go… actually that feature was only introduced less than two years ago! So it’s not so inconceivable that the Facebook universe could be wrenched from our tenuous grip at any moment. Over the past decade we’ve seen it happen to so many brands with far longer histories than Facebook. At the turn of the century I couldn’t imagine an Australian airline industry without Ansett in it, but in March 2002 the Ansett Airlines brand flew off into the sunset (or more to the point, it didn’t!) for the last time, after 66 years in service; in 2010 General Motors shut its 84-year-old Pontiac shop just as the rest of its brands – not to mention the rest of the American auto industry – were also on their knees; just last year, Rupert Murdoch closed down The News of The World after nearly 168 years of (arguably some of the world’s trashiest) publication, largely off the back of a ‘phone hacking’ scandal. So what’s to save an eight-and-a-bit year old social networking service when things head south? The next generation of digitally inclined teenagers might turn their backs on social networking altogether – or, worse still, they could all sign up to a new social network; Zuckerberg might go postal; massive delusions of grandeur could eventually see the founder of everyone’s favourite waste of time disappear up his own arse; his co-founder Eduardo Saverin might yet come up with a plan so ingenious, so evil, that Zuckerberg will rue the day he ever crossed him – he might invent an alternative to Facebook that’s so utterly brilliant (think Google+) and has such staggering reach (think Google+) that it steals every single Facebook user away forever… but none of these alternative endings is nearly as interesting as considering how the Facebook-savvy world would change if the big blue ‘F’ was switched off for good!
Status Updates: there’ll be no more of this business of updating everyone we’ve ever met about our every waking thought. No, we’ll just have to start remembering to tell people the kinds of things we would’ve posted as a status update… if we can remember them! The immediacy of the Facebook world has probably eaten away at our ability to remember very much at all. It’s actually a bit frightening: we’ll have to have… wait for it… actual conversations with people about… wait for it… things they don’t already know! WTF!?! Having actual conversations with people, face-to-face or over the phone, maybe by email or instant messenger or even, God forbid, by sending them a hand-written letter through the post?!? And having to tell them, retrospectively, about things we’ve done that they don’t already know about?! How quaint! And to respond to our news of travels and outings and general ruminations of the day at the office or the world at large, our friends will actually have to do something that doesn’t involve them typing a comment, using assorted punctuation marks to form something approximating a facial expression, or clicking ‘Like’. Imagine that – a world where giving the ‘thumbs up’ reverts to a hand gesture that we physically make with our actual thumbs… where a smiley face involves a movement of actual facial muscles… or where we can no longer respond to an actual question, asked with the expectation of actual answers, by pressing a button with a picture of a thumb on it! It’s almost too much to comprehend.
‘Travelogs’ and Holiday Snaps: when friends go away – be it to another city for a couple of nights with work, down the coast for the weekend, to another state for a fortnight or overseas for a month – we’re going to have to… wait for it… wait for it! But even worse than the prospect of not immediately knowing where they are, what they’re doing or how they’re feeling is that we’re going to have to either wait until they send us some kind of written, verbal or photographic evidence of their happy trails, or… wait for it… wait until they come back from wherever they went and tell us about it! I feel a slide night coming on…
Check-Ins: of course everyone always uses the check-in feature for Facebook’s originally prescribed purpose: to tell all our Facebook friends where we are so they can all join us. The inherent flaws with this proposition are many and varied, not least of which is that I don’t necessarily want all 293 of my Facebook friends to turn up at the 30-seat café I’m currently enjoying a relaxing Sunday brunch in; nor do I expect my friends in the UK, the US or Europe to stump up for the $2000 airfare needed to convey them here; nor, for that matter, would I expect to still be sitting here, mulling over my finely crafted scrambled eggs, oily mushrooms and too-thick toast, when they finally arrived to join me 40 hours later; and don’t even get me started on the 75% of my Facebook friends who I’m never likely to actually see from one year to the next, much less spend a lazy Sunday morning brunching with. All of that having been said, with the disappearance of Facebook itself comes the complete absence of any choice in the matter whatsoever. If you ever dreamt of 293 friends swarming into your favourite café in search of you but were still waiting for it to happen – well let’s face it, you’ve a whole lot more to be concerned about than the removal of either Facebook or choice from your life!
Event Management: we’ll have to revert to sending e-invites again! Or, even worse, posting invitations in the mail! Who does that any more, other than for weddings!? Honestly, it’s so high maintenance: we’ll have to physically go to a newsagent or stationer and buy a packet of party invitations, then collect everyone’s addresses (coz, be honest, how many friends’ addresses do you actually know, much less have written down!?), then write-up all the tedious details of the event on the invitations by hand, put all the invitations in envelopes, put stamps on all the envelopes, then pop all the envelopes into one of those big red things with the curved tops and the rectangular slot in the top that Australia Post vans seem to spend an inordinate amount of time not collecting anything from! We’re gonna have an R.S.V.P. date on them too and a return address or phone number to send confirmation of attendance to. So far, it’s taken sixteen weeks to prep for a birthday party… and it isn’t even a significant number! After going to all this trouble, mark my words – we will keep track of who responds! This’ll sort the wheat from the chaff, big time!
Free Publicity: businesses, bands, charities… they’ll all have to resort to legitimate, old-school advertising. No more big blue ‘F’ in the corner of their print adverts. No more online traffic that costs them $0. No more in-built reporting to tell them how many people have visited. No more allowing the great unwashed to ‘interact’ with their page or provide immediate warts-n-all feedback on their products or services. Nup, it’ll be back to the drawing board for businesses without Facebook: they’ll have to pay for it all. Or get one of those silly people to dress up in a furry animal costume and stand on the footpath looking as unenthusiastic as possible as they wobble an oversized sign about – you know the ones I mean, those great big wobbly cardboard signs that nobody wants to look at, the ones that might just as well be a giant comedy hand for all the business they (don’t) drum up!
Centralised Messaging: With Facebook six feet under, so too will our access to centralised instant messaging and message repositories be removed. www.icq.com and www.hotmail.com will see a massive reversal of fortunes, as the disappearance of Facebook from the online landscape sees former users reverting to the old, ever-reliable instant messaging software and web-based email repositories that they thought they’d waved goodbye to before Justin Bieber could walk.
Tracking down long-lost school friends: there’s only one thing to say here: they’re gonna stay long-lost! If you wanna track them down, just hope you bump into them in JB Hi-Fi one day and actually recognise them, coz without Facebook that dream of reuniting with all those old school chums you haven’t seen since 1985 will be dashed to pieces on the rocks of hope, just as surely as the old sloop Charlotte was lost off Port Jackson in 1808!
Stalking someone and knowing everything about their day-to-day existence without ever actually interacting with them: yes, we know you’re out there. Sometimes you’re clever enough not to let the cat out of the bag but occasionally, very occasionally, you slip up and we hear you recounting a story we know we’ve never told you anything about! Actually, you’re just plain spooky so it’s no great loss that you won’t be able to conduct yourself in such a disturbingly sedentary way any more… still, I’m sure it’ll take no time at all for you to re-adjust to creeping through bushes and lurking outside windows as you go about the business of stalking your prey. Weirdo.
OK, so it doesn’t sound like much when framed as flippantly as all that. But how would you cope? I challenge you to challenge yourself to shut yourself off from Facebook for a month. Even a week. I speak from experience when I say that if you’re a regular user, as I am, I guarantee you’ll notice a significant difference within 24 hours.
And it ain’t all bad.