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Posted at 07:00 AM ET, 02/01/2012

Facebook IPO cures cancer, creates world peace


No pressure! (Eric Risberg - Associated Press)
The rapture has one advantage over the Facebook IPO, which is that, if it goes as planned, all the people who are really excited about it will vanish.

The Facebook IPO is like the Second Coming but with twice the hype.

Jesus had better not return to earth this week, because we won’t be able to deal with him. We will be too busy fixating on the Facebook IPO.

“That’s very nice, Lord,” we’ll say, escorting him to a chair in the corner. “But we’re looking at an initial stock price of $100! Initial! Do you even know what that means?”

“Stop talking to him, he only had 11 friends,” someone else shouts. “And 12 subscribers.”

The Facebook IPO is going to cure cancer and also tell us what glasses flatter our face shapes. It is going to find us dates on the Internet who are neither excessively earnest nor creepy. Like a contact lens pawn shop, it will mon­etize our contacts and change the way we see things. What penicillin did for medicine, the Facebook IPO will do for everything else.

And I fear that I’m understating the case.

Look, I understand that this is major.

This is half a Walmart. This is a whole McDonalds. This is a Big Biden Deal.

But it’s passed through the stratosphere of hype and is hovering somewhere between “Star Wars: Episode 1: The Phantom Menace” and M. Night Shyamalan’s second film.

Could we possibly relax a little?

I am not sure how Facebook decided to value itself. Facebook contains Farmville and one of my friends who updates on an hourly basis, saying that she feels increasingly fierce, and somehow it is looking at a valuation of anywhere from $75 to $100 billion, which is a number so high that only Mitt Romney understands it.

This IPO is going to spin the questionable straw of Facebook user profiles into the gold of – actual gold.

How? Well, that’s the trouble. No one is sure exactly. They say that if you are using something for free, you aren’t the consumer. You’re the product. If so, I am the product, and anyone who invests in Facebook is investing in me. I should warn you that my knees pop oddly when I sit down, which is probably something I should have looked into, given my extreme youth, and that as I move into my mid-twenties fewer and fewer people seem willing to take my picture.

But what Facebook values most about me has not changed: my capacity to click on ads. I am quite good at clicking on ads, but less good at buying things afterward. Facebook does have the advantage over Google+ where I am concerned. Google is convinced that I am a 65-year-old man with a strong interest in politics. Once it showed me a 13-minute video on Ron Paul, and I was four minutes in before I noticed that it wasn’t the music video I was looking for.

This monetization question is the big problem of the Social Internet. Everyone’s here, but how do we make them pay for things without undermining the premise?

So people expect a lot from the Facebook IPO.

If only we could say the same about Facebook. The company already has a strange track record when it comes to privacy, and pressure to squeeze money from its users for its advertisers seems unlikely to improve things on that front. Apparently the company’s unofficial motto is to “move fast and break things,” which might explain Timeline.

Facebook’s other unofficial philosophy, I would argue, is that it’s easier to beg forgiveness than ask permission. Facebook users are the definition of a captive audience. And with the failure of a viable alternative to emerge in Google+ — sure, it’s got 60 million-odd users, but so far the only quality of Facebook’s that it’s emulated is creepiness — it’ll continue to be that way. Much has been made of the challenges ahead for Facebook, still not a massive company and trying to retain its quirky feel. It has a huge captive audience. Half the world’s Internet population sounds like it should be worth $100 billion. But can it mon­etize us?

I’m more interested in watching that unfold than in the Giant Apocalyptic IPO that’s coming — possibly as soon as Wednesday.

It’s not the IPO that matters. It’s what happens afterward.

By  |  07:00 AM ET, 02/01/2012

 
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