Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg speaks during a news conference at Facebook headquarters. The company is planning an IPO for May 18.
If you'd like to hear no end of dime-store philosophy and quasi-futurist blah-blah about our glorious networked future, then you really need to watch the video that Facebook produced for its IPO roadshow. It's designed to get investors excited, so bear that it mind while you watch tight t-shirt Mark Zuckerberg and his merry soon-to-be-millionaires hacker band outline a world in which billions of people spend considerable chunks of time providing Facebook with immense amounts of free content and labor in exchange for having their activities sold to advertisers.
I've conducted some informal surveys about this issue — the free-labor-and-content-being-turned-into-$100-billion thing — and found that, for the most part, people who use Facebook either haven't given that question any thought or don't care. They may be acting out of their economic self-interest, but the counterargument I generally get is that Facebook produces a product that they love and can't avoid using.
That said, similar informal surveys indicate that folks are not liking many things about Facebook's allegedly delightful experience. The increasingly chaotic layout, for example. Not to mention the cavalier attitude toward privacy.
And there's another factor to take into account. Facebook has increasingly become a photo-sharing service. It's no coincidence that the roadshow video leads off with a discussion of this point, given that Facebook is spending $1 billion to acquire Instagram, a mobile-only photo-sharing app that does "social photos" waaayyy better than Facebook. And don't miss the numerous nods to the mobile web — there are iPhones all over the place — where Facebook is making almost no money, but where it has to look for rapid future growth.
The tech and finance guys — Chris Cox, Zuck, and CFO David Ebersman — are predictably Silicon-Valleyish in that they perhaps do not agree that there are any major problems with the business model I've outlined above: you give us free stuff; we platform it up and let you share it with your pals; we make billions! Repeat.
COO Sheryl Sandberg scares me a bit, though. It's left to her to build the case that Facebook is Elysium for advertisers, which she does capably enough. But she shares quite a lot about her affection for pancakes and cupcakes before she argues that Facebook wants to establish a place where consumers and businesses can have relationships that are "authentic, ongoing, and personal," and that Facebook wants to be the "place where businesses build relationships."
She's the only woman in the video who works for Facebook, and it seems sort of unfair that she has to shoulder the burden of explaining, in quasi-emotional terms, where pretty much all of Facebook's revenues are going to come from. I mean, Zuckerberg gets to talk about renting servers for $80 a month when he was in college, the tech CEOs equivalent of saying that he was born in a log cabin that he built with his own hands.
Anyway, for what it's worth, Facebook looks as if it's going tp price the offering at $28-$35 per share, sell 377 million shares — 10 percent of the company — and hit a market cap of around $90 billion. That's all somewhat less than we've been anticipating for the past few months.
The big day is May 18.