Facebook’s IPO not just a business story, of course

By Anne Collier

With its clever lede – “It sure pays to have friends” – the New York Times reported a story that goes way beyond business, even though it is indeed a big business story: “Facebook, the vast online social network, took its first step toward becoming a publicly traded company on Wednesday as it filed to sell shares on the stock market.” The Times adds that Facebook is “on track to be the largest Internet initial public offering – trumping Google’s in 2004 or Netscape’s nearly a decade before that.”

But some other numbers point to the bigger social story, the one in which Facebook’s IPO is just one part (I’ll get to those in a minute). Other parts include last year’s Arab Spring (including what’s happening in Syria right now) and what happened with the Stop Online Privacy Act in this country, week before last. It’s the story of our radically changed global media environment – the one that’s shrinking our world (by enabling us to participate in as well as watch developments far from us, as they happen in real time) and slowly, over time, redistributing power, with more and more citizen journalists and producers, joined by citizen lobbyists a couple of weeks ago, and probably soon citizen regulators (see this). The instant mass communication and distribution enabled by tools like Facebook and mobile phones is the enabling part of the story. And Facebook’s non-dollar – people – numbers provide evidence: 843 million users worldwide, 483 million of them accessing the site each day, uploading 250 million photos a day. Each month, users collectively add 30 billion pieces of content (comments, photos, videos, etc.) to the site. And those don’t represent content as we’ve always known it. It’s the content of our lives. It’s the moment-by-moment collective self-expression of a growing proportion of humanity. As a whole, that content is like a living thing. It’s certainly constantly moving and changing. All of which adds up to something with which the entities or forces of control in the world can’t really know how to contend. As part of the generation that straddles what media used to be (mass media) and what it is now (social media), I will always have a certain sense of amazement at all of this. Anyway, so this is a history lesson, a media story, a story of social change, an education story, a technology story … I guess just a human story.

More people numbers in Facebook’s S1 document:

* Growth in the past year: A 39% increase of monthly active Facebook users (MAUs) to 608 million between Dec. 31, 2010 and the same day of ’11. As for daily active users, the increase was 48% (to 327 million) over the same period.
* Mobile use: Last December, Facebook had more than 425 million MAUs using mobile products (such as the iPhone and Android Facebook apps).
* An everyday thing: 360 million Facebook users were active “at least six out of the last seven days,” Facebook reports.
* FB friends: 101 billion friend connections by this past New Year’s Eve
* A whole lot of “likes”: FB users posted 2.7 billion likes and comments a day during the last quarter of 2011.

Related links

* CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s statement in Facebook’s S1 filing tying the site’s constant changes to “The Hacker Way” in my ConnectSafely.org co-director Larry Magid’s article on the IPO at Forbes.com – hmm, the tao of hacking?
* A link to and more info on Facebook’s S1 in what amounts to a sidebar to Larry’s article

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