8 Thoughts About Facebook's Post-IPO Future

The big news of the day (the week? the month?) is that everyday investors can now buy shares of Facebook. Quiet. Please sit down, everyone. Ladies and gentlemen, quiet please. Please! I am holding the conch shell. I am holding the conch shell.

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Everyone wants to have their say about Facebook today, even if there isn't too much more to say than there was yesterday. We know this is a company with an astounding number of very engaged users. We know that some people love it and other people find it annoying. We know their ads have a lower than average clickthrough rate, but that it seems like they have the potential to build the world's most formidable advertising business. We know they make some money but not nearly as much as companies that have much smaller market values.

That's the state of play. We do have a little new data: the stock didn't go wild. It priced at $38, debuted at $42, and is hanging around $41 as I write. That's technically what is supposed to happen, but practically never what happens, so people are a bit confused as to what that all means. I'm trying not to draw any huge conclusions from a few hours of trading.

More broadly, though, there are some interesting cultural, corporate, and catty things to speculate on, now that Facebook is public.

  • Will people keep "sharing" as much as they do now?
  • The most basic assumption of the social media game is that people will keep sharing ever more and ever more. If only because it is so deeply ingrained, I think it's worth examining that idea. What if it doesn't turn out to be true? What if sharing peaks in 2013 or 2014 simply because people run out of time or because of some newfound sense of privacy or because some subtle cultural shift occurs? None of these things are impossible, though they would be running against the current trends.

    One thing to note: people tend to think about privacy as a function of the amount of information that people share. So, if people are sharing a lot on Facebook, the idea is that they are OK with the privacy tradeoff or that they are fine with whatever information is available about them. But NYU philosopher Helen Nissenbaum sees things differently: she sees privacy as that information ending up in places you did not expect. So, as time goes on, all the information you've put on Facebook could still end up in a place you did not expect it to. That means that the aggregate amount of stuff that could lead to a Nissenbaum privacy violation continues to grow, particularly as people change contexts from college to work, say, or single to married.

  • What are the Facebook natives going to think about online life?
  • There are hundreds of millions of people who are coming to Facebook at about the same time that they are coming to the Internet. They've always had a social web. They don't remember AOL. Most don't live in the United States. I'm not sure that those of us who have been on the Internet since 1993 are going to be able to accurately predict their online behavior or what they'll think about online life. Every day of their lives is going to be cataloged partially on Facebook, so what happens when they get older? Do they reject the service they grew up on or does it become a permanent social layer in their brains? I don't know.

  • What are the mobile natives going to do with their time?
  • For just about everyone reading this post, your experience of the Internet began on a computer. For hundreds of millions in the developing world, this is not the case. Their primary or sole means of access to the Interweb is through a mobile device. I have a long running debate with Paul Kedrosky about what these people are going to do as the incomes of their countries rise fall and computer prices continue to decline. I think they'll switch to the old mouse-and-keyboard style as soon as they can afford them. Paul and many others think that they'll remain mobile device lovers. Why's that matter for Facebook? They're much stronger on the web than on mobile, most (but not all) people think

  • If and when will Facebook's unusually centralized corporate structure be tested?
    Not all corporate structures are alike and as Matt Yglesias explained a while back, Facebook's power is concentrated in one person: Mark Zuckerberg. Is this going to become an issue for investors or are they all too happy having Zuck running the show?

  • What are the thousands of new rich people going to spend their money on?
    If you live around the Bay Area, this is a big question. It won't play out immediately, but everything from the businesses they fund to the restaurants they frequent to the apartments they buy will be transformed by today's big event. New companies, new neighborhoods, new ideas about how cities should be run: we'll get all that and more as these people make their way further from Palo Alto's HQ, the money rippling reality before them.

  • What will happen to other social media stocks?
    As Facebook debuted, shares of GroupOn and Zynga took a nosedive. Perhaps that's because investors who wanted exposure to social media now can get in on the main course instead of messing around with the side dishes. It'll be interesting to watch what happens as time goes on.

  • How will being a public company change Facebook's culture?
    Some people think: not much. In fact, one of the first articles out of the gates today was about how after Mark Zuckerberg rang the NASDAQ opening bell from Palo Alto, everyone whooped it up for 10 minutes and then went back to work. But this is a long game here, and you never know how the company's new orientation might impact who is interested in working for them or how they have to shape their products to meet investor expectations. (Then again, see the point above, re: company control.)

  • How will the Google and Facebook competition evolve?
    Last year, Google was the company stepping all over Facebook's turf with the launch of Google Plus and the social layer it represented. Will Facebook start to push into Google's information organization and discovery territory in 2012 or 2013? And for what it's worth, Google's actually up 7 percent since the Facebook's IPO.
Image: Reuters.
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