Facebook crushes hopes of critics

After weeks of stone-throwing prompted by IPO, critics now pitch Nerf

It's a big week for Facebook haters. First the F'book was forced into allowing a vote on its usage policy and was then slammed by the same critic for keeping portions of a vote it never wanted to hold under wraps.

Then a Wall Street analyst predicted the biggest social network, which recently went public to the sound of ecstatic giggles from the founder and envious gnashing of teeth from everyone else, predicted Facebook would be gone entirely within five to eight years. The prediction was based partially on a single soft spot in a business model built on a foundation of chewing gum and Jell-O cubes.

Then Reuters published a poll of 1,000 randomly chosen Americans, 79 percent of whom use Facebook, and found a third use it less than they did six months ago. That prompted howls of glee from more critics, who figure the equitably distributed results herald Facebook's downfall from disinterest rather than financial disaster.

The unfortunate thing is that none of those things are real harbingers of doom. Even taken together they don't add up to anything that could sink a company designed to welcome customers as if it's the host of a social event, then steal all the private stuff from their pockets and sell them out the back door.

That flies in the face of the legitimate-sounding but utter tripe mouthed by carnivorous capitalists such as Eric Jackson, founder of Ironfire Capital, who predicted Facebook would be gone in less than 10 years. The whole market is shifting to mobile, not laptops and PCs, and Facebook admitted in its IPO that it has no real idea how to make money from mobile users.

Critic spills secret that Facebook is a "web site"

At its heart, Facebook is still "a big, fat website and that's different from a mobile app," Jackson said.

While it's good he can tell the difference between a site and an app, Jackson relies a little too heavily on the black-and-white, win-or-die criterion for success.

Yahoo, for example, is worth a fraction what it was right after its own IPO a decade ago, when residual giddiness over the Internet bubble combined with the normal irrational optimism of the early stakeholders in a company about to go public boosted Yahoo's paper value to many times its real one.

"Yahoo is still making money, it's still profitable, still has 13,000 employees working for it, but it's 10 percent of the value that it was at the height of 2000. For all intents and purposes, it's disappeared," Jackson told CNBC.

Yahoo does not bestride the Earth like a colossus.

Its enemies do not tremble in fear and wet themselves before it.

Its mustache does not bring all the girls to the yard.

It's still not even vaguely out of business; out of a leadership role in that business, yes. Out of it altogether, no.

Similarly, Jack Schrems, founder of Facebook vs. Europe, managed to stuff the ballot box with enough volunteer votes to force Facebook to put changes to its usage policy up for an approval vote to its membership.

That was a real accomplishment whose purpose should have been to put Facebook on notice that its customers were keeping an eye on it and wouldn't put up with more random, privacy-eroding changes to its privacy policy (like taking the word "privacy out of it") without asking them first.

It was not a referendum on the ultimate good- or badness of Facebook, which is the way he's treating it.

(If you use Facebook, please vote here. You have two more days before voting closes.)

Schrems may have riled up a lot of users about the usage policy, which certainly demands more ownership over data Facebook does not own than anyone should tolerate. It's unlikely he'll get the 230 million votes he needs to reject the new version, however. Even if he did, a 'no' vote would cause the policy to stay the way it is, which Schrems said already violates European privacy laws.

It's hard to motivate people to vote for something that, at best, only keeps a bad thing from getting a little worse.

It also makes it harder to motivate them to do anything else as a group later on, when you eventually think of something that would make a difference.

Not loving something doesn't mean you'll leave it

Even the Reuters poll of 1,000 Americans is funny only because it shows 66 percent of Facebook users don't know or don't care how cavalierly Facebook absconds with content they put on up for their use and that of their friends.

Yes it's significant that 34 percent of Facebook users use it less now than six months ago.

Yes it's pathetic only 20 percent like Facebook enough to use it more than they did six months ago.

No it's not surprising that responses to a question that could only be answered as More, Less or About the Same should look kind of bell-curvey. A third use F'book less. A fifth use it more. Forty-six percent use it about the same amount as six months ago.

Judging by the number of facepalms I get at the bank and the accountant's I'm unlikely ever to win any major prizes in either mathematics or probability. Even I know a vote that breaks down as 34/46/20 isn't an unequivocal mandate for change.

It's not a vote of confidence, either, but if half of everyone who cares thinks you're doing a good enough job that they'll let you continue doing it, you don't stand much chance of being thrown out of office without enough warning to pack up your cigars.

This must have been a really tough couple of weeks for the flacks and apologists spackling and painting over the cracks, weak spots, contradictions and violations in various aspects of Facebook's behavior and business model.

These three stories didn't make it any easier to finish the whole thing off by painting on a smiley face with eyes that look like they follow you wherever you go on the web (they do).

None of them amount to even a solid criticism of Facebook, though, let alone an undeniable sign of it's imminent demise. Whether you're a fan or hater, you can be relatively sure Facebook isn't going away any time soon.


Read more of Kevin Fogarty's CoreIT blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Kevin on Twitter at @KevinFogarty. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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