Facebook

Andrew Hill

Facebook investors: you have been warned. The last time I was in Silicon Valley was 12 years ago, in the very week that the Nasdaq crashed, marking the end of the dotcom boom. That I should fly back into San Francisco on the eve of the social network’s initial public offering cannot be a good omen.

I’m not here to write about Facebook – for expert insights, read the analysis of my San Francisco-based colleagues or the FT Lex team – but the IPO overshadows most discussions. What strikes me is how entrepreneurs, technology executives and analysts I’ve met are reluctant to talk publicly about Facebook and its founder Mark Zuckerberg. Ask them what they think about him and they tend to preface their remarks with a polite request that this part of the interview should be off the record. Read more >>

John Gapper

Facebook’s video for retail investors in its forthcoming initial public offering is a nice innovation, but fundamentally, Facebook is taking a step back from Google’s IPO in 2004.

The IPO bookrunners and co-managers are a litany of Wall Street names, led by Morgan Stanley, JP Morgan and Goldman Sachs. But Facebook has dropped Google’s attempt to upend the IPO process by running an electronic auctionRead more >>

John Gapper

Fred Wilson, the venture capitalist who is a mainstay of New York internet start-ups, has some provocative thoughts on the lifecycle of web and mobile apps – that their lifecycles are similar to those of hit television shows:

“This round trip from nothing to everything to nothing again is also true at some level with many tech companies. Digtal Equipment Corporation was founded in 1957 and shuttered in 1998. RIM was founded in 1984 and in all liklihood will be gone before the end of this decade. Same with Sun Microsystems, Silicon Graphics, and many more iconic tech companies.”

As he says, the networks effects that work in favour of social networks on the way up can also turn against them:

“Network effects are powerful in both directions. They can help you grow exponentially. But when they are going against you, they work just as fast. Myspace’s decline was mind-blowingly quick. RIM’s has been as well. Who is next?”

 Read more >>

John Gapper

Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s founder, sets himself an admirable test in the company’s filing for an initial public offering – “that everyone who invests in Facebook understands what this mission means to us, how we make decisions and why we do the things we do.” Unfortunately, he then flunks it.

Like Larry Page and Sergey Brin, the founders of Google, which went public in 2004, Mr Zuckerberg has written a letter to shareholders to explain his approach to their new investors. While Google’s letter was brisk and open about how they intended to ignore short-term earnings targets, his is aspirational and vague.

“By focussing on our mission and building great services, we believe we will create the most value for our shareholders and partners over the long term . . . We don’t wake up in the morning with the primary goal of making money, but we understand that the best way to achieve our mission is to build a strong and valuable company,” Mr Zuckerberg writes. Read more >>

John Gapper

The 46 per cent first-day pop in Dunkin’ Donuts shares in its initial public offering in New York made the company look like an internet wonder. It has also brought back memories of the disastrous Krispy Kreme IPO in 2000.

Krispy Kreme, for those who do not recall, was a high-flying stock in the early 2000s before accounting difficulties and mismanagement brought the shares crashing down again. At the time, it was hailed as a solid alternative to internet stocks.

This, for example, was Andy Serwer’s conclusion in Fortune in 2003:

Unless the fat police run riot across this land, Krispy Kreme is here to stay. It isn’t some fly-by-night dot-com. There’s 66 years of history here. It’s a product that people not only love but understand. (Quick, what does InfoSpace do?) The world is always filled with unknowns, never more so than right now. With all that’s wrong out there, sometimes it’s easy to lose focus on the big picture. So take a second and ask yourself: Is the American dream still alive? Is Krispy Kreme for real? Don’t bet against it.

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Andrew Hill

Three things irritate me about Biz Stone’s announcement that he will step back from running Twitter.

1) He doesn’t know the difference between “its” and “it’s”. (Too much time reading his followers’ tweets, I suspect).

2) He talks about his stint at Twitter in grandiose terms that imply he has been there a lifetime, describing how his work there has “spanned more than half a decade”.

3) His Twitter project isn’t complete yet. Read more >>

John Gapper

I am in Paris with a group of leaders of internet and technology companies, all of whom have been asking the same question: What am I doing here? Read more >>

John Gapper

It feels as if Wall Street is moving westward, and that US investors, having been caught up in the mortgage boom, have instead turned their attention to the opportunities on the west coast.

The National Venture Capital Association has unveiled figures showing that the industry had its best start to the year in terms of fund-raising since 2001, raising about $7.1bn in the first quarter.

Meanwhile, Matthew Garrahan writes in the FT about the keiretsu-like Raine merchant bank, which is raising $500m from a range of Illuminati from Silicon Valley and Hollywood including Eric Schmidt of Google and Sean Parker of Facebook etc. Read more >>

John Gapper

Twitter’s fifth birthday today comes as  AT&T’s announces it wants to buy T-Mobile USA for $39bn to form the largest US mobile provider.  The two events are more than a coincidence.

AT&T produced some slides for its announcement showing the rapid growth in mobile data use – 8,000 per cent over four years according to its calculations – and is justifying the acquisition partly by warning of spectrum exhaustion.

Twitter, meanwhile, is the first big social media company to be conceived with mobile in mind. It’s 140-character limit for messages was based on the original 160-character limit for phone text messages. Read more >>

John Gapper

Mary Meeker, the “queen of the net” and the best-known investment bank analyst in the technology and media world, has picked an interesting moment to become a venture capitalist.

Ms Meeker, who survived the bursting of the 1990s dotcom bubble without getting caught up in the research scandal of the time, has become a venerable figure in the tech world. She is capitalising on that by leaving Morgan Stanley to join Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers as a partner.

Chris Dixon, an angel investor, tweeted in response that “Wall Street sell-side research is dead”, and it never regained its influence after the dotcom meltdown. A few analysts have made their name since – in particular Meredith Whitney – but most of the action has been on the buy-side. Read more >>

John Gapper

Yuri Milner, the Russian internet investor, has become one of the most intriguing figures in the industry by acquiring a near-10 per cent stake in Facebook, and by floating Mail.ru, his Russian internet company in London.

Mr Milner, whom I saw in action at the Monaco Media Forum, also has the element of mystery. Few people outside Russia paid attention to him until his Digital Sky Technologies acquired its Facebook stake in May 2009. Read more >>

John Gapper

To his credit, Mark Zuckerberg has responded to the outcry over privacy, including my column on the subject, by making significant changes to Facebook’s privacy policies.

The most welcome aspects of the changes, discussed by him on the Facebook blog, are that it will be far simpler for a user to control how information is shared, and these choices will apply to future Facebook services.

Facebook has also pulled back from its sleight of hand in making six types of data into “publicly available information” by reducing these to four, including taking users’ friends list out of the category. Read more >>

John Gapper

Facebook is likely to announce some privacy changes soon in response to the furore over the complexity of its privacy controls and its sharing of user information. But are they going to be enough to address all the problems?

So far, it does not look very likely. Read more >>

John Gapper

The news that Facebook, MySpace and other social networking sites have been (unintentionally) sending some user details to advertisers adds to my growing sense that the companies either do not place a high enough value on privacy or are not careful enough about it.

It follows Google’s disclosure that it accidentally picked up personal information from WiFi networks while filming for its Street View service. Read more >>

John Gapper

Further to my FT column on Facebook’s privacy failures, the company has made things worse for itself by not being clear about its intentions.

I noted that Mark Zuckerberg’s open letter about privacy on December 1 last year did not mention that it was about to define six categories of user data as “publicly available information”. Read more >>