Imagine the year 2029. The four most powerful people in the world sit down to settle their differences over a cup of tea. They are:
Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook CEO, richest man on the planet, Nobel Peace Prize winner in 2021 and 2024, father of the US President;
Hu Wenwei, General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party;
Walt Disney 2.0, a clone of Walt Disney who recently staged a hostile takeover of the Walt Disney Company with help from KKR; and
Bono, a tired boring old rock star who refuses to shut up and die, former UN Secretary General and Nobel Peace Prize winner in 2014.
[The four men sit in deep red leather armchairs around a marble coffee table. They are on the 45th floor, penthouse suite of Zuckerberg Towers, on the National Mall, Washington DC. There are splendid views of the Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial to either side.]
Hu (gently placing his tea cup down): Mr. Zuckerberg, I would like to discuss this matter of the threatened pre-emptive nuclear strike unless China UniNetTeleMobileCom increases its spend on Facebook advertising.
Hu: Well, we think asking China UniNetTeleMobileCom to spend four trillion dollars a year on advertising is a bit high. The company only made three dollars and fourteen cents from revenue share with Facebook last year.
Zuckerberg: (throws tea cup at Hu’s head, narrowly missing) Give me the money, BITCH! That money is mine!
Disney: Calm down, Zuckerberg. Wenwei has a point. Your company may have a market valuation equal to 80% of the GDP of the whole planet, but what does it actually do?
Zuckerberg: Disney, you are a spineless liberal pinko bitch, just like Disney 1.0. How dare you ask a question like that. Disney would be nothing without Facebook. Without Facebook nobody would have heard of your animated classics like Dumbo and the one with the dwarf and the seven Cinderellas. NOBODY!!!
Disney: I think you are exaggerating a little. So you know everything there is to know about everybody on the planet. Who doesn’t? I do. Wenwei does. Bono does. My hairdresser does. Even Microsoft does, despite their problems with managing data. Everybody knows everything there is to know about everybody else now.
Bono: (thick Irish accent) I remember a time when a humble old Oirish rock star, Nobel laureate and peace campaigner like myself could enjoy a little privacy. But not any more. Now everyone knows what pants you put on in the morning thanks to Facebook PantsNotificationTM. And it might have helped if somebody had listened to those people who warned about inadequate data security. But did ya?
Zuckerberg: Shut up, bitch. You are just jealous ‘cos I have more Facebook friends than you do. You might have done better if you did not have such a stupid name.
Bono: You have more Facebook friends then there are people in the world. That means nothing. All Walter and I are trying to say is that you do nuttin’ to help humble entertainers like us to reach out to a new audience.
Zuckerberg: F@*K YOU! I dare you to take off those sunglasses and look me in the eye when you say that. Everybody on Facebook is now automatically pre-selected to receive only genuine tailored advertising recommendations from their real friends using a complicated algorithm that is a total secret.
Disney: Horsesh*t. Everybody gets the same three advertising recommendations every day. Sprite, Fox, and some obscure consulting firm called ZiT that wrote a book called “The Handbook On How To Become A Famous Expert By Writing Handbooks.” Your friend-to-friend recommendations are not tailored at all. No more tailored then any other crude promotional mechanism. They all get co-opted by one or other cynical business opportunist. All Bono and I are saying is, why don’t you make the system fairer? By guaranteeing Bono and Disney products get the top recommendations, oh, say, half of the time?
Zuckerberg: That would be unethical, bitch. You do not pay as well as Sprite, and ZiT promised to make me Chair of their Special Interests Group if I endorsed them. I owe it to my shareholders to ensure that Facebook users only get genuine recommendations from their good friends who pay the most to advertise.
Hu: I have never heard such hypocrisy. Mr. Bono, you sing rubbish songs and wear sunglasses. Mr. Disney, you make rubbish movies about singing lions. And Mr. Zuckerberg, you advertise rubbish songs and rubbish movies and rubbish fizzy sugar water on your rubbish network where now everybody is friends with everybody else so what does it matter who thinks what? In my glorious country, we still make real things. Like cars and children’s toys and lead paint and sugar fizzy water and fashionable sunglasses and Mr. Bono’s pants. Real things. Yet the people who make real things, the people who work in the fields, the people who drive our buses and dig our coal and run our civilian nuclear power stations and dig our uranium and build our glorious flood barriers and plant the trees for our carbon neutral offsetting, these people become poorer and poorer. Why don’t you just give away your worthless entertainment for free? Then you might bring some joy into the poor worker’s heart.
Disney: We did give it away for free. It was the only way to counter Chinese piracy.
Bono: Comrades, comrades, let’s stop bickering. We did not become the four most powerful people in the world by bickering and ruthlessly exploiting each other. We did it through hard work and ruthlessly exploiting everyone else. How about this for a new deal. Zuckerberg creates a few trillion new phoney “friends” on Facebook, and adds them all to some of my favorite groups like “Bono should be made a saint” and “Chinese Communist Party for Nobel Peace Prize in 2030” and maybe even one called “Peter Gabriel ain’t so bad, give him another award too.” Then they can all recommend stuff that helps to liberate and inspire people, like Toy Story 2 and the next U2 tour, which will be called “U Tour-ific” and will be sponsored by U-Tube (geddit?). We then stream the films and the live concerts into millions of homes of poor workers via the network of China NetUniTeleMobileSatCom so long as they pay a tiny subscription of half their disposable income. Every time somebody watches one of our shows, all their Facebook friends will have their tv shows interrupted to say they should be watching our tv shows instead. Then we split the money between us. What d’ya say guys, do we have a deal?
Zuckerberg: Deal… so long as we split the revenues fair. I take 75%, bitch.
Yup, I think you can guess I am not a Facebook fan. I mean, how much advertising spend can there be in the world that Facebook is supposedly worth US$15 billion? How much can one friend whore and pimp products to another friend that it becomes worth the amounts being paid? And why would advertisers believe that more and more advertising will be more and more effective, instead of just making customers more and more cynical? But I answered my own question. They believe it because it pays them to believe it. If you want to be very rich very quickly, create the next Facebook. Do not waste your time trying to find a cure for cancer or designing a better pair of shoes. All these crazy valuations, based on crazy expectations of being able to exploit millions of people, smell of pyramid schemes and market bubbles. People believe the hype because they want to believe the hype. If Zuckerberg said that Facebook was overvalued, he would lose a lot of money overnight. So instead he, like so many others, goes along with the irrational belief that new gimmicks for selling products can be worth more than the products being sold. People do not want to buy something just because their “friends” bought it, despite Facebook’s latest attempt to turn the hype into revenues. How exciting is a world where everybody is the same? Hopefully, it will not work. You will never be able to tell if recommendations are genuine or somehow paid for. There used to be a children’s TV show in the UK called “Why Don’t You Just Switch Off Your Television Set and Go and Do Something Less Boring Instead?”. So, inspired by their noble and contrarian example, I have just set up a new Facebook group called “Why Don’t You Just Logout Facebook & Go & Do Something Less Boring Instead?” (Because Facebook is rubbish I had to shave a few characters here and there to get a title that fits).
Because Facebook is rubbish, if anyone posts a discussion topic to the new “Why Don’t You” group, I will not be notified and hence will need to check it regularly. Which will be particularly annoying as it means I will end up spending more time on Facebook. Except I will soon get bored of that and will just stop checking it completely. Which I guess is the very point I am making ;)