Facebook IPO Rumors Leave This Investor Boggled

By June 14, 2011

It’s one of the sad truisms of business: offer many services, and none of them live up to their potential. Apparently, 6 million Americans jumped ship from social networking megalith Facebook in the month of May, according to Inside Facebook. Facebook’s 687 million monthly active users lost just under 1% of their brethren to… where, exactly?

Recent news reports say that Facebook is essentially ‘forced’ to go public for two reasons. Facebook will cross the five-hundred investor threshold sometime this year, and according to the 1934 Securities and Exchange Act, Facebook will have to begin releasing quarterly financial reports to the SEC, just as all publicly-traded companies do. And, Facebook needs to restructure its employee compensation packages; the company is losing employees, who are leaving the company to monetize their Facebook stock. The moral of the story is that when there are a lot of equity holders, and they get a little antsy, they either vote with their feet or, well, their votes and push the company toward an IPO.

Facebook’s growth is slowing. On a typical month in the past year, Facebook grew by at least 20 million new users, but in April, usership climbed by 13.9 million, and in May, a paltry 11.8 million people got on the Facebook bandwagon, a little late to the party. Given that the majority of the company’s new users come from countries late to adopt Facebook, one wonders if the hottest name in social networking is beginning to lose the cool-factor.

And this would come at a very, very inopportune time for the social networking giant. Some, including this correspondent, believe that last month’s bungled LinkedIn IPO was so heavily traded not because LNKD’s underwriters are sharks (which they are, for the record) but because LinkedIn is the first “social network” to go public. Whether the career and networking site qualifies as “social” is up for debate; but there is no question that investors’ appetites were whetted. They knew that bigger fish are out there.

As much as I hate to say it, I’m kind of rooting against Facebook on this one. This week’s news that Facebook may go public leaves me puzzled, and a little sad. At some point in the past, I’m told, tech IPOs were exciting. For me, there’s nothing compelling about the Facebook IPO, its $100 billion valuation be damned. Cool, it’s going to be the biggest IPO ever. That means precisely nothing when Facebook isn’t using its data intelligently; Facebook’s valuation is based as much on its current earnings as it is on the hope that it will leverage its gargantuan repositories of user data to build an advertising platform that will kill Google’s AdSense. Currently, Facebook doesn’t leverage personal data for more targeted ads, and it shows little inclination to do so now.

But when it does, I’m joining my 6 million ‘friends’ and jumping ship too.