Why Facebook will become the most dangerous company on earth

Within the next 60 days, an event will occur that may be the most devastating development in the young history of social media and for the businesses and individuals who love it so much.

Facebook is going to become a publicly-traded company.

If you have ever worked for a public company you can relate to what I am about to say. If you haven’t you’ll have to trust me.

The pressure of “public”

The entire tone of Facebook and its strategy is about to change in ways that I believe could portend desperation and disaster.  Instead of managing for a long-term vision, becoming a public company creates an inexorable and relentless pressure to meet quarterly sales goals.  If you have ever been an executive in a publicy-traded company, other than hearing “A crew from 60 Minutes is at the door,” there is probably no greater pressure in business than the demand to grow, grow, grow the revenues — To “beat the street,” without exception, without fail.

Maybe it will will take a few months, maybe it will take a year or more, but inevitably the marching orders of Facebook executives will be determined by this constant drumbeat of “more, higher, faster.”

Now, what is the source of Facebook’s growing revenues?  You and me.

Virtually the entire economic model of Facebook is based on a single tactic — collect as much personal information about you as possible as a way to sell highly-targeted ads. So for Facebook to succeed, it simply must collect increasing amounts of information about you. More information = more ad revenues. Pretty simple.

Through this lens, we can now view Facebook’s new Timeline innovation as a clever move. The company encourages us to post and share everything about our lives, which will lead to more advertising opportunities.  And, you can be assured that every new feature and innovation will be aimed at two things: 1) collect more information and 2) create “stickiness” so you spend more time on the site (to share information and view ads).

Is this sustainable?

So we have to consider — Is this relentless collection of information and selling of ads sustainable in a way that meets Wall Street’s expectations for continuous and aggressive growth?

At least in the near term, Facebook’s prospects seem bright. They are just starting to mine Timeline information. The possibility of organic growth in new countries like China present vast opportunities for data collection and advertising.

But will we reach a saturation point where it becomes impossible for Facebook to squeeze any more information from us?  Will we reach a day when Facebook’s insatiable need for data becomes annoying and invasive? Is there a theoretical limit to information gathering? Is there an upper limit to the amount of time people will spend on Facebook?

The other collision point is that the advertising model is in transition. Smartphones are already the first screen of Internet access for 28 percent of Americans and in some parts of the world (like the Middle East), it is already over 50 percent. Compare how many ads you see displayed on your computer versus the smartphone version of Facebook and you will begin to see the crunch Facebook will be facing.

Google, which went public in 2004, faces exactly the same problem of course and I think the pressure is starting to show. I found it extremely odd when the company (who professes to never be “evil”) knowingly took a detour around anti-ad-tracking features on Apple’s iPhone to spy on our private information. They stopped the practice only after being caught by the Wall Street Journal. Apple vowed to stop the Google’s shady practices.

Why would Google do something this stupid? Well, by now you already know the answer — as a public company, Google is under incredible pressure to collect our private information to sell ads.

Similarly, executive bonuses are tied to the success of Google +.  What kind of behavior will this drive at the company, when vast personal fortunes are at stake … and the platform increasingly appears to be a ghost town?

What will be the answer to the pressure for growth?

This is a glimpse of what we will one day see from Facebook, too. Undoubtedly they will look for adjacencies and new sources of revenue but nothing in the foreseeable future will come close to making a dent in their reliance on ad revenues.

At some point, Facebook will be faced with a reality — the well of personal information will be tapped dry. The opportunity to create advertising impressions will slow.  Mark Zuckerberg will face unimaginable pressure from Wall Street and his shareholders. His company will have to find new ways to turn their vast resource — our personal information — into new sources of profits.

And at that point, Facebook will become the most dangerous company on earth.

How does this perspective land on you?

All posts

  • Anonymous

    My man Steve and I have been talking about this (we once worked at Pfizer and have seen what shareholder desires can do). The whole publicly traded company model would seem not to work – which is how it seems to someone who didn’t major in business. Hope I’m wrong.

  • SJ

    To me the ads are already just like spam porn bots on twitter, irritating, but ultimately irrelevant. They can punt as many ads as they like at me. If I become too irritated by the ads, even if I need the item in question I will actively seek out a rival product and buy that. I have been doing that since I was old enough to know the value of money. Yes, this approach is probably quite childish, but I don’t care. I do have to laugh at some of the ads they already punt at me from my status updates. If Facebook, or Google, or any other web site purports to know me, my desires or needs from my updates or anything else that I post anywhere; they should know this. I write fiction, I love making people laugh, and I will write status updates that are for MAXIMUM COMIC EFFECT, this doesn’t mean that what I write is a lie, but sometimes the truth is somewhat garnished. I also throw in quotations and other stuff… Facebook I am far too old, too wiley a fox, and way too cynical to be interested in your adverts. Sorry, but that’s the way it is!

  • I think it is more of a wake up call to be sure you are using the platform in a professional way, keeping in mind it is public. I think *most* people do, but this is no longer a way for college kids to keep up on where the cool parties are…it is much larger. The game has really changed; you are not just communicating to your friends anymore.

    As far as the ads go, like SJ, I rarely notice them, which means “game on” for Facebook to try to get us to notice and care.

  • Mark, good post and I agree with much of what you say.  Facebook’s business model requires it users to actively tolerate the Facebook apps invasion of privacy.  

    Everywhere you see a “facebook or twitter” login option is another privacy trap.

    (You might also want to re-think your use of Disqus, and their harvesting of the IP in these comments.)

  • What an excellent post Mark! So well written, informative, and intriguing. Your writing is a breath of fresh air, amongst useless SEO targeted link bait. My mind is racing with the points you make, and I have a new perspective on Facebook and Google. We really are the product, and their future is dependent upon us! On the other hand, I’m not so worried about them being dangerous. I think most of us are hip to their game by now, and have gotten good at extracting what we need from their platforms. I don’t plan on giving them anything more than what will make their wheels turn in the direction that I need them to 😉 Two can play at this game Mr. Zuckerberg, and thanks to you Mr. Schaefer, our knowledge of their tactics will continue to {grow}. No pun intended…



  • Interesting way to look at it Mark. Never looked at the IPO thing in such a way that Facebook will be pressured into collecting more data about us. I wonder though, down the road as we become less and less inhibited about how much of our personal lives we share, will this still be a problem? Will my kids share the same privacy anxieties that I sometimes have online? Maybe, maybe not. I think the data digging is something (sadly) future stockholders will become de-sensitized to.

  • I have recently been cutting back on my FB posts, keeping them more generic and less personal, in large part because I grow increasingly uncomfortable with being sold to advertisers.  Fruitless, perhaps, but still true.  And sad because, of course, that means I cannot connect with my actual friends to the degree I would like.

  • Great thoughts Mark, but I think I agree with Drew on this one.  I think privacy issues are not a cry of the masses.  Like my parents, many people who are still afraid to use a credit card online have no problem with calling and reading the number out to the human on the other end of the phone. I don’t think most people know or care about the concerns and if they did they would still find a way to use it. 

  • There is definitely a trade-off but once you take that step, the pressure is extreme. There is no place to hide. FB will be under intense scrutiny. Thanks Jenn. Can’t wait to see you in a few weeks!

  • However, you’re the exception I think! Thanks for the insightful comment!

  • I couldn’t agree more, Mark. Except, I wonder if Facebook will “pull a Google” with their IPO, and have it written into their shareholder’s agreement that Zuckerberg has the final say on everything. I wouldn’t put it past him, and I think that would point the company in a very different (though possibly equally dangerous for the rest of us) direction…

  • Quite interesting challenge you point out my adventurous friend. When I talk to young folks today, the ads seem to be invisible to them. How do you overcome that? Interesting times.

  • Whoa.  You’re right. Ha! I’m part of the machine. Thanks Michael!

  • Oh you have me laughing out loud!  Love your challenge here! Are you listening Zuckerberg? : ) 

    You, my exceptional friend, are an exception though. I’m afraid the upcoming generation has been conditioned to give FB anything they want without awareness of the consequences. 

  • I have faith in our kids. They are smart and savvy. I think they will eventually keep the FB world in line!

  • Wow, interesting perspective Laura!   If people self-edit wonder what that means to the FB model? Thanks for the comment!

  • Very true. There is a double standard there. I am concerened for the long term though because it is not a matter of “if,” it is a matter of “when” there is a massive and debilitating privacy disaster. Thanks very much for adding your important perspective today Jami!

  • SJ

    I do feel that people need to wise up, and learn to box clever. This is just another manifestation of having someone else do your thinking for you. I enjoy Facebook because it is the most convenient way of keeping in touch with friends and relatives who are scattered all over the world. But I am less charmed by it than I was a year ago, and a year ago I was less in love with the idea than I was when I signed up in 2008. My gradually growing disenchantment comes less from the negative press stories about Facebook, and more from the clumsy styling and functioning of the site itself. Timeline might be a clever move, but it is clumsy, and clunky… it lacks chic and style… I find the ‘new’ timeline looks like my MySpace did three or four years ago, and it resembles a scrapbook project I did when I was 12. The kind of thing where even the most indulgent and artistically blind parent is relieved when the fridge magnet fails and the travesty falls off and gets kicked under the fridge. Facebook’s growing negative reputation relating to boastful criminals, spoilt children inviting thousands of their fellow brats to destroy their parents’ homes and peace of mind, and other lapses in judgement can only damage the brand going forward. I shall watch Facebook closely, but if something pops up that offers something that appeals to me more, I would not hesitate to jump ship. Loyalty is, after all, only click deep.

  • Zuckerberg has a pattern of tight control. And he will be the largest shareholder i assume so I don’t see that changing.

  • There are ads? 

  • I understand that the ‘like’ button builds some kind of creepy agreement for facebook to monitor your web usage too Mark – what’s the situation with that? 

  • Let me toss out another idea: we can watch what is happening with Groupon and say that it could potentially happen with Facebook. Groupon has a cavalier attitude toward financial controls – giving the impression that they are above SEC rules and regulations. And, while Groupon grew rapidly, the volume of users is at least an order of magnitude less than Facebook.

    It’s POSSIBLE that Facebook has its own designs about how “being public” will bridge the gap between the desired transparency of the user base and its similarly cavalier privacy protocols. In other words – if they share financials, it’s now okay to use your data.

    Good stuff – having been on the inside at a public company before…yeah, the dynamic changes.

  • I agree – but in that case, will the “pressure of public” really change all that much for him?

    I think the bigger concern should be that he’ll suddenly have a huge amount of extra money with which to play, to the tune of acquisitions at a whole new level. I see him trying to extend Facebook’s tentacles of control far beyond where they are right now.

    Just my two cents – maybe I’m being alarmist for nothing?

  • I agree that the pressure to perform “now” will most likely supplant the antiquated strategic planning process (that relic from B school where you think about the future of a company 10 years down the road).  It will probably be more like a 5 quarter strategic plan at FB.  However, if FB needs to boost revenue they could turn to the government marketplace.  How much did the FBI spend developing Carnivore and NaruInsight? Hacking FB would have been cheaper.  When will the Electronic Frontier Foundation will speak out loudly on the new FB?  How will FB respond? Just “unlike” them?

  • I await with interest the figures re sales, profits that facebook will report. For instance facebook adverts are still in their infancy and their is a huge reservoir of businesses yet to be exploited, but at some point that will begin to become a problem. it will plateau, there will be more and more groupon like stories of businesses that have taken adverts and not seen any measurable value. (at some point in the future i will write about the artificial page likes that were created on the platform and the thread discussing it that facebook took down prior to the IPO). Facebook’s next move will be to remove the minimum age to join, they’ll do this be convincing everyone that nothing is more secure and safe than their website (despite the cyber bullying that goes on) as they aim to make it a “cradle to grave” experience. 

  • Have you read Ritholz on his views of digital sharecropping? He has got the con pitch exactly right, in my opinion.


  • Mark:

    I am not sure that going public will make FB any MORE evil!

    Given Mark Z’s documented indifference to privacy and customer concerns, being a public company might be a restraint on his activities.

    However I agree that FB is dangerous and believe that monetization will be a severe problem.

    – Gary

  • It’s instructive to look at how another advertising model has changed since large publicly traded companies replaced independent ownership. I am talking about the broadcast industry, which has fired, fired, and fired some more until not only has the fat been cut, so has the meat and bone, to try to make those quarterly numbers. Like Facebook, the audience is not the customer but the product. The largest company, Clear Channel, has a huge payment due that they probably aren’t going to be able to make, even after another staff bloodbath last week. They want iHeartRadio to be a competitor to Pandora as their salvation. May be, but probably not.

  • Facebook is already annoying and intrusive. At this point I use my personal account less because I actually enjoy it, and more because I’m afraid I’d never be invited to anything (be it social or professional) if I didn’t.  But you’re right, it’s only going to keep getting worse.  

  • Extremely interesting point Danny.

  • Thank you Michael for this resource…

  • Pingback: Facebook, Instagram And Your Social Data Evaluation | ad-ition digital strategies that work()

  • Very insightful Mark. Going public does create an interesting dynamic for a company this size and with this much power. Maybe Pinterest is next to be gobbled up? 😉 

    In terms of the ads, I’m finding them to be extremely effective (for B2C), especially with some of the new features that are being released – even more than 12-18 months ago. While this is an entirely different story from “social”, I think the ability to target so incredibly precisely outweighs the challenge of increasing clutter (if it’s the right fit for the brand). 

  • Mark, love this post and your perspective!  We’re already seeing people (and companies)fleeing for the hills (it’s been going on for a while now, just not noticed).  You are correct that with the new focus of shareholder value being the main driver for continued FB monetization, there will be some “interesting” new things coming that some will not feel comfortable with.  But, the good news is that, once public, the regulatory impact of SOX, SEC compliance and other governing agencies (from all over the world) will temper the FB march into some of these concerning areas.  Likewise, once public, it will be able to be challenged, regulated and controled. This will actually be a good thing as it will raise the awareness of the good, bad and ugly social domain to a more public level.

  • Thank you Mark for your insightful perspective on the future of Facebook’s impact on our lives.  Your “head’s-up” and the comments that have resulted has given me pause — once again — to be more alert, focused, and grounded when posting my thoughts, and professional ideas/work online.  At this point in time, my guess is…  transparency requires an extra dose of vigilance.

  • Mark,

    I completely agree… I think Zuckerberg erred in going Public.

    What I’m more interested in however is your comments and thoughts on Google+.  Do you feel it’s a sinking ship?  More of Forum for Internet Marketers than a true Social Network?

    Thanks Mark,

    Ryan H.

  • Benjamin Blair

    I think there is a component of social evolution you are missing.  The integration of social networking, including FB, into our personal lives allows us to create stronger connections with other people by demonstrating mutual vulnerabilities.  This increased level of communication and the deconstruction of privacy will allow for more advertising and individual manipulation, but in trade we get a more connected community and can evolve as a species.  

  • You definitely make a valid point. Going public comes with a whole slew of new pressures. And when a company’s main monetization strategy is getting people’s personal info, we’re entering dangerous grounds. I think Facebook is already a bit questionable with some of their practices…but having an account is voluntary so can’t really complain. 
    That being said, I don’t think they are going to reach the saturation point too quickly. They can easily implement ads on the mobile app…plenty of free games do it. And I think their purchase of Instagram shows that they are trying to diversity at least a little bit (assuming they actually keep Instagram running instead of canibalizing it like they do with their other purchases).

    And I guess that plays into Danny’s comment…they’ll have more money to go out and expand their reach. 

    This’ll be interest for sure.

  • Excellent insight here, Mark. Here’s another thought – if Facebook is relying so much on ad revenue…or probably a better way to say it…evolving ad revenue, that just might be a steady course leading toward a sinking ship. Traditional media relies on ad revenue…heavily. Two years ago I lost my job at a TV station simply because the ad revenue wasn’t there and while I realize that was during the beginnings of this recession, the bottom line is even today, traditional media outlets STILL rely on ad revenue. Period.

    So, that begs the question – when Facebook goes public and they need produce a revenue model that is sustaining, will advertising be the largest piece of the pie? I certainly hope not or they could be steering a sinking ship…eventually. 

    That was my first impression from this piece. The other side of it…wow. Didn’t really think about how much information Timeline really picks up (as long as the user adds it) until you brought that up…and I love Timeline. Hmm…rethinking my personal strategy there too.

  • The increased level of regulation is an interesting point. I would guess that we will see some more interesting legislation in the next few years that address some of these privacy issues.

  • I was just about to say the same thing 🙂

  • Amy

     Yea, there are ads. And I never click on them because they’re misleading and annoying. I also don’t like that since I switched my relationship status to “engaged,” I’ve been swamped by photography ads, wedding dress ads, cake ads, invitation ads…automated ad targeting can be nice, but the wedding overload thing bugs me — mainly because I’m genuinely *not* interested in those ads.

  • I have been at a company that went public, and I agree with your assessment. We immediately stopped talking about vision and talked non-stop about numbers. Overnight. We ignored the connection between those 2 things because Wall Street doesn’t pay attention to thought leadership – only what they can read on a spreadsheet. While you can say that it is out of a responsibility to the stockholders, it really does a disservice to the customers and employees – and ultimately the business as a whole. Stock goggles make you short-sighted. How this will translate for those of us who are customers and not employees or stockholders remains to be seen, but I’m not optimistic.

  • You can block them, depending on your web browser. I never see any ads on FB here.

  •  Jeff, Facebook is already in bed with the government.  How much should we encourage their collaboration?  (Did you see Hunger Games?)  🙂

  • Mark,

    I am so glad you composed this post!  We’ve seen so much hype and rush to dive in, that I think many have not considered that the IPO developments change the entire ocean….at least for the long term.

    I’ve been self-employed most of working life.  But my husband was a corporate guy.  Watched the executives chase “bigger, faster, better….MORE.”  And played the game too.  We were conditioned, as a society, to believe that is success.

    Then, in 2008 some were forced to wake up.  There is a point at which it’s not all thrills and chills.  There are tipping points.

    The social space has been so filled with fascinated chatter about the big blue social ship that is Facebook.  Interestingly, you point out that we’ve been so in transition, that generally, we have not consciously connected a real-world definition to Facebook’s super-social business model. 

    Going public changes that — The ownership of leadership becomes the dollar, and the freedom of creativity and innovation will lose out.  I don’t care how many Instagrams you paste on the wall, or how many advertising credits you give away to the Mr. Average Joe Small Business Man, 2 + 2 will = 4.  Which explains why we didn’t see much of a smile from Mike Hoefflinger at Facebook’s fMC.

    I sorta liked that there was a “rogue leader” out there.  Made the “already public” vessels circle and take note.  Kept some of the other corporate “Mr. Evils” in check.

    Which amazingly fabulous and colorful people-oriented energy engine will we watch now??

    Thank you,


  • Andrew

    Nice article, Mark. Maybe the pressure of making more returns will eventually spell the end of Facebook. I won’t be sorry.

  • I talked about this at my company’s blog last week about how Google “adds” users to Google+ when they open a Gmail account. 

    Now I am talking about Facebook buying more users with the purchase of Instagram. I think they are under enormous pressure to do well.

    Interestingly enough, the one network that has gone public and has not resorted to this kind of nonsense is LinkedIn. What do you think about this Mark? Is it because they have free and paid so they already have a revenue source built in and don’t have to kiss the rears of advertisers as much?

    I think I may have found something new to blog about. 🙂

    Great post and thoughts as always Mark!

  • Kristen Warren

    An Alternative Perspective

    I understand what you are saying, Mark. And I concede when you say that in the
    past, all public companies have succumbed to this model of grow, grow, grow.
    Which Facebook will have to as well. But I don’t necessarily see their “growth” as necessitating the negative consequences discussed.

    First, Facebook has always been at the forefront of technology development in relation to social integration and data visualization. This can be interpreted in a myriad of ways, many of which we have not discovered yet. Facebook will – and therefore may not need to continually collect personal information to make money. They have shifted our thinking about social networking many times since its inception – and will again. 

    Which leads to my second point. I do not think the argument of “tapping the social
    information well dry” is a legitimate one. It’s quite ludicrous actually. Just think of the complexities of our daily, in person social interactions with other people. Computers and applications like Facebook don’t even tap 1/100th of the complex social interactions we have on a day to day basis. This is because as of yet our computers aren’t smart enough and designers haven’t developed ways of tapping these social nuances yet. This leaves HUGE room for growth in this medium. Not to mention that human behaviour never remains static and changes every day nevermind every generation. Therefore, tapping the social well dry? Not likely.

    Third, the author states that attaining our social information for targeted ad revenue is a negative consequence of current Facebook and future Facebook. I also disagree with this for several reasons. First, humans LOVE buying things. We get an endorphin rush
    and it makes us temporarily happy. If Facebook can help us find the things that make us happy when we purchase them, in less time than usual because we don’t have to search on the internet or drive to a store to find that new video game or perfect new couch, how can that be a bad thing? We’re going to buy the stuff anyway, and targeted ads simply make it easier for us to do so. Second, this doesn’t only apply to material objects, it also applies to vacations, adventure trips, or any lifestyle preferences as well. For example, if my entire Facebook profile is about my outdoor adventures, my Facebook ads will then show me guided tours, adventure activities, etc. As far as I’m concerned, this conglomeration of my Facebook data to give me targeted ads, can help me live a richer life by showing me opportunities I would otherwise not have known
    existed. (On a personal note, when I changed my Facebook relationship status
    last year from “in a relationship” to “engaged”, I started getting targeted ads for wedding-related services. This is how I found our photographer, stationary company and a few really cool reception ideas. Extremely helpful.)

    Fourth, and this is more of a general point, many individuals are concerned with companies like Facebook collecting their personal information. I find this really funny and almost arrogant on the part of the individuals. Do they actually think that Facebook cares about them, personally? They do not care or even know whether you’re a pedophile rapist or a devout catholic who works pro-bono. All they care about is that they know enough about you to target ads to you. This is called “big data”: when enough data is collected, individuals aren’t individuals anymore, they become groups with no association between the statistics and the individual. No personal information is able to be examined for you personally, but they will know, for example, that millions of their user base have this sort of personality and that means this type of ad works best. They have enough data that they don’t ever have to look at your personal information, and they never would – imagine how much time this would take. 

    That all being said, the question of “what will happen when Facebook becomes publicly traded” is hypothetical. Mark is making a hypothetical line of reasoning including evidence to indicate where she thinks Facebook may be heading – and I believe I have just as much evidence to think Facebook may not be heading in the same direction. But, really only time will tell. I would suspect the answer is probably somewhere in the middle.

    I would be very interested to hear any thoughts or responses.

  • I share your distaste for the public company syndrome. However, the Facebook folks have so many untapped avenues for revenue. Most of us pay annual fees to credit card companies. How many Facebook users would they lose if they charged us $10 a year? Or what if they segmented the Facebook market into the current “free” category and an upgraded, additional-benefit “gold” category that charged a fee? For the innovative there are unlimited grwoth options. Don’t worry. They’ll figure it out.

  • Facebook has been beating down all the bogus “I will not pay to use Facebook” , pages for years, I’m not sure how well it would go over i they actually started charging

  • Keri, I’m not encouraging them at all.  In fact I decline every request I get from FB to join a new app/game that wants to access more info.  I haven’t seen the movie but the book is on my Kindle ready to read any day now.  Alas, Big Brother probably already knows what is on my reading list.

  • This whole issue (and similar ones I’m sure we will see soon) will also probably accelerate the ad blocker and identity obfuscation software industry.

    So in the end it might not be a question of seeing ads or disclosing personal information to the social media behemoths but rather a question of which identity protection vendor you deem trustworthy. A lot like choosing your favorite virus protection software today.

  • Having lived through an IPO in the mid-90s and then worked in the exec teams of two large, widely-held and actively-traded public companies, this post really resonates. I remember turning to our CFO the night we closed the IPO and saying “Wow, that was intense – I’m glad the last few months is over.” He was a lot older and much more experienced than me and replied simply: “Are you kidding? Now the real work starts.”

    Once you go public *everything* changes. “More, higher, faster” is exactly right. Product quality? Screw product quality. Innovation? Forget it. Creativity? Nope. It’s all about managing the street, managing expectations, hitting the number. And the next number. And the next number… by any and all means necessary.

  • Nice post. There seems to be a lot of pressure to find new ways to show ads. Anybody else think that showing ‘Logout’ ads to roughly 30 million people who do log out everyday is a bad idea? I’m basing it on a thought that if you’ve managed to click on ‘logout’, you have had enough of FB for the time being and wouldn’t be interested in seeing more ads.


  • I am certainly no fan of Facebook, and agree with your concerns re: privacy. I know that you are talking Facebook here, but if the pressure of quarterly reports means a company will employ desperate (or dishonest) tactics to grow revenue, then no one should go public. It’s all really comes down to leadership’s integrity and vision, public or private.

    Sometimes quarterly revenue goals make for good discipline and positive growth. Read this compelling stat in the Journal this
    weekend re: the Jobs Act:

    “To sell politicians on the benefits of allowing start-ups to grow into
    public companies, the [IPO] task force pointed to research showing that when
    such firms go public, more than 90% of their job creation happens after the IPO.”  http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702303299604577326270090887812.html?KEYWORDS=jobs+act

  • To be honest, I just wish I had 10,000 shares of their stock now. I would day trade the hell out of that stock and be out. Now in regards to Facebook as a whole, I can’t say they won’t fail, but like past company darlings (Microsoft, Yahoo); what comes up always comes down. The question is when?

    I remember the dot.com boom mess living in Silicon Valley and all the empty buildings I “still” drive by as a result. People made and lost fortunes in an instant and become house poor years later on top of it.

    I suspect most will get in, get their profit and get out, but for anyone long term, watch it closely. When a company goes public, now its shareholders constantly ask, “what have you made for me today?”. 

  • Clindberg

    Mark I think you are spot on and going public is like toying with a black hole; you are going to get sucked in. You may also want to keep a look out the window for the black helicopters, Suburbans and men in black that FB is dispatching to quiet those fomenting such subversive talk 🙂

  • Chris, it is much, much more than that. If you are fairly active on Facebook, they probably no more about you and your habits than your family.

  • I think Facebook is their own biggest competition. Thanks Dave!

  • Thanks to you and @connectyou:disqus for the good discussion. That pair is probably a nightmare scenario : ) 

  • Wow, interesting scenario Mike. I would think that would cause a backlash!

  • Thanks for adding your voice to the debate Gary! 

  • Interesting. Thanks for connecting the dots there Brad.

  • Thanks for taking the time to comment Melissa.

  • I think this is an extremely relevant and important point Garrett. The ads certainly can work. They are highly targeted and usually a good value. Thanks for this great perspective.

  • @twitter-15056439:disqus and @twitter-218996231:disqus Quite interesting take guys. I had not thought much about the BENEFITS of increased accountability.  Could be significant.

  • Good advice and I agree! 

  • I actually have a post brewing on this subject.  Let’s put it this way. The most common characterization these days is “ghost town.” : )

  • I’m not missing that. I guess my assumption is that the point is obvious that FB has benefits like increased connectivity. I was just playing out a scenario that might not be so obvious. Thanks for making that point Benjamin.

  • All valid points Eugene. I think they certainly have a long runway right now. 

  • I know Google reported that advertising is something like 99% of their revenue and I should probably know that for Facebook but I assume it is about the same.

  • Thanks very much for adding your voice of experience here Christine! Much appreciated.

  • I like this perspective very much Keri.  Does this set the stage for a competitor unencumbered by the street’s expectations?  

  • I think FB is their own worst enemy. It’s theirs to lose. Let’s see what happens! 

  • Yes, I think you are on to it. I think LinkedIn’s premium model — which I see people use all the time — gives them an alternative. For now at least they are getting a lot of organic growth overseas. Excellent point friend.

  • Thanks for the very thoughtful response.  I think you mis-interpreted several of my points, or maybe read into things. I never questioned the value of targeted ads for businesses or individuals.  I think your point that these companies begin to view us as data points instead of individuals probably reinforces my concern instead of allay it.  I think you make a good point about the infinite possibilities to mine personal data. But again, this just adds to the creepiness factor. Do you want a company to know more about you than your spouse? They probably already do. That bothers me but perhaps I’m in the minority.  You just have to look at history to know with some certainty that is a matter of “if,” not “when” this data becomes mis-used and corrupted, especially when huge amounts of money and careers are at stake.  Many thanks for the epic comment Kristen! 

  • @twitter-251851565:disqus When you log on to Facebook for the first time, it says “always free.” I believe that. The value of the information far outweighs what they could get from subscriptions.

  • Extremely interesting point my Baltic friend. Certainly some interesting opportunities for new business models ahead.

  • I have walked in your shoes friend. If you haven’t been there, I’m not sure you can really appreciate what is going to happen to this company. Many thanks for taking the time to add this valuable view.

  • I chuckled at that one.  Kind of overkill, huh?  Thanks Adil!

  • Terrific point Heather.  One of the positive benefits of the pressure to grow! 

  • This is a common theme in many of the classes I teach Sonia. “What is the next FB?” After all, there must be one right? And there will be, but I think it is probably some time off. The emotional switching costs are too high. Facebook is not a website. It’s a lifestyle. That sets them in a different category. 

  • Yikes. What an image.  Many thanks for the comment Craig!

  •  Haha, yeah the Free thing, smacks of NING here I think. Their policy at the beginning was ‘always free’, sounds familiar. When the burgeoning costs for hosting small deadweight social networks that they allowed their clients to create became unbearable they implemented a paid system.

    For sure the dead weight networks that were going nowhere complained and raged but in the end I think the move bettered NING. The same would be for facebook, IMHO. I would happily pay a reasonable fee for my facebook page (21k+ followers) and in doing so hope that the introduction of a paid system would either drastically reduce, or God forbid, put an end to the sellers of Donkey sized appendage ops and ‘feel good’ cures for lack luster evenings with the missus, who are now turning their spam tactics to the new timeline walls!

  • This is a really lazy, and poorly written article with little to no business analysis done.

    Facebook has a dual-stock structure system setup, and Zuck holds either 2 or 3 of the board seats himself.  With the Class A and Class B stocks…Zuck and Facebook will not have a hard time ceding to “public”.

    With regarding to data collection and advertising as a sustainable source of income…you once again fail to look at the untapped market of social.  Right now…people should start valuing Social the same way they value any resource such as oil or gold.  The only difference, is that “social” isn’t a yet established market.  Like Oil and Gold…”social” I’d argue is a “finite” resource but it’s going to be extracted in various different ways other than current methods.  Similar to “fracking” for oil. The only difference is that Facebook will set the tone for this because of A) their “hacker” culture, B) their talented workers, and C) their C) dual-stock structure.

    Finally, your last point regarding Google and their shareholders reacting to quarterly growth is a pure inaccurate observation.  Google, which had a CEO change, is still a supremely great search engine, but never anticipated the evolution of the internet and how critical “social” would become.  Google is now changing course with Google+ as a response to “social” because Facebook and Twitter do not allow Google’s algorithms access into their data.  This forced Google to start focusing on “social” because as more people spend more time on Facebook and other social platforms…they spend less time in Google.  Google is still a very profitable company.  But they’ve gotten distracted with the rollout of Gmail, Chrome, Android, etc.  and they didn’t have the correct personal to scale. 

    Google’s reaction to Google+ isn’t because of quarterly pressure…but instead a response to stay relevant.

    Privacy…is overrated.  Simply.  We all claim to want privacy, but for the most part individuals want present satisfaction more so than they want strict privacy.  Social technology is giving that to us and the culture of society, esp. in America is reflecting that. 

    At this present time there are more single people than ever before, happily living alone, and using social technology to be even more social than what single people used to live like in the past.  Social technology is stripping away barriers of entries into numerous fields and markets.  All the middlemen in society (newspapers, publishers, studios, etc.) are less needed than ever due to “social.”

    So before, you decide to write another blog post about a company and using a “buzz” word filled headline for clickthru and page views do some real research regarding the industry and context of firm you’re profiling.  This is just lazy and uninformed commentary and probably on the borderline of yellow journalism…except this post is anything but journalistic.

  • This is what happens when you take the emotion out of business Mark.
    I deleted my Facebook account because I felt like a commodity… I was!
    That’s why I was so disappointed they gobbled up Instagram (I know that the founders cared about what they built, and that it’s not just them who make the business decisions).
    Like the author of this great post http://nymag.com/daily/intel/2012/04/facebook-and-instagram-when-your-favorite-app-sells-out.html I believe Facebook set out to buy something they themselves couldn’t manufacture, something that goes deeper than bits of code.

  • You are probably the first person I’ve ever known to say privacy is overrated. Your point was kind of finished from that point on in my opinion.  I’m not afraid of dissent but I do not appreciate the demeaning language and if you use it on this forum again I’ll delete your comment.   We can disagree and still be civil.

  • I continue to be amazed at the emotional reactions to some of these business moves because we are so personally tied up in these platforms!  So very interesting.  At the end of the day it IS a business and Instagram seems like a pretty good strategic move. Of course people have the right to react however they want. That’s what makes the social web so great. Thanks! 

  • You know I need to check out Ning. I was thinking about it the other day. An interesting model. Thanks for the comment.

  • Lifestyle, absolutely, but can they keep everyone happy in the long run.?Where do you teach these classes? Any online?

  • Mark, I believe it’s hard for people to divorce themselves from emotion when they find places (even digital ones) where they feel they belong.

    Maybe you’ve got a local cafe your visit regularly? They know your order before you give it, they welcome you by name and you sit in the same window seat every day catching up on your news for an hour. How would you feel if Dunkin Donuts came in and bought those guys up?

    The reason we’re in business is to make life better for other people, and by doing that we make our lives better too.

    If you didn’t have emotional, living, breathing, caring people people feeling they had a place and a voice here it wouldn’t be the same (digital) space.

    What made Instagram great was the ‘why’ behind it… the intention of the founders. Facebook just doesn’t have the same intention…. it can’t. When the only alignment is cold hard cash and all the emotion is stripped away, what’s left?

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  • Nice post! Gets you thinking… 🙂

    On a high level, societies tend to live in fear. Most people live in fear. A subtle one, but there IS fear. Fear of losing your job, fear of getting robbed etc.
    Now society gets the fear of what if FB gets evil? A privacy devil? What if FB suddenly “knows” stuff without your approval seems a valid fear, cause we dont know how they operate and how to protect ourself against this “internet stuff”.

    […Long story short…]

    My two cents? If FB starts to annoy you, really annoy, just get out… simple as that. Cause there is much more to life. We all know this. We just tend to forget that sometimes 🙂

    Socrates Cave all over again, this time the cave is FB: youtube.com/watch?v=-Ei7LqbYb8M

  • I think this very well said Bernadette. A very keen point. Thanks!

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  •  I wonder how that’s broken down. Still, the Google and Facebook models are totally different, in my opinion.

    From the get-go Google has been a search engine and when they realized that businesses would pay to have their links at the top or off to the side in a more prominent location than an organic search, it became a popular revenue source. Whereas Facebook’s founders built a platform that would connect a community. Advertising came in second, though obviously the founders realized that’s where their revenue potential could be so why not go after it? While both models need to make money, one is different from the other and if Facebook wants to remain a community and keep their community, I’m not entirely convinced ad revenue is going to sustain it. There might need to be some other kind of model. I’m not exactly sure what but eventually, users are going to get tired of ads especially if they become prevalent and begin to take over their “personal space”. To that I say, I might be in the minority, but I also might be one of those that would opt-in to a premium-type account that would allow me to opt-out of some, most, or all advertising all together.

    But, that’s for a whole other post. The bottom line is I still believe that where Facebook is concerned, I don’t think ad revenue alone can sustain it. Maybe I’m wrong. I hope I am. But, I kind of doubt it.

  • What a fabulous post, and I could not agree with you more.  I actually wrote a post about Facebook and compared it to Borg and warned people to resist assimilation, and encouraged everyone to start building their social networks outside of Facebook.  Whether that is a really feasible way to resist assimilation, only time will tell, but I really think we should all try to slowly cut the cord from Facebook and be independent social networkers (I think I just invented a word!).  Again, fantastic post!

  •  I apologize for the language, I didn’t intend for it to be demeaning.  I was just amazed at how so many comments are building off some of the ideas you presented in your post…without actually having, in my opinion accurate information. The most clear example being the dual-stock structure. 

    As for regard to the point of privacy is overrated.  It is a very emotional statement.  But the data clearly indicates that it is true.  Looking only at Facebook as a platform…not only membership dramatically increased over a year…the amount of information shared by each individual ranged from 2x – 10x.  With opengraph it looks to be on pace to increase another 10x in information shared.  And Facebook is still gaining many new users and has faced very little backlash. 

    Twitter, Foursquare, Instagram, Path, and Yelp are also seeing significant growth in sharing their personal information as well.

    While people don’t want their SSI, or credit card information known, there really hasn’t been any backlash about telling people where they are located, where they often hang out, what they find interesting, and who their friends are and what they are or are not doing with their physical friends. 

    But I am curious about your response to some of my other claims in my prior post…because it’s obvious that you are a well informed individual in this space.

  • Spot on … and I think the pursuit of revenue will actually have a negative result … brands will find diminishing value in Facebook to drive measurable results.  But remember … social media does NOT = Facebook … there are a number of other platform opportunities for brands.

  • Kathi

    I was managing a dealership in 1999 when a large publically-traded auto group bought our store. Up until that point, I had only considered one thing as the key to success: Net Profit.  We were making so much of it that I never considered the public company would try to change us. Well, in a few short months, they started reaching their disgustingly gnarly fingers into our business.  They said, “We don’t care about Net Profit, we only want increased Revenue and higher Same Store Sales.” What the hell did that mean to this car gal!? It meant get the hell out of dodge. So I did.  When I heard Facebook was IPO’ing I got very sad.  I’m sure Zuck and friends are ecstatic to be rolling in their millions but WOW, you are so right Mark, the pressure is beyond ridiculous.  Wall Street is a machine that only feeds on human souls.  I’m not a pessimist but between Google and Facebook, it seems we’re all doomed. Cocktail, anyone?

  • Powerful comment Kathi. “pressure that is beyond ridiculous” … you’re so right. Thanks!

  • This interesting thinking. I would guess the relentless pursuit of information would CREATE value for businesses and measurable results. Our loss of privacy = business gain?

  • Thanks Sherry. Quite an image. : ) 

  • Fascinating commentary and thinking here Sander. Many thanks for chiming in.

  • You apology is accepted. Also thanks for promoting me from “lazy and uninformed yellow journalism” to a “well-informed individual.” I don’t know what changed your view but I’d like to order a case of it.

  • I teach in a graduate program at Rutgers University but a set of my online “Social Media from Scratch” classes is available to everybody here: 

  •  What I meant was that as FB is under increased pressure to generate revenue growth, they will likely get away from what Zuckerberg refers to as “brands being part of the natural FB environment.”  Example – ads are no longer ads, they are stories, but you have to pay to make your story reach more of your likes via reach generator.  How will brands react to this?  How will users react to this when they learn “brand stories” are paid stories?  How will brands evolve to make their paid media (their stories) more natural to the Facebook conversation as opposed to advertorial like?

    Actually looking forward to touch on some of these issues when I guest blog here in a couple of weeks. 🙂

  • Facebook already have many privacy loopholes, and I don’t share any personal information on any social networking site. I just logged in there to have fun and that’s it.

  • Frankly, I have chosen to boycott ads on FB since I first signed up. They are not only annoying, they are intrusive – and even self righteous! Why would any advertiser assume I will use their product or service just because it is pushed on my own space? On the contrary, that’s when I look for the more modest option that chooses to remain absent from my page.  If more of us behaved in this manner, perhaps advertisers would back off.

  • This really sums up the difficulty of marketing through Facebook. People are sick of being marketed to! 

  • That will be great!  P.S. You’re not a guest, you’re a resident!

  • David

    Great article, I think you’re right on. I very grudgingly use FB a little, because some people I know will not communicate any other way. 

    I’ve completely gutted my profile, and just for passive-aggressive fun I’ve added some completely bogus professions that I supposedly do. They’re so weird that so far no ads have been generated! 🙂

    But you’re right, they will be as aggressive as they possibly can, and try to litigate their way out of any issues that arise. Money talks.

  • Hi Mark,

    I read the first 50 or so comments and then decided to add my two cents. My apologies if this was already said.

    All of our information is being mined now. You should assume that any time you go online someone somewhere is tracking what you do and how you do it. It feels awkward and uncomfortable, but this is how it is.

    If you want to use “free services” you are subject to a variety of things that are outside of your control. One of them is the manner in which they are monetized.

    Advertising supports most publications be they online or off. Advertisers follow the eyeballs. They will pay more for targeted advertising than for something broad. So it is in the interest of every publication to gather as much data as they can.

    The obvious question/concern is what will they do with that information. Is it going to be abused or am I going to be cataloged among the billions. Most of the time I just don’t care if they know that sometimes I play Words with Friends or that I used to play Mafia Wars.

    The thing that concerns me the most is that some of my friends insist on posting pictures of us from our fraternity days. Or should I say I “love” the shots of me in which I am just a little “inebriated.” 

    Some of them are almost 30 years old, but I’d still rather not have them out there. No need for my children to see those or prospective/current employers.

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  • Yup, a constant consideration. Thank goodness there was no Facebook in my college days.  HR pros I talk to say your social footprint is more important than your resume!

  • Thanks for caring enough to comment David!

  • Mark, I think the statement ‘privacy is overrated’ deserves a second look. It’s easy to dismiss something quickly because it’s not in line with your view of things.

    The point in this statement was not whether privacy is important. The point (as I understand it) is:

    Does the average Facebook user really care?

    1. Certainly the opinions of social media experts and the press are not representative for the average Facebook user’s opinion.
    2. Are the users who complain publicly about privacy  representative for the majority of Facebook’s 850 Million users?

    I have no statistics for that, but my guess is: the average user does not ponder that issue much. I don’t expect Facebook users to shut down their accounts in masses because of privacy concerns. Not now, and not in the future.

    Of course, individuals who opt out, and blog about it, get noticed and they attract comments from like minded people. But that’s far from a tipping point for the majority.

    It’s one thing for people to complain or feel uncomfortable about privacy,, but a whole other thing to actually shut down your Facebook account and lose the ‘connection’ to your friends and network.

    When thinking about the possible Trends for Facebook, the actual (mass) user behavior regarding privacy is an important factor to consider.

    Apart from that, I agree that going public will bring a major shift in how the company operates. Not a good one.

  • @twitter-11559312:disqus , Facebook has a long way to go before they’ll hit a plateau with advertising. By then they will have developed additional ways to monetize what they have. After all, it shouldn’t be too hard to come up with more ideas than simple advertsing.

    Regarding stories of businesses who don’t see a ROI, I don’t think that will hurt the business model much. Tons of people are using AdWords with questionable ROI, and new ones start every day. Especially smaller businesses aren’t even used to calculating ROI of advertising, nor do they have any idea how to do it technically. Yet, they still place ads.

  • I actually think it will be a better experience for me when Facebook presents more timely, relevant information – even in the form of ads – that are customized for me based on my interests, desires, and needs.  If I am concerned about my private information, I have the choice as to whether I put that information out on Facebook or not. 

  • Ummmm … maybe. I think Facebook is probably collecting more information about you than you realize. Do you use Facebook ID to sign into other apps? Zuckerberg famously stated that privacy is dead.  I believe him.

  • I believe that is true that your social footprint is more important than your resume.  

    JackB makes some great points here.

  • Collecting, yes? Looking at individually? No. As I’m sure you know, they anonymize the data.  With FB apps, most collect your name, gender, email address, list of friends. networks, user ID, and any other information you made public.  The key here is that they collect what you made public.  Of course privacy is dead when you choose to make information public.With Google search, their bots even look inside your private emails in order to determine what ads to present you with.  I admit is kind of freaky but I appreciate their attempt to provide me with timely, relevant information that is precisely related to my needs and interests.Even though Google bots know what I am saying privately, individuals at Google and the specific advertisers do not.  Nor, will they ever know specifically who it is that said something.  The advertiser gives Google parameters, the bots seek people who fit those parameters and present ads that are tailor made.   Facebook ad placement targeting has a long way to go to be able to deliver the relevant, timely, and targeted ads that Google can deliver.  It is very annoying to be presented with ads that have absolutely nothing to do with me.  I look forward to Facebook having that enhanced capability.Of course, all of the anonymizing of the data is for naught when a court order is presented or the IRS makes a request.  Then, FB and Google can zero in precisely on specific individuals.  While that capability always exists, I submit that it is not normally accessed except in the case of court matters and the IRS.

  • If FB and others can present to you a highly targeted ad based on your behavior patterns, purchases and personal information … well, what is anonymous about that?  I don’t take too much comfort in that!

  • David_R8

    Data and now pictures via Instagram, Mark wants and needs it all to fuel the machine. And ‘we’ willingly give it to him.

    The IPO will be a wild success, that is a guarantee. Legions of people will want to profit from the capitalistic voyeurism that social media has become.

    Time to turn down your Facebook account?

  • Seo is a great procedure that helps you to provide quality of back links and traffic to a targeted site. 

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  • It is interesting to see how ads have been trying to be smart over the years but I always have a problem truly understanding these ads. I mean, the younger generation seem to be automatically skipping these ads without even noticing them but yet ad campaigns continue to work.

    On the other hand, I do agree Facebook is the most dangerous company on earth. People have been feeding information to Facebook knowingly (and unknowingly) and it just continues to grow. As for whether it will reach a plateau, perhaps it will but somehow Facebook has been managing that plateau rather well for some time now (now they are trying to trace important milestones in our lives!).

  • Market will regulate that… Wall Street will have to learn that we the users don’t care much about their profit margins.

    If Facebook becomes to agressive, people will go to the competitors. Thanks for the nice morning read. Your writing has a distinctive voice, very articulate.

  • In the end Facebook will do what we all knew they were going to do all along… Zuckerberg will admit he is the antichrist, Facebook IS the new world order, and we will all have to buy and sell with Zynga coins.

  • I can use the annotation features to highlight and make notes, but they
    are not easily searchable without opening the particular PDF. I have
    been using the notes feature in zotero to capture my high-level summary
    of each PDF, but the notes are not as flexible and searchable as notes
    in evernote. 

  • The entire premise of the targeted ad is that targeted ads are more effective. What happens when this is challenged with proven data? I find my purchasing behavior and attractiveness to ads to be very random…that is when I remember the ads. I’ve come to see ads in the same light as I see emails titled “Dear Friend, My Father Left Me Money”

  • I agree completely, it’s only a matter of time.  Every great little start-up that endeared the public has turned against its users and sought more ways to suck money out of them.  eBay is a perfect example of this.  While upwards of 500,000 people were making a living on eBay in 2008, today it’s being overun by big companies, and the Mom & Pops are being pushed out.  eBay wants to be like Amazon, Amazon is destroying its customer base by creating rigid right to list standards where the only thing that matters is price.  Eventually, ALL wholesalers will be shipping their products to Amazon’s fulfillment centers and selling direct to the public.  It’s no longer good enough to be a stable company that offers a good product or service – when you go public, it’s all about money.  Maybe Facebook should share its profits with its users instead of stockholders.  I’m totally serious about that.

  • That made me laugh out loud. Great point Juan!

  • And “1984” will become a religious text. : ) 

  • Thanks for the kind words. 

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  • nofanoffacebook

    If you are not paying for it, you’re not the customer; you’re the product being

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  • Darrell Teague

    Facebook has been public for some time now but I think this article is still relevant in the grand scheme (at least for Western users). There are “other” versions of FaceBook floating around hosting BILLIONS of users by the way. In any case, it is all the same and for those that haven’t figured it out already – the only free cheese is in the mousetrap. If you are not paying for FaceBook or whatever application, you have implicitly agreed to share everything you type and do with a data-mining company who has every right to dissect, pattern, match and correlate your information and then sell it to anyone (and yes, one could certainly characterize some of the buyers as “criminals” like high-interest rate ‘loan’ companies … what we used to call “Loan Sharks” and many other companies who have become very adept at providing a glossy veneer to their shady practices).

    The answer is incredible in today’s society … stop using it.

    What?! Stop using FaceBook, Twitter or whatever …?!

    How will I share the picture of my dog soiling the carpet?!

    What about telling my friends about my trip to Aruba?!

    Ladies and gents … it is PUBLIC data.

    Criminals will use the fact that you have a dog, your dog’s name, the vet clinic where you take it, the fact that you go to Aruba (and can afford it) and everything else to rob you in one way or another.

    Is it worth it really?

    Can you not use the phone network (which is actually quite security comparatively and they are not likely transcribing conversations and selling them) or write a letter? .. and that goes for GMail, HotMail and anything else that is FREE. Pay for a service that uses secure communication and agrees to NOT sell your information. Simple, easy and affordable to anyone who can buy a lottery ticket.

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  • tishka Smith

    i got rid of mine today. forever.never going back

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  • I love the first part of the post, I completely agree with you. Actually I wrote an article about 1 month ago in German addressing this issue. Amny companies stop being customer-centric when they go public…

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