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Who controls your digital assets post-mortem?

A law professor says federal laws are needed to give people the right to control their digital afterlife.

Jason Mazzone

Just as you choose where your money goes after you die, you should be able to control your “digital assets” — your online data — when you pass away, according to a University of Illinois law professor.

Professor Jason Mazzone has written a paper titled “Facebook’s Afterlife,” which argues that federal agencies are responsible for safeguarding “digital afterlives” in the same manner that a bank has a duty to properly bequeath a deceased person’s assets.

Mazzone, an expert in intellectual property law, says the U.S. government should take a solid role in regulating social-networking sites by giving people the power to choose what happens to their digital information should the worst happen. The professor argues that current rules allow social networking sites to set their own individual policies and therefore do not adequately protect “individual or collective interests.” According to Mazzone:

Virtually no law regulates what happens to a person’s online existence after his or her death. This is true even though individuals have privacy and copyright interests in materials they post to social networking sites.

According to the recent paper, an absence of legal regulation gives sites too much power to distribute or store “copyright materials” — for example, photos or video — after death. However, a change in regulation could impose standards on social networking sites including Twitter or Facebook, giving users more control and reflecting protective copyright laws

“You only want the federal government involved if there’s some failure on the part of the states,” Mazzone said. “But it would be very difficult for any particular state to set up a legal regime that would adequately regulate Facebook, which not only operates all across the U.S. but also all over the world. Some states have enacted legislation in an effort to protect their own citizens, but it’s not at all clear how it would affect Facebook as a whole. In order for this type of law to be effective, we have to turn to the federal government.”

Mazzone says that the accumulation of digital assets is growing because so many people in the West use social networking on a daily basis. The information that is uploaded every day — Facebook alone supporting over 300 million photo uploads per month — should be protected, not only because it is important to family and friends, but because future historians will want to access such digital archives to reconstruct the past.

According to the professor, Facebook currently stores all a deceased person’s information on its servers. Instead, Mazzone said, all of the data should be accessible to family and friends. Mazzone believes Facebook is “hoarding” information because “there’s going to be some future value to having all of that content locked away.”

Currently, living users can request the removal of an account once someone has passed away by using a particular form, but there are no safeguards for users to choose their account’s fate while still living. Mazzone believes this does not go far enough, commenting:

Whoever uploaded the content has a property right that is protected – it’s not extinguished by anything that Facebook does. The trouble, though, is how you or your heirs get your hands on that content. The person who has inherited the copyright, who has the ability to control the uses of the work, can’t take advantage of it because it’s locked away in Facebook’s digital vault. That’s why we need to get to a place where we can require an entity like Facebook to give individual users at least some possibility of deciding while they’re still alive what’s going to happen to their content after they die.

The paper concludes that for the sake of privacy and intellectual property rights, sites should have to offer a way for people to choose what happens to their account after they die. Currently, there is no such option — but if the federal government became involved, social networks may be forced to rethink their data protection and storage practices.

Who controls your digital assets post-mortem?

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Is App.net The Beginning Of ‘White Flight’ From Facebook And Twitter?

App.net promises to be “what Twitter could have been.” But it’s potentially something more profound than that.

By Whitney Erin Boesel

White flight happens both online and offline. What is it with some white people?

This piece originally appeared on Cyborgology.

Recently mentions of a new “real-time social feed” called App.net have been creeping into my Twitter feed. Just as the quietly simmering Diaspora and therunning joke that is Google+ were geared to seize on collective Facebook malaise, it seems App.net is trying to seize on some degree of unrest among Twitter users before taking on Facebook as well. In this case, App.net promises that “users and developers [will] come first, not advertisers.” In an era of “if it’s free, you’re the product” — remember that the much love/hated Facebook promise that “[is] free and always will be”— App.net proposes to offer a Twitter-like social feed (and eventually a “powerful ecosystem based on 3rd-party developer built ‘apps’”) on a paid membership basis instead.

At first, this struck me as a reasonable enough idea: I’m pretty much always willing to pay for the upgraded version of an app or service rather than be bombarded with ads (though in this case, my particular Twitter client and the AdBlock Plus add-on have already solved the problems of “promoted tweets” and Facebook ads). Yet it turns out App.net will not be an advertising- or promotion-free environment just because App.net itself won’t derive revenue from ads; the company has no plans to “restrict commercial messages from appearing on the service,” and instead suggests that users — who have “complete control over the kinds of messages they see” — simply unfollow accounts that post annoying messages. App.net describes this as “the beauty of a follow model,” but I’m skeptical. For instance, the “follow model” does not seem to have stopped spammers on Twitter, and unlike App.net’s founder Dalton Caldwell, I’m not convinced a $50 paywall will keep spammers away. Still, I liked the idea of my information (“my information”) not being sold to marketers, so I kept reading.

When I got to the $50 price point (pre-paid) of joining App.net for a year, however, I started to see the service a bit differently. I realize that any app or service charging at least $4.17 per month (and there are a lot of them) also costs at least $50 per year, but that actually isn’t the point here — the point is the stratifying effect of asking for $50 upfront instead of asking for $4.17 every month. Was this stratifying effect intentional, or an oversight? Some clicking around indicates that it’s probably intentional, with one interview article stating that the $50 pre-paid membership cost is “really more of a ‘are you serious’ fee.” Caldwell believes that “Twitter could have been something more, and perhaps better, than what it has become,” and so has set out to build a service not for the masses, “but for the hacker masses.”

The “hacker masses” are, of course, a much less diverse crowd than are the ‘regular’ masses. Recall that Twitter’s original ‘early adopter’ user base in 2007 was the so-called digerati, who are largely affluent white men with connections to the tech industry; recall as well that in 2012, “it’s a black Twitterverse; white people only live in it.” “How Black People Use Twitter” got a lot of attention onSlate two years ago (despite describing how only some Black users use Twitter), and let’s not forget how many Arab-region users joined Twitter during last year’s Arab Spring. Meanwhile, those “keen and savvy” early adopters now complain because services like Twitter and Facebook “haven’t developed with us [emphasis in original], and Caldwell himself sees K-Mart ads in his feed as just another sign of Twitter’s appalling degradation and debasement. OMG it’s the end of the world: K-mart shoppers and people of color found Twitter.

I’m now wondering if App.net doesn’t mark the beginning of “white flight” from Twitter and Facebook, just as danah boyd has argued that Facebook was the “white flight” from Myspace before that. Both sites have certainly grown beyond their early-adopter user bases: Twitter had 500 million users as of February 2012, and with 955 million users [pdf] as of June 2012, “everyone” is supposedly on Facebook; your mom is on Facebook (hell, my mom’s on Twitter, too), and there’s even a growing chance your grandma is on Facebook (though I admit that mine isn’t). Facebook has become so quotidian — some would even say pedestrian — that as Laura Portwood-Stacer argues, not being on Facebookhas become the new, cool status marker (esp. for affluent white tech people). Given all the cultural and economic capital there is to be gained from participating in social media, however, it wouldn’t be surprising if some people who are “too cool” for Facebook and Twitter are not yet too cool for social networking sites in general, especially sites you need $50, $100, or $1000 upfront to join. In fact, App.net is betting there are at least 10,000 people willing to pay $50, to start.

Before I return to the issue of App.net’s $50 entry-level membership fee and its stratifying effects, I want to acknowledge that, although race and class are complexly interrelated and intersecting axes of oppression, they are not the same thing. One of my pet peeves is when people treat race and class as if they’re interchangeable; for instance, when the Fordham Institute talks about the 25 “fastest-gentrifying neighborhoods” in America, the author is really referencing US Census data for the 25 zip codes with the largest increases in percentages of white residents. As a transitive verb, “gentrified” means “renovated and improved so that it conforms to middle-class taste.” Fordham is therefore using ‘percentage of white residents” as a proxy for ‘percentage of middle-class residents’, which inherently perpetuates the stereotypes that white people are middle-class and people of color are poor. Because of this, I find Fordham’s proxy (and others like it) to be ideologically problematic, even if an influx of white people does seem to correlate with fewer bodegas and morecupcake merchants. Plus, when we remember that the adjective meaning of “gentrified” is “more refined or dignified,” equating ‘more white’ with ‘more gentrified’ is just offensive.

The Mission, San Francisco: home to both gang violence and gourmet cupcakes.

Anyway, the point here is that when I talk about a possible link between App.net’s class-stratifying $50 backing fee and the beginning of ‘white flight’ from Facebook, I’m not suggesting a 1:1 correlation between whiteness and affluence, nor am I suggesting that race and class are interchangeable. I am, however, referencing the fondness that some affluent white people have for buying goods and services that help them decrease the visibility of poor people and people of color around them.

If the ‘white flight’ from Myspace to Facebook was like the post-war migration of white people from urban areas to tract houses in the suburbs, App.net could represent the digital equivalent of white people moving from suburban tract houses to gated communities or urban loft conversions. It contains elements of both white flight (affluent white people distancing themselves from the more diverse user bases of Facebook and Twitter) and gentrification (affluent white people creating a site that conforms to their tastes and has a higher cost of entry), and to me, these things make App.net seem a lot less appealing: I’m happy to escape “being the product,” but joining a digital country club holds little appeal.

In addition to market appeal based subtly and not-so-subtly on fleeing from the ‘Others,’ and on utopian rhetoric about fleeing from evil corporations (“Open. Free. Joy. Wonder. Peace. Perfection”), App.net taps into the same neoliberal self-interest on which all privatization ventures depend. Much of the enthusiasm I’ve seen in my own Twitter feed has been from people who are angry about being “the product,” but if there’s a harm to being the product (such that would motivate those who can pay to join a different social networking site to do so), shouldn’t we maybe address that harm directly and collectively?

Buying our way out of personal exposure to a problem doesn’t address the problem itself, and it still leaves those who can’t afford to buy their way out exposed. Buying bottled water might get your kid away from (say)trichloroethylene, but it won’t stop your neighborhood from becoming aleukemia cluster; ‘voting with your dollar’ for App.net instead of Facebook or Twitter might subject you to fewer ads and less data-mining, but it’s not going to affect how Facebook, Google, or anyone else operates, nor will it slow the push toward targeted marketing in general.

One might be tempted to argue that ‘early adopters’ in general tend to be disproportionately white, male, and economically privileged, and that perhaps App.net would — like both Myspace and Facebook — become more diverse over time (especially if the pricepoint of using their service came down). I tend to think not, given that the ‘for us, by us’ here is software developers. Or perhaps we shouldn’t expect App.net to have any kind of positive impact on the world; maybe they’re just out to make some money by offering a service for which there seems to be a market. But for those of us who see the appeal or value of a user-centered social networking site, I wonder if this is the best way to go about building one.

Whitney Erin Boesel is a graduate student in Sociology at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and a regular contributor for Cyborgology.

Is App.net The Beginning Of ‘White Flight’ From Facebook And Twitter?

One Chart That Explains The Transformation Of Media In 2012

Facebook rose in the first half of the year to challenge Google’s dominance. A chart from the new BuzzFeed Social Intelligence Report.

By Ben Smith

Posted about 3 hours ago

Facebook has risen over the last six months to challenge Google’s place as the most important source of traffic to online publishers, according to data from BuzzFeed’s broad sample of web referrals to about 200 publishing sites.

The data from BuzzFeed’s first Social Intelligence Report is drawn from the BuzzFeed Network, a set of sites reaching 300 million users a month, offering striking evidence of a tectonic shift in the shape of the Internet.

Facebook’s challenge to Google, which accelerated with changes to the news feed, is part of the broader rise of social platforms as dominant drivers of traffic to publishers in the first half of 2012. Search engines — who drove publishers toward complex Search Engine Optimization techniques for half a decade — show little growth.

The data gathered for the Social Intelligence Report comes from BuzzFeed’s viral tracking system, which is deployed on partners’ sites. BuzzFeed’s partners are a broad mix of small and large news properties such as TimeThe Daily MailFunny or Die, and TMZ, and the figures represent the sum traffic to their content as well as to BuzzFeed’s.

The report’s data does not capture all web traffic, but focuses specifically on newly-published content over seven days — the length of time it typically takes for a piece of content to go viral.

Search continues to be a key source of traffic to some older content.

The network also does not include content properties designed around search queries such asAbout.com or eHow.

One Chart That Explains The Transformation Of Media In 2012

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Why London 2012 will be remembered as the social Olympics

IN DEPTH Beijing brought us HD, but London will be the chattiest games yet

By Jamie Carter

Why London 2012 will be remembered as the social Olympics

The torch relay has generated a lot of social interaction

Forget the sporting glitterati about to descend on our capital city – it could be the thumb-twiddling Twitterati that break new records during London 2012 at the most interactive Olympic Games yet.

As well as Team GB‘s biggest haul of medals for 100 years, Beijing 2008 gave us a hi-def Opening Ceremony and some streaming live video online.

In the four short years since China, things have moved on and London 2012 will be teeming with tech; Super Hi-Vision, live 3D TV and live broadcasting on smartphones will all feature. Perhaps most impressively, the BBC is planning to screen every single event at London 2012, promising that its record-breaking coverage – 24 live HD streams and 2,500 hours of coverage – will be available via the BBC Sport website on PC, laptop, smart TVs, tablets and smartphones.

Facebook has also launched its own London 2012 portal.

The BBC intends to broadcast up to 24 live streams from London 2012

Despite all those tech firsts, it’s the latter two devices that could make London 2012 an event where social media is as much a sport as the on-track antics. “There were no tablets at the last Olympics – it’s a completely new market,” says Carl Hibbert, a tech analyst at Futuresource Consulting.

“Tablets have proved a lot more engaging for video than the laptop, and during the Olympics tablet owners will be able to fire-up the BBC iPlayer at work to catch-up on the judo or weightlifting in their lunch-hour. It provides a new resource and touch-point for broadcasters.”

The tablet, however, is far from a passive device – and that goes double for smartphones, which will get just as much live London 2012 love. The majority of Olympics viewing will be on a TV, of course, but with ‘second screen’ viewing now common, the amount of Tweeting and Facebooking during London 2012 is expected to sky rocket precisely as a consequence of the BBC’s ambitious plans.

Is Zeebox the answer?

Anthony Rose, ex-Future Media Controller at the BBC and responsible for the BBC iPlayer, thinks the Beeb’s coverage of London 2012 needs a social media sheen not just for its own sake, but to act as a dynamic electronic programme guide.

“The BBC will have fantastic video coverage, but I don’t believe they’re doing anything in social media,” he says. “Imagine you’re sitting in front of your television and you’ve got 24 channels you could access – how do you know which is the one where Team GB is winning? Or which one your friends are watching?”

Twitter

Olympic athletes are set to use Twitter to keep us all in touch with Team GB’s progress

Rose’s tech start-up has therefore come up with Zeebox, a web platform and app for iOS and Android that was launched late in 2011. It attempts to turn live TV into a two-way, social viewing experience. Each user simply tells the app which package they’ve got – say, Sky+HD, Virgin Media’s XL bundle, or Freeview HD – clicks on the programme they’re watching, and information about popularity is shown along with Tweets about that show, news headlines and stories online, and even associated apps that can be downloaded.

“Run Zeebox on your phone or iPad and it will know, second by second, where the buzz is,” says Rose. “Suddenly everyone discovers that one of the events is trending, and you will see that – you can arrange your programme guide so that whatever is the most popular is at the top. The BBC will provide some fantastic live video, and Zeebox is a way of helping you surf that to find the most interesting one for you. Your can then invite friends, start a group chat, and follow celebrities.”

Fully integrated with Twitter, the celebrity angle – called Starwatch – is perhaps the most interesting. “If you follow someone on Twitter and they happen to use Zeebox then you can follow them and chat with them if they’re chat settings allow, and see what they’re watching, if their privacy settings allow,” says Rose.

The Zeebox app works as a decent electronic programme guide, but channels can be ordered by popularity

“Even if they don’t use Zeebox, if they Tweet about a programme that’s on TV now, our servers follow them – we follow about 1,000 UK sports starts and media celebrities and TV presenters – and show them on your virtual couch.” During London 2012 it will be possible to follow the athletes and TV presenters, and see their Twitter streams.

Hibbert thinks Zeebox, and social media in general, adds a new dimension to TV – and sport in particular. “Look on Saturday evening TV – it’s hard to go half and hour without appeals for hastags and Tweets, and I really think it should be pushed during the Olympics. You become an interactive person at a game,” he says, adding: “Social TV is very much in its early days, but the idea about being increasingly engaged in what you’re watching isn’t going to go away.”

The core of this approach works best for live ‘event’ TV, which is relatively rare away from live sport and the odd ‘talent’ show – especially with the popularity of hard disk recorders and time-shifting – but increased interactivity is also being used by online catch-up TV services.

For commercial companies social TV is a way of keeping us all interested beyond the live broadcast, and with so much on-demand content now available online, that’s crucial from an advertising perspective. “Maybe with tablets becoming more common it means a multi-screen experience, or an additional screen providing another video feed, live updates, or more stats,” suggests Hibbert.

“Maybe you’re watching the 100m race and you can bring up profiles of all the runners? The creative side of this comes into play – could broadcasters have a real-time game where you tap the screen to race against the runners? It’s all about achieving eyeballs and retaining interest in that piece of content after it’s aired, whether it be paid-for premium content, or advertising-funded.”

During May’s FA Cup Final Zeebox invited users to ‘be the ref’ by sharing their opinions (Foul! Etc.), voting for the man of the match on Facebook, and tweeting during the match using special hashtags to win tickets to the 2013 event. A similar treatment was given to the Champions League final.

“Every four years it’s promised that this will be the Olympics of something – of video on demand, or of HD – but it’s never changed dramatically, with most people watching the highlights each evening on TV,” says Rose. “This time London 2012 has the potential to be the first time that social media has played a decisive role.”

Why London 2012 will be remembered as the social Olympics

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Instagram Brings The Likes To Android

By  

Even though Instagram is now part of the Facebook family, it’s still business as usual over at image sharing social network. The developers put out a new version on iOS on Monday, but left Android owners wondering when they were going to get the update. It seems that Instagram is working just as fast on Android with the newest version hitting yesterday.

Instagram for Android has now been updated to version 1.1.4. It features the main new features that are now present in the iOS version. Namely, the ability to share Likes to Facebook and a new Explore tab. The Explore tab is definitely the most interesting addition as it lets search by both users and tags. It should make finding elusive pictures of Sasquatch on Instagram much easier.

Instagram is one of the first apps to implement Facebook’s new mobile Like button. It allows users to Like a picture on a mobile app and it posts the Like to the user’s Facebook Timeline for all to see. You better get used to Facebook invading your mobile apps with Instagram as it will soon be spreading to apps that they don’t own.

Finally, the new version introduces some much needed bug fixes. Previous incarnations of the Android app featured a nasty bug that wouldn’t load comments on a particular photo. Now you can rest assured that every unflattering comment made by the Internet in regards to your duckface shots will be available for all the world to see.

You can grab the newest version from Google Play. If you haven’t hopped onto the Instagram bandwagon yet, it’s worth checking out. Besides, Apple fans need things to complain about and more Android users on Instagram should do the trick.

Instagram Brings The Likes To Android

Facebook, Instagram Lose A Little More Friction

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Stacy Kiebler Joins Instagram With Sexy Gym Photo

Stacy Keibler announced that she is officially on Instagram by posting a photo of herself rockin’ a sports bra and six pack abs at the gym. She now has 12,000 followers. Not saying the two are con…
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Facebook App Center: What Does It Actually Do?

by 

Facebook announced its App Center Thursday night — but it wasn’t immediately clear how users would benefit, or whether it simply added another layer between you and apps you download to your smartphone.

More than 600 apps are featured in the App Center. These apps are not new, and are already able to sync with your Facebook account, should you let them.

What has changed: now you can go to Facebook.com/appcenter, and choose apps you want to download on your Android or iOS device. Those apps then show up as notifications in your Facebook mobile app. Click the notification and it will take you to the regular app store on your phone so you can download the app in question. But you still need to go back to the Facebook app to authorize the app you just downloaded.

Confused yet? As Mashable reader Skip Fredricks commented, this is like the Inception of apps.

Here’s one way in which the app center might be useful: When you access an app on your phone that you synced with the Facebook app, and one of your Facebook friends visits the App Center, it will show your friend which apps you use.

In that sense, it’s more like a recommendation center than a store. For newbie smartphone owners, this might be useful for finding popular apps. There are numerous app review sites, but this would be a place where users can see which apps their friends are using. You can see what apps are popular with Facebook users in general.

Is that it? It would seem so. (Representatives from Facebook did not respond to Mashable’s requests for comment.)

For example, I tried adding the Pinterest app via my Facebook account. I visited the Facebook App Center on my laptop while logged into my profile. I clicked on the Pinterest icon, then on “Send to mobile.”

I immediately received a notification on my iPhone that Pinterest was available on my Facebook app. I unlocked my phone to access the Facebook app, which directed me to the Pinterest app. From there, I could pin, and my friends could see that I use Pinterest — that is, if they visit the app center.

In January, Facebook announced 60 apps integrated with Timeline and its Open Graph that made sharing easier than ever and opened the gateway for developers to put their apps on Facebook. The app center makes it easier to view and read about these apps.

Facebook App Center: What Does It Actually Do?

Pinterest users twice as likely to buy stuff than Facebook users

Pinterest users outshine those on Facebook when it comes to buying items they see posted on those respective sites, says a new poll.

by 

Are you apt to buy an item you see pop up on Pinterest or Facebook?

Most of the Pinterest and Facebook users polled by marketing firm SteelHouse said that the sites play a key role in their online buying. But Pinterest users are twice as likely to buy items they see on the site than are Facebook users.

Drilling further, 59 percent of Pinterest users said they’ve already bought something they saw pinned on Pinterest. In comparison, 33 percent of Facebook folks said they’ve bought a product or service they saw on an ad, a news feed, or a friend’s wall.

Still, Facebook remains the top choice among consumers for generating ideas on what they’d like to buy. It’s also the No 1. social network for product sharing.

More than half (55 percent) of shoppers prefer to share news about their online purchase via Facebook. That compares with 22 percent for Twitter, 14 percent for Pinterest, 5 percent for Instagram, and only 3 percent for LinkedIn.

Moving beyond just Pinterest and Facebook, 98 percent of those polled said that online customer reviews are a major influence on their decision to buy a product or service.

A full 72 percent always read reviews before buying an item, while 26 percent sometimes read such reviews. And 83 percent take into account both the written comments and the star ratings, with half saying the lowest star rating they’d accept is three out of five.

To compile its results, SteelHouse conducted a national survey of 309 online shoppers.

Pinterest users twice as likely to buy stuff than Facebook users

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Facebook Rumored to be Thinking of Buying Opera Software

opera

By Jane McEntegar

Is there a Facebook browser on the horizon?

It’s been a busy couple of months for Facebook. First the social network acquired Instagram for a cool billion dollars. Then, last week, CEO Mark Zuckerberg took the company public (right before walking down the aisle with his girlfriend of nine years). Most recently, the company launched its own camera application for iOS devices.

Now, word on the street is that Facebook is considering buying the company behind the Opera web browser. Pocket-Lint cites a trusted source in reporting that Facebook is looking to purchase Opera Software. This source says Facebook could be about to expand into the browser space to take on the likes of Google, Apple, Microsoft, Mozilla and (as of this week) Yahoo!. If Pocket-Lint’s information alone isn’t enough to whet your appetite, there’s more rumblings of the same variety over at The Next Web.

TNW spoke to their own Opera Software source and gleaned the following information: Opera Software is talking to potential buyers right now. It’s not clear if Facebook is one of them, but TNW’s source says the company is looking to sell and become part of “a larger privately-held or public company rather than trying to keep growing the business independently.” This source also revealed that Opera Software has a hiring freeze in place, which indicates something big might be about to do down.

The move would save Facebook the hassle of building its own browser from scratch. While Opera is a distant last in the desktop browser market (as of last month, it had just 1.76 percent of the market), it’s currently the top mobile browser with a market share of 21.52 percent and has a prescence on smartphones, tablets, and even game consoles, which could be more Facebook’s style.

No comment for Facebook or Opera on this rumor, so stay tuned!

Facebook Rumored to be Thinking of Buying Opera Software
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Facebook prices IPO at $38 per share

NEW YORK – Facebook on Thursday priced its initial public offering at $38 per share. The social networking company, which is expected to go public tomorrow under the ticker symbol “FB,” stands to reap $18.4 billion in the IPO.

Facebook’s stock is expected to begin trading on the Nasdaq Stock Market on Friday under the ticker symbol “FB.”

At $38 per share, the offering could reap a $16 billion windfall for Facebook and its selling shareholders. That would make it the third-largest U.S. IPO in history, according to IPO advisory firm Renaissance Capital. And it would be the seventh-biggest IPO in the world.

CBS MoneyWatch’s complete coverage of Facebook IPO
Facebook’s IPO by the (“important”) numbers
VIDEO: How valuable is a “like” to a company?

For the Harvard dorm-born social network that reimagined how people communicate online, the stock sale means more money to operate the data centers that hold the trove of status updates, photos and videos shared by Facebook’s 900 million users. It means more money to hire the best engineers to work at its sprawling Menlo Park, California, headquarters, or in New York City, where it opened an engineering office last year

And it means early investors, who took a chance seeding the young social network with start-up funds six, seven and eight years ago, can reap big rewards. Peter Thiel, the venture capitalist who sits on Facebook’s board of directors, invested $500,000 in the company back in 2004. He’s selling nearly 17 million of his shares in the IPO, which means he’ll get some $640 million.

The offering stands to value Facebook, whose 2011 revenue was $3.7 billion, at about $104 billion. The sky-high valuation has its skeptics. Google Inc., whose revenue stood at $38 billion last year, has a market capitalization of $207 billion.

“There seems to be somewhat of a hype around the stock offering,” says Gartner analyst Brian Blau in somewhat of an understatement.

There are a few reasons for the exuberance. One is the IPO’s sheer size. Investor appetite for the stock will likely propel Facebook’s valuation above other well-known companies such as Kraft, Disney and even Amazon.com.

Secondly, it’s personal.

“It’s probably one of the first times there has been an IPO where everyone sort of has a stake in the outcome,” Blau says. While most Facebook users won’t see a penny from the offering, they are all intimately familiar with the company, so it resonates as something they understand.

And then there’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who just turned 28 on Monday. He has emerged as the latest in a lineage of Silicon Valley prodigies who are alternately hailed for pushing the world in new directions and reviled for overstepping their bounds. He’s counted the late Apple CEO Steve Jobs among his mentors and he became one of the world’s youngest billionaires – at least on paper – well before Facebook went public. A dramatized version of Facebook’s founding was the subject of a Hollywood movie that won three Academy Awards last year, propelling Zuckerberg even further into the public spotlight.

Though Zuckerberg is selling about 30 million shares, he will remain Facebook’s largest shareholder. He set up two classes of Facebook stock, building on the model Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin set up as part of the online search leader’s 2004 IPO. The dual class structure helps to ensure that he keeps control as the sometimes conflicting demands of Wall Street exert new pressures on the company.

As a result, with the help of early investors who’ve promised to vote their stock his way, Zuckerberg will have the final say on how nearly 56 percent of Facebook’s stock votes.

True to form, Zuckerberg and Facebook’s engineers are ringing in the IPO on their own terms. The company is holding an overnight “hackathon” Thursday, where engineers stay up writing programming code to come up with new features for the site. On Friday morning, Zuckerberg will ring the Nasdaq opening bell from Facebook’s headquarters.

Facebook prices IPO at $38 per share

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GM Kiss-off Screams Need For Facebook Ads That Follow Users Around The Web

By Kashmir Hill

   After spending nothing but time on Facebook, I’ve attracted over 100K followers. After spending $40 million per year on its Facebook presence, as reported by the Wall Street JournalGeneral Motors has attracted just 378K fans to its primary page. While it does have dozens of other car-related Facebook pages which have also attracted ‘likes,’ that’s fairly depressing and is perhaps part of the reason that the company wants to cut back on its Facebook spending.

In a piece of nasty timing for Facebook, given that it’s going public this week, GM revealed yesterday it’s pulling the plug on the $10 million that it pays directly to Facebook to advertise there. GM tells my colleague Joann Mullerthat it wasn’t maliciously timed, but it does have many people questioning the value of advertising on Facebook.

Some people, including Ford, are arguing that GM simply didn’t get it, and was doing social advertising wrong with little understanding of how to engage users or optimize their content in the newsfeed. But techie/blogger/investor Chris Dixon points to a bigger problem: that Facebook, despite how novel it is as a social networking company, is old-fashioned in its business model. It relies on display ads like a traditional media company, points out Mathew Ingram at GigaOm. And while it’s got tons of eyes to display to, Dixon notes that “ads work dramatically better when consumers have purchasing intent.”

Most of us are on Facebook with an intent to purchase anything; we’re there to play, to look at our friends’ photos, to find funny viral videos. We are not in fact interested at that moment in buying a new car or checking out the dentist offering discounts to our college network. In another bit of nasty press for Facebook this week, an AP-CNBC poll has 83% of Facebook users polled saying they “hardly ever or never click on advertising or sponsored content” on the site.

That’s why it’s so crucial for Facebook to roll out an ad network outside of Facebook. In a recent change to its privacy policy, Facebook clearly established its right to display ads to you around the Web based on what you’ve said and done on Facebook (and what your friends have said and done). Once it rolls that product out, it will be a fierce competitor with other ad networks whose imperfect knowledge about you is gleamed from dropping cookies and tracking your browser activity. This way Facebook will be able to put ads in front of you in places where you actually have purchasing intent, and those ads could be highly effective given the rich database of information and social linkages that Facebook has on its users.

After all, you’re probably far more interested in the fact that 35 of your friends like the Mustang when you’re Googling “new car” than you are when you’re flipping through those friends’ photos.

GM Kiss-off Screams Need For Facebook Ads That Follow Users Around The Web

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