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Behind Facebook's megavaluation: the generational divide lurks

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Paul Mason | 10:45 UK time, Tuesday, 4 January 2011

The teenagers among our friends and family at New Year were fascinated and flabbergasted that I am on Facebook. "Paul is on Facebook!" one nudged the other, also displaying slight consternation that I had played Assassin's Creed and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. Because their parents do not know what any of this means, they assume that nobody above the age of 25 does.

Also, having taken professional-standard shots of them surfing in the freezing ocean on New Year's Day, I now find they do not want these posted on Facebook, even on a friends/family basis, because they consider the waves to have been too lame.

It's a kind of reverse generational digital divide: young teenagers live almost exclusively on Facebook but only have teenage friends. They are almost totally unaware of the networks of the adult members of their family and do their best to stay out of contact with them. They do not need email apps or chat apps - they do it all on FB. They would rather crop a JPEG on FB than use Photoshop. Yes they will have your surplus Word and Powerpoint registration keys but no thanks they do not want Outlook and frown at the idea of what it is for.

Meanwhile the grown-up internet trend of 2011 will continue to be Twitter. I was named #22 in the top 100 "twittering bloggers" recently and it's interesting how much of the conversation has migrated to Twitter. The problem with blog comment lines is that they get overwhelmed by a small number of people who want to go on about their own obsessions, sometimes called "trolls". Whereas with Twitter there is a more democratic outcome: if what you say is worthy of being repeated it will be re-tweeted and discussed by many others; if not, it won't be.

If I do a quick New Year's "audit" of my networks they are as follows: Facebook: 964 people, about 1/3 of whom I actually know; Twitter: 7,784 followers and I follow 100 people. I am strictly limiting my follows to 100, and editing them regularly - and I would say this is the "network" I most value because it is mainly other journos, politicos and the occasional complete stranger whose tweets tend to reflect the zeitgeist. As for my blog, the BBC finds it hard to tell me how many hits it gets, but as it is buried here among the Newsnight pages I am assuming it's a minority sport.

Now the good news for Mark Zuckerberg is that the only clamour coming from the 8, 9 and 10 year old younger brothers and sisters of the Facebook teens is: Facebook, Facebook, Facebook! The bad news is that if I, as an adult professional who has been a bleeding-edger with social media since it started, had to lose one thing in my online life it would be Facebook. Blogging is not going to die, though it will morph: it is too vital a feeder stream to the new publishing, to the "revolution in reading" as one senior media executive put it recently. Twitter is, as I have said before, an ideal news medium. The missing thing in my networked life is a iPad/Galaxy-only newspaper - but Rupert Murdoch is about to put this right.

So kids, do not worry: despite shelling out a large amount of money for my 400mm lens and still more for a camera that can take surfing shots at an ISO speed of 6400, capturing the individual droplets of surf as they fall, I will not be posting any shots of you surfing - and soon I may get out of your Facebook life altogether.


  • Comment number 1.

    Paul in your BBC blog it is quality not quantity that counts among the serious participants.

  • Comment number 2.

    The very fact that this blog may be a minority sport will either result in a few troll style posters overwhelming any sense that can be made of your (or their!) chosen subjects or it can be a platform for reasoned and educated debate about those subjects.

    Some blogs elsewhere suffer from an excessive volume of comment and reply and are therefore impossible to follow except in a superficial skim reading manner. The problem is that Twitter only has the equivalent of the skim reading as it has to be so concise and this does not always engender the precise. I like to think of tweets as telegrams in the past as they had to be short to be affordable. At least they are faster but perhaps too fast for proper absorption and reflection.

    I have not stuck with twitter as it seemed too chaotic and a bit herd like (that will be the reflection of the zeitgeist). Perhaps an almost oldie like me needs a better explanation of why Twitter works so well for some and then I may try it again.

  • Comment number 3.

    Briefly, according to Google Reader, one of the most used feed readers today, you have 201 subscribers to your atom feed and 56 to the RSS. So in total 257. Assuming at least a tenth of readers use Google Reader, then your blog has no more than 3000 subscribers.

  • Comment number 4.

    Sounds to me like the start of rock n'roll all over again. Not many squares down the 3Is in those days, daddy! It wasn't until the Beatles scrubbed up well that the adults got involved and then it was just to patronise. Let the kids be themselves: God knows you are old long enough!

    Twitter amuses those who are doing little meaningful with their lives. Most of us don't have the time and are already keeping half-a-dozen balls in the air as it is without adding a seventh. I can appreciate the media getting obsessed with it but it is really only for those who like to gossip. Usually these are people who have a vicarious existence. Who on earth would be interested to know that I am eating an apple at the moment, a Granny Smith to be precise. So get off on it if you want! Most don't care.

    Blogging in my view is sufficient as there is only so much information that the mind can absorb in any given period.

  • Comment number 5.

    What is the actual purpose of counting your followers unless you are trying to sell them something whether ideas or products - or in the kids' case to say 'Oh..look how popular I am!...I must be doing something right?'. Suppose it's a little of both if you look at 'Facebook's megavaluation'?

    Quality over quantity, content over trivia and individuality over the 'sheep mentality' hopefully will win out.

  • Comment number 6.

    Re trolls, media manipulation and libertarian agendas

    An interesting piece by George Monbiot on this subject from last month...

    Reclaim the Cyber-Commons

  • Comment number 7.

    *gasp* did we just get called Trolls?! :)

    I think you missed out another classification of social site, voting based ala Slashdot, HackerNews and Reddit.

    The Blog + aggregating site with voted comments can solve the troll problem (see hacker news) although it does require a strong community ethos. Personally my moneys on this as the future of broadsheet style news - quite literally, I've started a similar site at

  • Comment number 8.

    I find that friends and relatives' kids friend-request me on Facebook when they get to later teens. Sometimes it helps me keep up with their parents!

    Online activity is one antidote to a very biassed press. I'm rather disappointed that the BBC hasn't picked up on the following story yet:

    Any chance of it making Newsnight Paul?

  • Comment number 9.

    I posted over the Christmas period that I think the NASDAQ, IMPO, is in a bubble which is due to pop. Apple, Netflix, F5 have all seen staggering rises in the past 21 months since the March 2009 lows.

    The valuations of the likes of Facebook and Groupon only reinforce my view that we are now in bubble-land.

    Have a read of this:

    'Don't get me wrong. I have a Facebook account (is there anyone who doesn't) but I don't see how you monetize it. With a valuation of $50 billion the assumption is that the estimated 500 million active Facebook users will bring $100 in monetizable activity to the value of the firm - after expenses. Let's presume that's over a five year time horizon (an eternity in the digital world, and too long - but I'll be kind.) Is there $20/user/year of profit (not revenue) available? I don't think so.'

    'This much I do know - it's easy to be popular when you don't charge money to come in the door, and Goldman will figure out a way to get millions in fees - whether the company is ultimately worth anything or not.'

    The question now is whether the NASDAQ will continue to soar in the run-up to the much anticipated Facebook IPO or whether it will crash and burn within months, within weeks, within days?

    Apple is probably the stock to watch. Jobs has to pull another rabbit out of the hat with this Spring's iPhone 5 - will all the iPhone 4 users trade in and trade up - and USB capable - WOW - upgraded iPads? Apple profits have to better last year in order just to keep the stock where it is let alone move it up. That's the problem when you stock is riding high - it takes massive increase in sales just to nudge the stock up a bit. With so much of the NASDAQ Apple-dependent, if Apple falters it could bring the rest of Tech companies down with it.

    The Giant Squid looks like making vast sums from the Facebook IPO. I guess it will be in the Squid's interest to keep the NASDAQ up until the IPO is done - but it is long time between now and that Facebook IPO.

    Is the NASDAQ about to lead the World economy into another global market crash? Time will tell.

  • Comment number 10.

    If Facebook capitalises at an equivalent of $100 per user then Idle Scrawl could consider an IPO too ? How much are 3000 anarchists, Marxists and Neo Keynsians worth ? Or would it inevitably decend in to an unholy row about use value/exchange value ? Anway put me down for a couple of quids worth ( It's all I can afford - Ive just filled the car up )

    1st rule of blogs :If you don't know who the troll on the blog is, it's you !

  • Comment number 11.

    BBC News 24 is now, this moment, running an item on Facebook being worth 50 billion US Dollars - bubble, bubble, bubble!

    When the mainstream meeja catches on to something it is usually the time to bail out, run and not to look back.

    Speaking of which...

    Gold and silver down today. Gold down £29 currently or just over 3%.

    The big boys selling off the precious metals before the stock sell-off begins? Hmm, try selling your wheel-barrow of gold when the big investors, having lured the baked bean and tin-foil hat masses into gold, decide to off-load it in a hurry.

    You could get paranoid if you believed even a fraction of the stuff written online about market manipulation. I simply obey my lizard-people masters.

    Btw Paul, are you that nerd who sits in a bush in COD MW2 waiting for me to run past and then runs up behind me and shoots me in the back!?


  • Comment number 12.

    yes another tech bubble. Goldman will want their pound of flesh which will put pressure on FB to squeeze till the pips squeak. They will want a return of 2:1 at least which means selling at a higher price to someone dumber than they are. As quickly as theses websites with astronomical worth appear they also vanish. Twitter hasn't made any money yet so its a 'public service'. There are probably enough people not to remember the first dot com crash to make new suckers who will rationalise 'its different this time'.[which is what people said last time].

    this is why the great Debate Board was true public service. they had a Mod system that sandboxed the trolls, citizen militia and internet warfare teams. It broke news [eg usa troops were posting they were being sent to ex ussr states for iraq invasion. The topics were usually 2 or 3 days ahead of the official media. But it was the first thing Thompson cut yet it probably cost less than 1 episode of some amateur talent phone in pap packed full of expensive 'talent'.

    since when has NN been about ratings? If it was they would pack it full of bimbos in short skirts or topless blonde boys in leather shorts on sofas talking about celebrity tattoos and bedroom makeovers?

  • Comment number 13.

    Actually jauntycyclist, 2010 did seem to be a year when some of the NN presenters appeared to be in a competition to see who could actually wear the shortest skirt on air.

    As for the boys and the leather shorts - how do you know what they are or are not wearing behind those NN desks?

  • Comment number 14.

    Facebook's grand plan is to put the like button everywhere and become embedded in the backbone of the web and potentially everything else.
    People give information about themselves to Facebook in a way they don't to any other internet service.
    With those two joined together Facebook becomes a viable competitor to Google as the internet marketing service.
    They'd also become the most likely aggregator to micro-payments should that take off.

  • Comment number 15.

    Paul Mason says, 'I am strictly limiting my follows to 100, and editing them regularly - and I would say this is the "network" I most value because it is mainly other journos, politicos... '

    Is this a case of Caesar only hearing what he wants to hear?

  • Comment number 16.

    My children and their friends also seem to interact with adults on Facebook. I think it's all about how many friends you have equalling kudos. I have a presence there, largely to carry on group conversations with far flung relatives - we used to operate a Yahoo email group, but it's all done on FB these days. I don't like it there much - it's constantly trying to steal your time with apps and games and quizzes and whatnots, and the bestest thing about the interweb is the anonymity, not the public nature of that site. It makes internet naturists of us all. Ick. I love Twitter, blogs and am sufficiently dinosaur-like to cling on to emails.

  • Comment number 17.

    Kids have loads of time to waste so facebook is fun for them. We have a massive problem with productivity in this country. Many office workers spend far too long on facebook / twitter.

    I think these two applications are very average and are the equivalent of modern tv. I'm glad the inventors of tv are not around to see BBC3 or ITV - they would be gutted. Feel sorry for the internet inventors. The rapid pace of change means they have seen the technology mature and fragment into small great areas and large bad areas. At least with the internet you can choose easier than tv.

    The BBC appear to have shares in twitter. In the tech community it gets a lot of stick for being a poor shadow of existing technologies. Some do like it and I clearly don't speak for them but I see many derisory comments about it online.

    How many young people will suffer as recruiters use Facebook to find out if they are not the sort of person they would leave their kids with?

    I personally like Reddit and Delicious. The latter faced destruction not long ago. Check it out Paul it's very interesting.

    Facebook has yet to be monetized in a meaningful way and it's accounts are private. It has to walk the walk before we all fall over ourselves.

    Think how many false dawns there were in tech stocks in the last dot com bubble. Many are now gone. Some live on but are totally insignificant. Think of They had a simple site that offered holidays. Almost none of them were "last minute". It was very average and still is. Yet they were great at hype and we end up with Martha Fox getting into a government advisory role. Really the state (and by that I include the BBC) have no idea about kids or technology.

    Twitter and facebook are IMHO the sweets of this decade. Quick and not filling. How is twitter a radical departure from a web page with an rss feed? Want to say something? Append it to the bottom. Like Paul's article - email (retweet) it to your mates. It's a small change - unless someone can enlighten me? Is it so different to an NNTP news group, around since 1970s if not before? I've tried both and found them inane - full of silly distractions. I'm open to it but don't get it right now.

    I have just got a smartphone so perhaps that might help...

  • Comment number 18.

    Paul - I follow your blog using Google Reader, which means the fact that you're 'buried' in the NN section doesn't matter at all.

  • Comment number 19.


    i think the NN sisterhood have long been in control.
    Maybe they even buy the men's clothes? :)

  • Comment number 20.


    I think we have all known that for many a year.

  • Comment number 21.

    I can't really see that much revenue generation in Facebook unless they sell everyones details to the marketeers, I suppose they could charge for corporate facebook pages but the users would leave in droves if they had to pay for it.
    Where else is the value ?

    Twitter I can see making some money (although not enough to give a valuation like facebooks) by selling access to the raw stream of tweets to marketing so that they can monitor the results of any campaigns in real time and tweak the campaign as they go along (would probably work for a presidential campaign/ corporate takeover type of scenario as well)
    If they start to insert adverts in the tweetstream then I can see apps springing up immediately to filter out those tweets.

  • Comment number 22.

    15. At 6:36pm on 04 Jan 2011, leithvoice wrote:
    Is this a case of Caesar only hearing what he wants to hear?

    Better yet, most were then obliged in turn to pay heed with, as I recall, little opportunity to question.

    But then again, it didn't end well.

  • Comment number 23.

    Facebook don't need to sell people's details as they are the marketers, they'll do the targetting or your ads for you based on who does and doesn't click on them.
    I think Facebook could replace a load of internal comms tools in large companies linking up email, message boards, org charts, expertise lists, instant messaging and so on.

    Twitter has worth as a market research tool, although it depends on the thoroughness of tagging or a well developed text reader. It'll be of more importance to companies that don't have a direct relationship with their customers.
    Companies seem to have embraced twitter more than they have Facebook.

    I don't think Facebook are worth the figures quoted. To me it's mainly an address book that others update for me when they move.

  • Comment number 24.

    Although I agree with the over-valuation description of Facebook, my own conclusions are largely contrary to what is written above. Facebook, as it was designed/intended to be, is used more and more by adults as an archive for their completed `successful' personalities. To young `uns, Facebook is now becoming merely an adjunctive Flickr-for-kids, party photos etc. as is partly suggested. But I would suggest that the main thesis of the article has actually been successfully subverted by `The teenagers among [your] friends and family at New Year'. Twitter's worth to adults has been overblown precisely by the kids convoluted reaction to Facebook.

    For a start, Twitter is increasingly (exponentially) used by kids because that is what their celeb followees/idols use. It is not a generational divide, as described, if you look at what is actually Twitter-trending worldwide: overwhelmingly schlocky teeny topics punctuated by one day long headline celeb news stories. In contrast, `Twitter blogs', even the `top 100', do not genuinely figure in Twitter's traffic, outside of a small established (static) circle who have merely transferred media rather than grown it. You can't see what the local youth have hashtagged it you are not following them and, unlike unfriending Facebook `friends', blocking corporate followers (leeches) is far more socio-psychologically acceptable amongst the young.

    Twitter has a growing strategic subversive use viz. countering any adult/established authority... the students protesting in London outflanked the police via Twitter. The highly-directed democratic Twittered voice described in the article assists younger generations more than the established middle-aged and elderly. Twitter will grow with the young, while Facebook will retire early with the grown-ups.

  • Comment number 25.


    We've been told that nothing is sacred; that no state spending is safe from being cut or eroded through inflation. We’ve been misled. As new public spending data released by the government shows, a £267bn bill has been both ring-fenced and index-linked. This sum, spread over 50 years or so, guarantees the welfare not of state pensioners or children or the unemployed, but of a different class of customer. To make way, everything else must be cut, further and faster than it would otherwise have been.

    This is the money the state now owes to private corporations: the banks, construction and service companies which built infrastructure under the private finance initiative. In September 1997 the Labour government gave companies a legal guarantee that their payments would never be cut. Whenever there was a conflict between the needs of patients or pupils and PFI payments, it would thenceforth be resolved in favour of the consortia (i.e. private companies). The NHS now owes private companies £50bn for infrastructure that cost only £11bn to build, plus £15bn for maintenance charges.

    Last summer Edinburgh Royal Infirmary, thanks to the extortionate terms of its PFI contract, found itself with a shortfall of £70m. Under other circumstances it would have suspended maintenance work and cut ancillary services until the crisis had passed. But its contract demanded that it does the opposite: it must protect non-clinical services by cutting doctors, nurses and beds.

  • Comment number 26.

    This blog is lucky to have so many quality contributers.

    Now we've got rid of that racist it's even better.

    But some of the newbies need to remember that this isn't a chat room to compensate for lack of social life!

  • Comment number 27.

    #23 and 24,

    you are probably both right, I have two facebook accounts (I set them up early on to see how it worked, when I got lots of strangers wanting to be my 'friend' I abandoned it), I'm obviously too old for this new-fangled advertising thing as I never click on adverts (the remote control was a liberating invention)
    I'm tight with my money and in the wrong demographic.

    I have a twitter account I never use (set up for the same reason) but the people I know who do use it seem to use it as a broadcast txt mechanism, they will tweet 'I'll be in the Rose & Crown @8:30' rather than individually txt all their mates.

    I think the valuations are just Goldmans trying to pump up another bubble.

  • Comment number 28.

    @26 "But some of the newbies need to remember that this isn't a chat room to compensate for lack of social life!"

    Quite right, but Happy New Year anyway! ;-)

    Facebook undoubtedly substitutes for or augments a social life for some. I have seen people moaning that "FB is boring tonight".

    As for targeted advertising, despite being a member of the group "Rupert Murdoch is the Antichrist", I get at least daily adverts for Sky, which I remove citing "offensive", "misleading", "repetitive", etc. But if anything the frequency has increased. Sigh!

  • Comment number 29.

    Olof Palme in Weimar England
    "the students protesting in London outflanked the police via Twitter."

    I'd say that student's using twitter shows how little they know about technology. The plod would have very little chance of intercepting prepaid mobile calls, yet following the protester's intentions on twitter would be a piece of cake.

    Do people know if they are +really+ using twitter? Or is this just the media putting two popular topics together? If they are then that's really lame. It's the equivalent of trying to sneak up to an enemy bunker in the dark when they are watching you with night vision goggles and you know full well they have them.

  • Comment number 30.

    Debtjuggler - Labour might as well have sent a nodding dog to private sector negotiations. Blair has quite a legacy...

  • Comment number 31.


    It makes it no easier to accept huge increases in train fares knowing all the recent new rolling stock are leased at great expense (monster APR rates on long term leases) from banks or their subsidiaries.
    Sooner or later the government will just have to tear up these deals and walk away - as suggested by Philip Green the government needs to renegotiate. I just don't see the commercial acumen in government to do so. The Hayekists would have it ever thus, so that fragmented government could never seriously face down the banks. Localism and 'Big Society' are further attempts to fragment government.(see Mark Easton's blog on ASB for another example)
    Incidentally, little birdies are suggesting that Bank of America could be the soon to break Wikileaks theme.

  • Comment number 32.

    Greetings from Brazil.

    As I gaze out of the hotel window at golden sunkissed beaches and atlantic waves it is hard (beyond the fact that i only get 2.47 reais to the pound instead of the 5.5 last time i was here and the 2.7 I got last week) to connect with or care about British / European /American and japanese woes.

    Crisis? What crisis?

    The sentiment is 'you have had your turn and you blew it now it is our turn to mess it up.. or otherwise... oh and thanks for being entirely reliant on all our stuff....much appreciated'.


    Federal Republica do Brasil

  • Comment number 33.

    Apparently every time someone twitters a flock of birds falls out of the sky, or a shoal of fish washes ashore, or an army of crabs commits hari kari on Margate beach... or rivers in Canada turn green... or...

  • Comment number 34.

    I don't have a facebook account. There is someone on facebook with my name but he is a teenager from Cannock. I was quite appalled when I discovered this as there are only a few hundred people in the country with my surname.

    Meanwhile the baltic dry index continues to fall and is now below the levels of early July.

  • Comment number 35.

    I agree with you Paul about the generational divide in social media.
    I'm a university lecturer and find many of my students enthusiastically using Facebook but showing little interest in Twitter.

    I'm also 63 years old and find Twitter very useful as a way of finding out about my own specialist subject by staying in touch with experts around the globe through Twitter.

    Twitter has also been a wonderful tool to allow me to feel more involved with the victorious England Test team in Australia through the regular Tweets of Swann, Aggers and Vaughan.

    I've recently done some research on the use of social media by older baby boomers and no longer is it a case of social media for the young and TV and print for the old. The research suggests that it is much more complex than that as your article points out.

  • Comment number 36.

    Facebook earned $355M in the first 9 months of 2010:

    Is it worth $50B?

    2005. Murdoch buys Myspace for $580M:

    Cost of - $1.07B:

    "Up until 2005, the company had not made a net profit since it floated five years earlier. In February 2005, it reported pre-tax losses of £26.5m.". Yet the media loved them too.

    To me facebook and twitter are just very easy things BBC journos write about when they can't be bothered.


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