A tale of two Facebooks

As the massive IPO nears, Cringely wonders which Facebook will eventually prevail: the groundbreaking social network or the privacy-averse data siphon

I love Facebook. I also hate it. And sometimes I'm indifferent, but not often.

As the big IPO day looms closer, lots of folks are taking a second look at this thing that started out as kind of a goofy diversion for college kids and has grown into the beast with 900 million heads.

[ Speaking of the Facebook IPO, check out Zuck's letter to investors, as heard by Cringely. | For a humorous look at the tech industry's shenanigans, subscribe to Robert X. Cringely's Notes from the Underground newsletter. | Get the latest insight on the tech news that matters from InfoWorld's Tech Watch blog. ]

For example, an Associated Press/CNBC poll this week notes that nearly half of Americans believe Facebook is a passing fad. On the other hand, roughly the same percentage don't. And when you get past the cranky "get off my lawn you damned kids" senior citizen crowd, the numbers zoom upward dramatically. Nearly 60 percent of adults under age 35 think Facebook is a good bet. A stunning 81 percent of them log onto Facebook -- most of them do it every day -- versus only 21 percent of codgers.

Do the math, and you realize that half of the people who say Facebook is a passing fad have never used it and never will. They will also die sooner than almost everyone else.

How about Facebook's business raison d'etre, advertising? There things don't look so rosy either. Facebook itself admitted that ad revenues are not keeping up with its pace of growth, especially on the mobile side. And General Motors made a point of announcing this week that it is pulling its Facebook advertising, calling it ineffective. Ford, on the other hand, is increasing its ad buys on the social network. And brands like Coca-Cola, Starbucks, McDonalds, and Wal-Mart are seeing a big lift from their Facebook pages, if not necessarily their ads. Again, it's a love/hate thing.

The jury is still out as to whether advertising alone will enable Facebook to reach Google-like revenues or if it will resort to doing other less pleasant things with our data.

On a personal level, I've been using Facebook since late 2006, or a few months after it was opened to the general public. At first it was just to mess around with this thing called "social networking," and most of my "friends" were PR people who were trying to pitch me something. But at some point, I began to use it in the way that God and Zuckerberg intended. About a year after that, I noticed my friends and family using it too. Even some of the most determined Luddites in my social circles were opening up Facebook accounts to see what the fuss was about.

As someone who spends too much time in front of glowing pixels, the main thing I love about Facebook is that it helps me feel connected. Some might also call that an illusion of connectedness, but I don't.

I now know, for example, how many of my aging ex-girlfriends are spending much of their time. Strangely, none of them are still pining for me some 20 or 30 years later.

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