I had been certain that the bubble would pop. But I was disappointed.
For weeks, print and pixel had been dominated by news, overwhelmingly uninformed or stale, about the long-awaited and presumptively historical Facebook IPO.
The social-networking giant’s financial prospects were analyzed from every angle. The nature of Facebook’s business, the soap-opera twists of its early history, and its rise to eight hundred million users were reexamined more closely than Roger Clemens’s syringes. Critics analyzed the official video explaining Facebook to investors more closely than the Zapruder film. (Or at least a Lana Del Ray video.) The cast of characters from The Social Network was ushered back on stage for biographical treatments that seemed looney mashups of Robert Caro and Perez Hilton. We now know more about Sheryl Sandberg than Lawrence Summers does.
The fact Mark Zuckerberg couldn’t give interviews during this “quiet period” (now there’s an oxymoron), didn’t stop him from being omnipresent on a level that Donald Trump would envy. Countless journalists who never met Facebook’s founder expounded on his ambition, leadership skills, and choice of dog breed. Those writers who had met him recycled old stories with a deftness that would put Berkeley environmentalists to shame. (Disclosure: though I was sparing in my own bloviating—posting but a single article on Zuckerberg’s affection for hackers — I did position myself as a windbag on NPR and ABC. Shoot me now.)
The grinded-out opinions about Facebook ranged all over the lot. The company is an unstoppable juggernaut! Didn’t they say that about AOL? With its grip on our personal information, Facebook will dominate online ads. No, Facebook has to work too hard for ads, and users will freak at losing privacy. Mr. Zuckerberg — grow up and lose the hoodie! Zuck — keep the hoodie and show that you’re more a maker than a moneymaker! The only things that the posts had in common were the authors’ utter certainty that they were correct.
It was as if the press had decided that a million words about Facebook wasn’t sufficient—but a billion words would be really cool.
Only one thing made this spectacle tolerable: its seemingly firm expiration date. On a certain day, Facebook’s underwriters would price its shares. The stock would hit the market, and its performance would be noted. And the Facebook Journalism Bubble would finally pop.
But it was not to be. Because of some funny business when the big day finally arrived — you can read about this, oh, just about everywhere — the IPO actually triggered yet another wave of Facebook news, along with endless arguments about how the IPO was botched, or whether it really was botched. And the post-mortems had barely begun when Zuckerberg poked his own hole in the quiet period by posting a photo of his wedding, held barely after the peals of the (cracked) NASDAQ bell had faded. The nuptial was a determinedly low-key event, but for all the press commentary it generated, you’d think it was a geek version of Will and Kate.
So we’re still in the Facebook Journalism Bubble, reading basically the same articles by the same writers. Meanwhile, other stories get short shrift. Most of the venues that budgeted multiple Facebook posts every day barely found room for a story or two about the first private space vehicle to dock with the International Space Station. Surely that’s as big a story as discovering who designed Mrs. Zuckerberg’s wedding gown.
Which is not to say that aren’t plenty of unexplored angles left in the Facebook saga. But preciously few in the sea of coverage dip into the real and persistent news of Facebook — it’s a company driving a tech-based redefinition of how we share human experience.
I suspect that years later, after all the billions of dollars have been accounted for, we’ll still be reading about those seismic changes. Meantime, pass the bubbly.