Facebook (NASDAQ:FB), as a publicly traded company, has attempted to serve as all things to all people. Facebook leads an awkward mating dance between a motley crew featuring its own entrepreneurial employees, powerful money managers, speculators, human resource directors, law enforcement officials, consumer advocacy groups, and a reported 1.19 billion monthly active users.
As such, Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg are tasked with the assignment of balancing an “Aw, shucks” clean-cut and wholesome image against a Web 2.0 backwater of tough talk, trolling, and anonymity. The old sex sells cliché, of course, still holds. Numerous studies have estimated that pornography generates roughly one-third of all Internet traffic. Facebook community standards, however, state: “Facebook has a strict policy against the sharing of pornographic content and any explicitly sexual content where a minor is involved. We also impose limitations on the display of nudity.”
“Selfies” and “sexting” may be thought of as a natural yet bawdy extension of the Web 2.0 revolution. The term “selfie” may be defined as shorthand for a self-portrait taken with a smartphone. Taken further, “sexting” refers to the exchange of provocative text messages, pictures, and videos between users. Sexting, of course, has come under fire from numerous consumer watchdog groups, which cite privacy concerns alongside unfettered teenage access to Web 2.0 platforms as rationale to criticize if not regulate the flirtatious practice.
Still, the recent expansion of Facebook Poke may serve as evidence that Menlo Park has made an attempt to leverage the sexting game. Zuckerberg and Co., however, have been reduced to peeping Toms who remain on the outside looking in, while Snapchat corners this racket.
Poke traces its origins back to a rather innocent yet somewhat annoying icon on the Facebook interface. A Facebook user would “poke” another individual instead of writing lengthy content on his or her wall for public consumption. Coming from the right romantic interest, the original Facebook Poke emerged as a warm and personal greeting above the direct message.
A recipient of a Poke could either poke the original sender back or take the opportunity to engage the other person with flirty and private dialogue. In the wrong hands, however, the Facebook Poke button degenerated into yet another tool for harassment at the disposal of overzealous suitors. The Web 2.0 dating and relationship market is riddled with tales of incessant messaging, phone calls, and Facebook Pokes from people who cannot take a hint.
In December 2012, Facebook launched Poke as a mobile messaging application separate from the original Poke button. At the time, Facebook executives boasted that its team was able to roll out Poke within a mere 12 days. Tech Crunch then reasoned that the trash talk was directed squarely at the startup competition, which would have included Snapchat.
Facebook programmers likely had sexting in mind when they came out with Poke. The Facebook Poke application still allows for original pokes in addition to the “lightweight” sharing of messages, photographs, and videos. Messages may be set to automatically disappear off recipient devices within 1, 3, 5, or 10 seconds. From there, Facebook Poke messages may be stored on company servers for two days in order to verify reported cases of abuse. Be advised that Facebook Poke application users must actually be Facebook friends before messaging each other.
The Facebook Poke application was very much anticipated by the Web 2.0 commentariat. Molly McHugh and Digital Trends even speculated that Poke could emerge as a “death sentence” for Snapchat. Facebook Poke was the most frequently downloaded application in the Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) App Store immediately upon its December 21, 2012, launch.
Facebook Poke, however, was to fall to 34th on the list within one short week of its release. In terms of popularity, Snapchat has remained a top-five application, while Facebook Poke all but disappeared off Web 2.0 consumer radars. Facebook Poke had fallen out of the top 100 free application list in the Apple App Store well before the beginning of 2014.
Facebook offers to buy out Snapchat
The Facebook Poke application has already been dismissed as merely a clone of Snapchat within several industry circles. Snapchat co-founder and CEO Evan Spiegel, then 22, responded to the Facebook Poke launch with a sharp “You’re welcome. Seriously.” Snapchat messages are reportedly automatically deleted off both recipient devices and company servers within 10 seconds after viewing.
Snapchat refers to photo images and videos shared over its network as “snaps.” Users are limited to expressing themselves with 33-character captions that may be written over the shared images. This photo-sharing network includes Facebook, Phonebook, and unique Snapchat username contacts. Again, the self-destructing messages help Snapchat users preserve a sense of privacy. As such, Snapchat was to have been identified as a preferred vehicle for sexting and exchanging selfies immediately upon its September 2011 launch.
Facebook has already warned that teenagers are migrating away from its social platform as part of this Q3 2013 conference call. The warning confirmed recent survey data out of Minneapolis investment bank Piper Jaffray. Piper Jaffray had teenagers identify their most important social media website as part of the institution’s 26th semiannual “Taking Stock with Teens” market research project.
For fall 2013, 23 percent of the Piper Jaffray survey participants named Facebook as the most important social media destination, which was down from 42 percent the prior year. Alternatively, the “Other” category grew from 2 percent to 17 percent during the same time frame as a response. The Other group, of course, would include Snapchat.
Business Insider sources indicated that Snapchat users sent 400 million snaps daily through November. Meanwhile, Facebook (350 million daily photos) and Instagram (55 million daily photos) combined for 405 million daily photographs last November. Snapchat, however, had reported uploads of a mere 200 million snaps for June.
A cynic, of course, may opine that young adults have transitioned away from the politically correct Facebook world in favor of Snapchat and dirty talk. A recent series of The New York Times articles written by Natasha Singer kicked off a firestorm of debate after the author suggested that college admissions officials were researching the social media profiles of applicants.
On November 13, Facebook dropped pretense and propositioned messaging application company Snapchat with a $3 billion buyout offer. Shortly thereafter, Google was to up the ante by $1 billion, with a $4 billion offer of its own for Snapchat. Shockingly, Snapchat was to walk away from both Facebook and Google at the negotiating table. The recent turn of events may serve as further evidence that Facebook has effectively conceded defeat to Snapchat and thrown in the towel upon hawking its own Poke application.
Taken further, the frenzied M&A gamesmanship may also confirm the presence of a Web 2.0 bubble. In Instagram, Facebook has already proven its willingness to throw around its own expensive stock for making an acquisition. To date, Snapchat and Instagram have not made one penny in sales, let alone profits.
The bottom line
In December 2012, Allyson Kazmucha and iMore put together a side-by-side comparison pitting Facebook Poke and Snapchat against each other as an iPhone sexting application. From there, Taylor Hatmaker and Read Write actually built upon this theme and described Facebook Poke as the “safer sexting” application for tweens. In response, a more conservative Jemima Kiss and The Guardian ripped Facebook Poke as a “dirty trick” and “smut.” The moral case for the opposition must also have been made stronger by recent security breaches at Snapchat.
Numerous websites have already popped up around the Internet showcasing provocative selfies originally intended for private consumption. Apparently, rogues can save still shots of smart phone images in order to bypass the seconds-long self-destruct features built into both Snapchat and Facebook Poke. Last December, hackers behind website SnapchatDB exploited a security loophole to mine username and telephone number data for 4.6 million Snapchat users. SnapchatDB has even taken up Bitcoin donations, to add further insult to injury.
Bears may present awkward attempts to crack the controversial sexting market to support a thesis that Facebook is desperate to convert its far-flung army of users into real revenue and profits. Facebook stock closed out the Tuesday trading session at $58.23 per share. At these levels, traders have valued the Facebook business at $140.2 billion in terms of market capitalization.
Still, Facebook had only banked $977 million in net income off $5.2 billion in revenue through the first nine months of 2013. Menlo Park may close out the 2013 year with $1.5 billion in earnings, at best. Facebook would therefore trade for a near 95 times current earnings. Facebook stock has been priced to perfection.
A weak earnings report combined with any sudden uptick in benchmark interest rates would trigger a sharp correction in Facebook share prices. In this case, a weak earnings report may be defined as any results that would come in beneath analyst expectations for exponential growth.
Legendary fund manager Peter Lynch may opine that Facebook must double earnings over the course of the next year in order to justify its current stock market valuations. Conservative investors may highlight Facebook’s creepy obsession with high school sexting as a reason to dump shares. Let’s just be friends.