James Moore: Fickle friendships - the real value of Facebook is in users who refuse to pay

Outlook It is unlikely that many of the investors falling over each other to buy into Facebook's flotation are long-term users. If they were they mightn't be quite so keen on joining the gold rush because they'd know that quite a few of the dot.com darling's users often don't seem to like it very much.

Almost any move the company makes is greeted with suspicion at best, frothing outrage at worst. And the latter is the more common. Dark rumours about evil plots to steal data and violate privacy can go viral within minutes of the first users posting them to their "status updates".

Some of the sound and fury is doubtless generated by the internet's deep well of paranoia. But Facebook hasn't always helped itself on the issue of privacy.

What makes Facebook fascinating is that, in many ways, it epitomises a dilemma faced by a multitude of companies in the digital age.

It offers a service that its users value hugely. The more active of them use that service not just every day, but every hour, even every few minutes in the truly terminal cases.

Those users are also driven to fits of fury if the company tries to make even modest changes to what it offers. The redesign of home pages nearly caused a digital riot. Even the decision to dump the word "is" from those status updates – they used to say "Joe Bloggs is" XXXX, now Joe Bloggs has to put the "is" in himself if he wants it there – provoked debate. Despite this they flat refuse to pay anything for it. A digital cake to send as a present, even if it's only half an inch (or less) in diameter, those might go for a dollar. But the platform itself has to be free.

Which might explain why the attitude of Facebook's executives sometimes seems to approximate to: "Well, they don't pay us anything, so screw 'em." Particularly when presented with ideas to make money out of those users.

That attitude is highly dangerous for a business which could rapidly evaporate if enough of its users quit. But with the price range of Facebook's shares being hiked again – to between $34 and $38, which could value the social network at more than $100bn (£62bn) – it's going to become hard to resist when the newly quoted company is faced with investors and analysts demanding justification for its heady valuation every three months.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

SThree: Experienced Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £40000 per annum + OTE + Incentives + Benefits: SThree: Established f...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE 40/45k + INCENTIVES + BENEFITS: SThree: The su...

Recruitment Genius: Collections Agent

£14000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company was established in...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE 40k: SThree: SThree are a global FTSE 250 busi...

Day In a Page

Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones