With Facebook apparently readying its initial public offering papers this week, we will soon have some idea of what we are worth. Our flatteringly angled photos, our witty status updates, our angsty relationship changes. The noisy natter of us typing our lives into little boxes, documenting the days. Facebook's stock is not expected to make its market debut until late spring, but the IPO will give a hint at investor demand, and it's expected to raise several billion dollars, leading to many more.
Sadly, despite all of our hard and selfless work, it's not all of us who are going to see the money. Indeed, the idea is that now we have told Facebook what we like, where we go and who we know, the data will be used to help us to part with even more of our cash. This is why Facebook is worth so much moolah – because it knows so much about us. Social networking will henceforth affect the marketing of pretty much everything.
If that worries you – well, maybe it shouldn't. Yes, there are privacy concerns, and Facebook's track record with this is not wholly impressive. But the targeted adverts mean that if your profile lists you as a vegan who frequently checks in to organic macrobiotic restaurants, the pork pie advertising lobby won't be wasting its piggy pounds on your page. And, as for us, we can find out all we need about each other – before it's too late.
As a friend who got to know her future boyfriend via Facebook said to me: "With the old online dating websites, you'd desperately be trying to work out what the bloke was like from a couple of misleading photos, an invented username, and some ticked boxes about whether they 'liked music.' I mean, come on – everybody 'likes music'. Which kind? But with Facebook, it's like you've been given the keys to their house."
To think how we used to joke about the dreariness of being made to look at our next-door-neighbour's holiday snaps, and now we willingly waste whole evenings clicking through the holiday snaps of somebody our next-door-neighbour once introduced us to at a 50th birthday party at a Wetherspoons in Bridlington. We do this because, weirdly, it is fun.
And sometimes social networking is deeply lovely. You upload a picture of your baby and you leave it there, and when you come back 10 people have liked it and it leaves you with a little glow. These little ticks of approval from your friends mean a lot. Plus somebody has written how good it is now that the baby's put on a bit of weight, somebody has said they really must come round with a present, and somebody else has said no no Sophie you are quite wrong she doesn't look a BIT like Ian Hislop.
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