Facebook users ask, ‘where’s our cut?’

6 Feb

By my calculation, Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s founder and chief executive, owes me about $50. 

Without me, and the other 844,999,999 people poking, liking and sharing on the site, Facebook would look like a scene from the postapocalyptic movie “The Day After Tomorrow”: bleak, desolate and really quite sad. (Or MySpace, if that is easier to imagine.) Facebook surely would never be valued at anything close to $100 billion, which it very well could be in its coming initial public offering. 


In the company’s S-1 filing, submitted to the Securities and Exchange Commission last week, Facebook boasts about its statistics: annually, people “like” 1 trillion things; 91 billion photos are uploaded; half a billion people use Facebook on mobile phones; and hundreds of millions are annoyingly “poked.” 

So all this leaves me with a question: Where’s my cut? I helped build this thing, too. Facebook laid the foundation of the house and put in the plumbing, but we put up the walls, picked out the furniture, painted and hung photos, and invited everyone over for dinner parties. 

So why am I asking for money from Facebook and not Google? Although there have been hundreds of technology-related IPOs over the last decade, Facebook is the first real social-media public offering, where the content on the site is entirely created by its users. (The closest, LinkedIn, had additional business models, including premium payment subscriptions.) “The idea that a business benefits from social interaction is not so strange or new. A lot of cafes and small restaurants will let people hang out because they attract other people,” said Yannis M. Ioannides, a professor of economics at Tufts University. “What is unusual and new is that Facebook takes access to information about these people to make its business more powerful.” He added: “The proprietor of a cafe doesn’t use personal information about me and my friends to make money.” 

Ioannides suggests that Facebook and other social websites could create a two-way financial street. Facebook, for example, could pay the people who create content on the site. The company could then make money by matching the content with advertising, as it does now. As an alternative for more private individuals, people could pay to use Facebook if it promised not to sift through their personal information. This way, everyone wins. 

I for one would feel more comfortable with Facebook looking through my phonebook and wallet if I knew I was going to get paid for it. 

Jaron Lanier, one of the deepest thinkers on the impacts of technology on society and an “innovator in residence” at the Annenberg School at the University of Southern California, worries about companies like Facebook and Twitter not paying their users while the people lucky enough to work for them become rich from free user-generated content. 

Lanier says that as more money flows to those who build these networks, society distorts and divides. Those without the skills needed in this new economy – other than to tweet and post pictures – can fall further behind economically. 

“The value comes from the people; none of it is self-created,” Lanier said in an interview. He warns that if society doesn’t devise economic solutions to social networks, there could be “serious social blowback.” 

Sure, $50 might not seem like a lot of money right now, but if Facebook continues to grow as it has in the past, its $4 billion in annual revenue could be in the tens of billions of dollars in a few years. If that happens, I should be expecting a dividend. 

So, Zuckerberg, feel free to message me on Facebook, and I’ll give you my address so you can send me a check – unless, as I suspect, you already know where I live.

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