A Thumbs Down for the Social Network

It's hard to find any positive feedback on Facebook's IPO from financial analysts, technology writers or long-time investors.

Dafna Maor
Nimrod Halpern, Israel Fisher
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Dafna Maor
Nimrod Halpern, Israel Fisher

In the months, and even years, before Facebook's initial public offering on Friday, the social networking website evoked positive feelings, hopes and expectations. But in the two days since the lukewarm public launch, the talk has been about a different emotion - disappointment.

It has been surprising to see the extent to which Facebook has become a target for negative comment and even derision. It's hard to find any positive feedback on the IPO from financial analysts, technology writers or long-time investors. And the sentiment is also reflected in the results of the first day of trading. The stock opened on NASDAQ at $38 and closed at $38.18. And to add insult to injury, NASDAQ's management had to convene to consider how to respond to traders' complaints about technical glitches in the trading of Facebook shares on its first day as a publicly traded company.

Other social media shares actually took a beating on Friday. Shares of Zynga, for example, the developer of popular Internet games FarmVille and CityVille, dropped by 15% and trading in the stock was halted twice during the day.

Facebook is turning a profit and the money it raised in its public offering is not needed from an operations standpoint other than to meet major outlays for taxes, equipment and buildings. The company did not disclose what it will be doing with the cash, but the analysts' bet is that it will continue acquiring other companies, build up its services and recruit experts who can advise it on how to expand its operations.

As of March, Facebook had just 3,539 employees, compared to Google's staff of more than 30,000. And just over the past month, Facebook has bought three firms, including the billion-dollar acquisition of photo application developer Instagram.

In documents prepared before the public offering, Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg said his company's most important field of operations will involve mobile devices, including cell phones, tablet computers and a range of other portable devices, but the IPO prospectus also acknowledged that the firm has no specific use in mind for the funds the IPO would generate.

Although Facebook was born in the United States, its overseas following has expanded to such an extent that fully 80% of its users at this point live outside the States. And as noted by The Atlantic magazine, Facebook plays a highly important role among developing countries and emerging economies in that the website provides a service that is not only accessible to the wealthy.

Facebook's influence has also been expanded by the increased access to the Internet that hand-held cell phones and other mobile devices offer, meaning the social network is no longer only available to people on their home computers. And when it comes to the Middle East and Africa, many people have no home computer but they do have cell phones.

In a reflection of the spreading influence of Facebook in the developing world, over the past three months use of Facebook has increased by over 50% in Congo, Mexico, Malaysia, Tanzania, Colombia, Iraq and Yemen (as well as in Russia ).

The animated facade of the Nasdaq MarketSite, welcoming the Facebook IPO, in New York's Times Square, Friday, May 18, 2012. Credit: AP

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