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I'll need therapy soon.
Blame social networks. I've poured love into Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn, only to be stood up at the altar. Take TweetValue. No matter how many tweeps I collect -- more than 400, at last count -- the service insists my growing network is worth just $22, same as always. Could that be right? New followers are worth less than the old guard?
That's the crazy stuff I think about when obsessing over my network worth. If only I did more obsessing over my net worth. (It's a good time. We're publishing profitable tips for doing just that throughout January.)
But the Web's wonders are disrespecting me more than I'd like. Facebook, especially: My meager profile is worth just $4, says asset manager Paul Kedrosky. Last week, he told Tech Ticker's Sarah Lacy in a video interview that Facebook's valuation has probably topped out at $600 million, or $4 for every one of the 150 million users now using the service.
Thanks, Paul. Want to come over and kick my dog, too? Steal beer from the fridge? Annoy me with a sporting game of ding, dong, ditch? Estimates like yours are almost enough to make me want to retire to the fetal position.
Never underestimate network worth
I'm still writing because, frankly, I think Kedrosky is wrong. He has to be. Yes, $15 billion was a crazy valuation, and I was dead wrong to stand by it. But, at 150 million users, Facebook is closing in on triple the size of France. Surely that's worth $4 per user to Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT ) , whose Live Search powers the crawler found on every Facebook page?
It sure seems like it. Mr. Softy just signed a deal to bring Live Search to Verizon's (NYSE: VZ ) wireless network, a joint venture with Vodafone. The rumored price tag? $500 million, which works out to roughly $5.97 for each of Verizon Wireless' estimated 83.7 million subscribers.
Mobile search is more valuable than Facebook search because of the rise of location-based services. But social search isn't exactly worthless -- especially if Microsoft and Facebook figure a way to show you how friends rank results. Ad targeting would become geometrically richer and easier. Google (Nasdaq: GOOG ) is almost certainly trying to achieve something similar via its Friend Connect service.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg knows this. He's young, sure, but he's no rube. Zuckerberg knows exactly what's at stake. "The full potential of the web is to make the world more open, so everyone has a voice and can share what is important to them," he wrote in a recent blog post.
The Web war
Zuckerberg wants his company to be the gateway to openness. So does Google. So does Microsoft. So does Yahoo! (Nasdaq: YHOO ) . All of them know that the gateway is where the money is.
It's ground zero for the tectonic shift that's disrupting old media like New York Times Co. (NYSE: NYT ) , Gannett (NYSE: GCI ) , and CBS (NYSE: CBS ) . A flash flood of ad dollars is waiting to flow to social media, but the models need to be proven. MySpace failed its proof-of-concept test with Google, and your less-than-$600 million valuation for Facebook suggests it will, too.
I'd understand Kedrosky's extreme brand of skepticism if Facebook hadn't grown its user base 50% in four freaking months, or 237% annualized.
I don’t think there is any way that Zuckerberg and team will maintain that in 2009. Maybe it'll be cut in half. Maybe 75%. Either way, Facebook absolutely deserves a multiple greater than twice its estimated 2008 revenue. (At least $300 million at last count.)
A little therapy that does your wallet good
Social networking's business implications aren't yet clear. So be it. Nascent industries are always a mystery -- right up to the point a billion-dollar opportunity springs forth. My teammates and I at Motley Fool Rule Breakers aren't willing to wait. We'd rather be early and wrong, knowing that when we're right, we'll collect a massive payday. That's why I'm more optimistic about Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn than your average Fool.
Even if they're threatening to force me into therapy.