Monday, February 27, 2012

Facebook's IPO, income, and users' privacy

Although Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg said two years ago that privacy is obsolete among the younger generations, in fact, more and more Facebook users are opting to share less and less of their personal info. Reported HuffPost:

"Researchers at Polytechnic Institute of New York University tracked the privacy settings of 1.4 million Facebook profiles belonging to New Yorkers over a 15-month period between March 2010 and June 2011. They found a 'dramatic decrease in the amount of information Facebook users reveal about themselves to the general public' and the authors concluded that the users became 'dramatically more private' during the period, according to their report.

"Over the same period, users stepped up the frequency with which they hid personal details in their public profiles, which are visible to anyone on Facebook, a friend or otherwise. To measure this, the researchers tracked nine characteristics often included on public profiles -- 'friend lists, age, high-school name and graduation year, network, relationship, gender, interested in, hometown and current city' -- and monitored whether members shared fewer details over time."

Maybe younger folks are starting to catch on -- like their bosses and potential bosses already have -- that making your life an open book on the internet may not be such a swell idea.

Meanwhile, saying that "we must reject the conclusion that privacy is an outmoded value," and that privacy has been "at the heart of our democracy from its inception," President Obama released a "Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights" for the new global digital economy.

Gee, let's cross our fingers and really hope FB users' privacy issues and Obama's new regulations won't hurt Facebook's IPO, heh-heh-heh.

BTW, if you accept Facebook's figures, then in 2011 they earned about $4.40 in revenue per user. For comparison, let's look at Tristan Louis's figures for other internet/social networking companies:

*Average revenue per user:

Pandora: $ 0.54
LinkedIn: $ 1.79
GroupOn: $ 8.60
Living Social: $ 9.41
Zynga: $ 2.57
Facebook: $4.39

*Granted, since these firms have different business models, a better measure would be net profit per user -- see below. Notwithstanding, Louis's figures from 5 top social networking firms indicate that $4 average revenue per user is a good expectation, and that is supported by other analyses.

Per-user valuation at IPO:

Pandora: $ 50.98
LinkedIn: $ 86.67
GroupOn: $ 271.08
Living Social: ?
Zynga: $ 75.43
*Facebook: $11.83

*Assuming FB can raise $10 billion in an IPO; they said they hope to raise at least $5 billion.

For the above firms, I compiled these annual profit figures for 2011:

Net profit per user:

*Pandora: $ 5.10
**LinkedIn: $ 0.68
***GroupOn: -$ 1.29
****Living Social: ?
*****Zynga: -$ 1.68
Facebook: $ 1.20

*Pandora has had only 1 reported public quarter since its IPO. This is based on Q4 2011.
** LinkedIn reports only its annual EBITDA, not net profit.
***GroupOn has had only 1 reported public quarter since its IPO.
****Living Social is privately held and has delayed its IPO, but is expected to go public eventually.
*****Zynga went public in Dec. 2011; its annual net profit and latest user figures were used here.

Pretty slim pickin's in the brave new world of internet social networks. It's a definitely a volume game.

Here you can see another analysis of revenue per unique user among internet firms:

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