Yesterday, I considered opting out of Beacon on my Facebook account. I pulled up the Privacy page, and looked at the tick box, which would turn off the controversial feature that broadcasts a user’s purchases at participating websites everywhere. But I didn’t pull the trigger. It was still on an open tab in my browser this morning.
Partly, I didn’t do it because I was too busy dealing with e-mail and phone calls from people about my recent Facebook rant. John Perry Barlow once said that “the media is a blunt instrument” — somehow my column was being used as a sledge hammer, and suddenly, I was the Jerry Lewis of the Facebook Hate-A-Thon. Nearly 200,000 people had swung by fortune.com to read that piece in the first day it was up. One of them was my colleague at Fortune, David Kirkpatrick, who, not surprisingly, wrote an excellent rebuttal. (I say “not surprisingly” because David wrote, as far back in October 2006, the first story I had read that convincingly explained why Facebook mattered.) With his counter-point now online, I also had to spend a part of the day yesterday fending off the excitable editors in New York who wanted me and David to argue our positions via video for the site. (One of them suggested I wear a luche libre suit.)
I am not that stupid. Nor do I look good in a Speedo. If I could do video, why would I waste my time with the other low-paid mutts in the print world? No, there is, sadly, a reason my medium is words. David is far better looking than me and infinitely more charming (though I think I have better legs.) And besides, the thing that had gotten me riled up in the first place — Facebook’s ongoing contempt for its users — had been addressed by the time David weighed in. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg had issued a mea culpa and made it simple for anyone to opt out of Beacon.
But beyond all that, I didn’t want to be forced into the position of being a Facebook hater, mainly because I don’t hate it. I use the thing a dozen times a day to play Scrabulous, Texas Hold ‘Em, and to harry my daughters, wife and friends. And that’s why, in the end, I decided not to opt out of Beacon. Facebook is a great social experiment and I want to see how it turns out.
Besides, the idea of Beacon doesn’t really bug me. Reid Hoffman says that “privacy is an old man’s concern” and I tend to agree with him. I had reached the same conclusion when writing a cover story for Time about online privacy many years ago. The joy of a social network is the shared experience — the give and take among friends. I like the peripheral view I get of my friends when I log in, and I don’t mind publishing personal artifacts in exchange. Further, I’d argue that most of us get a kick out of sharing personal details within our networks. That’s what humans do in real life. It makes sense that we should crave it online, too.
What I adored about Facebook, and blathered on about endlessly, was that it gave us near-perfect control over our online relationships. (e.g. You can block jerks.) The few people I loathe, or who have spammed me, can no longer contact me on Facebook. The creation of the Innernet was an important step in the evolution of the social web: Now I can define not only who I am online, but who I want to hang out with. That’s why Facebook grew so quickly. At 50 million people, it’s about the size of South Korea and ought to overtake the UK in population within the year — if the current growth rate holds.
It won’t grow, though, if Facebook messes with its users’ right to control their social graph. It’s tough to build something this big and takes a fair amount of finesse. But it’s far easier to lose it all. Facebook’s response to the events of the past few weeks has mainly been, If you don’t like it, leave. That kind of customer service was also found on Delphi, Prodigy and AOL. If I were Zuck, I’d craft a simple Bill of Rights guaranteeing members that they own their own relationships. With Facebook’s users in control, the company is free to try anything it wants.
From Fortune’s David Kirkpatrick:
“The press rarely grants an autumn reprise for those it loved in the spring,” once wrote the great New York Times columnist Russell Baker. How true in the case of Internet-darling-turned-reviled-evildoer Facebook.
Facebook, the popular social networking site, has ridden the hype curve up and down in recent months, reaching a low Tuesday over claims that a month-old advertising system violates members’ privacy. CEO Mark Zuckerberg took a big step Wednesday toward silencing naysayers – one of whom was my own colleague Josh Quittner – when he issued a contrite apology and made a key change to the new advertising feature, dubbed Beacon.
“We’ve made a lot of mistakes building this feature,” acknowledged Zuckerberg, “but we’ve made even more with how we’ve handled them. We simply did a bad job with this release, and I apologize for it.”
A little history: When Facebook, the popular social networking site, announced its strategy to host applications created by outsiders in May, the world and the press was dazzled – none more than me. Facebook found itself on the covers of magazines and the lips of Silicon Valley.
Then, in October, Microsoft (MSFT) bested Google (GOOG), winning the right to invest $240 million for 1.6 percent of Facebook and a new contract to display ads on the site. The deal valued Facebook at $15 billion. Meanwhile, the number of active members, 24 million in May, has soared to 57 million. Suddenly, Facebook was king of the hill.
Aiming to capitalize on its newfound acclaim and scale, Facebook announced its bold new advertising strategy in November. But Zuckerberg made a few strategic errors. First, he showed a touch of hubris when he intoned portentously to ad executives in New York during the announcement: “Once every 100 years, the way that media works fundamentally changes.”
Much worse, one part of the new Beacon ad system had not been fully thought through. It automatically alerts a member’s friends when she buys a new product or rents a movie. But the features intended to allow the member to control this alert system were hard to find and insufficient.
Journalists dug up unfortunate cases, like the wife who was automatically informed by Facebook of the ring her husband bought her as a Christmas present. Consumer and privacy watchdog groups began darkly criticizing Facebook’s “disregard” for members’ privacy. Meanwhile, a group called “Petition: Facebook, stop invading my privacy!” has 68,000 members, which isn’t much for a service with 57 million users but enough to send a clear signal that people are upset.
The blogosphere – and in its wake, much of the mainstream press – went wild with derision. Here was Baker’s maxim come to life. We built them up and now we were going to bring them down.
Though Facebook has progressively taken measures to address the problems, the 23 year-old Zuckerberg until now had said nothing about the latest brouhaha. He broke his silence Wednesday with an apology to members and a fresh promise not to broadcast a member’s buying habits without her explicit approval. In a key move, he also allowed members to turn off Beacon.
Still, questions linger, including how much member information is pinging around the Net without permission or knowledge. If Zuckerberg stays attuned to these and any other ongoing concerns, the controversy will go away and Facebook will be as strong as ever. After all, that’s what happened when he wrote a letter of apology last year after a much bigger on-service protest erupted over a new Facebook feature that tells friends what other friends are doing on the site.
At first, the outcry over the Newsfeed feature was fierce. But then Facebook tweaked the feature, Zuckerberg apologized, and protesters realized they were making much ado about nothing. Newsfeed became one of Facebook’s most popular features. It’s also become part of the essential infrastructure for the viral dissemination of third-party Facebook applications created since May.
Until now, Zuckerberg’s silence has fueled press anger over Beacon and Zuckerberg’s apparent rigidity, including from my Fortune colleague, Josh Quittner, who argues Facebook may be dead.
Facebook is not anywhere near dead – and there’s zero chance it will be anytime soon, no matter how boneheaded some of its recent actions may have been. It would be virtually impossible for a new, as-yet-unheard-of service to come along and quickly steal Facebook users.
For all Facebook’s own successes, former social networking superstar MySpace, now owned by News Corp. (NWS), remains larger than ever by most measures. It takes a lot of work for a member to create a useful Facebook (or MySpace) network. They won’t flee lightly.
And while Zuckerberg may not have listened to them until now, Facebook has several “old hands” in the management suite to help guide the young company. Chief operating officer Owen Van Natta and privacy boss Chris Kelly are both in their late 30s. Chief financial officer Gideon Yu is 36 years-old and Vice President for Sales Mike Murphy is 45. All are industry veterans.
Facebook remains a seminal part of today’s technology landscape. It’s changing the way many people around the world use the Internet. For me personally, it’s the first Web service to come along in a decade since MyYahoo where I routinely spend at least half an hour daily.
Josh ends his post by saying, “Facebook has turned all the people who rooted for it into a lynch mob. In the space of a month, it’s gone from media darling to devil.” He’s right about that. But it may say more about the press – and today’s blog-led penchant for sensationalism – than it does about Facebook
One of the rallying cries of the Web 2.0 movement, during its sensational rise over the past five years, is openness. Open systems (Linux, Wikipedia, any phone you can hack from T-Mobile) are good. Closed systems (Windows, The Wall Street Journal Online, any locked-down cell phone you buy from Verizon) are bad.
Amazon.com has always embraced openness. Launched in 1994, it’s a classic Web 1.0 company by definition. And yet it’s also at the forefront of the social web. It allowed its customers to write reviews of products before anyone else, its enormous affiliate program lets everyone sell its products and it was among the first to make its APIs (application programming interfaces) available to developers.
So it was fun, therefore, to watch some of the smartest Web 2.0 thinkers make sense of Amazon’s (AMZN) move to a closed, proprietary world last week with the launch of its e-book reader, Kindle. This was a rollout that, on first blush anyway, made the Microsoft Zune look downright innovative in its openness. (At least you can play MP3s on the Zune. For free.)
What’s going on here?
Here’s my guess: Emboldened by Apple’s (AAPL) success, some of the most innovative companies in the tech world are starting to shift back toward closed systems.
Apple, of course, is about as closed a company as we’ve ever seen. It is what makes the company great and what makes it a horror show. It’s why people love and hate it. On the one hand, Apple products are typically so far beyond those of the competition, a visitor from another planet might think that the former is made by humans and the latter by monkeys. (A techie pal, upon picking up his new iPhone some months ago, waved it at me and gushed, “This is like something from the distant future.”) On the other hand, virtually nothing about Apple is transparent and open, from it’s ghastly press relations to the way it handles customer complaints. The recent incident with the tech pundit Robert Scoble is a great example. He downloaded an Apple update to OS 10.4 and couldn’t restart his computer. I had exactly the same problem when I updated my laptop last week. So did many, many other people, judging from the thousands of views at the relevant area of Apple’s own support site. Yet, talk to Apple support and they deny there’s even a problem. It’s about as open as North Korea.
And yet, its success speaks volumes. The stock is up over 100% during the past 52 weeks. The company maintains such tight control over the products it sells you that you aren’t even allowed to use them in unauthorized ways. Remember the whole episode when some people tried to unlock their phones, Apple updated its software and bricked the rebel phones? Talk about closed systems…
And really, why should he? Just because it’s open?
Apple is successful because Apple is Jobs. And Jobs believes in an almost pathological control. That is, after all, how a visionary gets results.
Will that work for Amazon and Facebook?
In Amazon’s case, if Kindle flames out, it’s not a big deal. The project is an ambitious experiment, and as Tim O’Reilly points out, even if the device itself fails, Bezos could well have jump started an industry that Amazon, with its enormous collection of e-books, is perfectly positioned to dominate.
Facebook, though, is at a more critical juncture. If it stays closed and starts to stultify as a result, members could easily pack up their tents and move to the next big thing. But if it manages to fight off OpenSocial? Look for more closed systems.
Marc Andreessen for president. Seriously, I love watching him think. Even when I disagree with his conclusions, I always learn something worthwhile. His heart is in the right place and his brain is without peer. Would someone please start a Facebook group for this?
In today’s post, he argues that if the Hollywood studios don’t capitulate to the writers they will effectively destroy their business — and perhaps, spark a revolution in the business model that creates video entertainment. Marc suggests that the film industry is ripe for overhaul: the big, centralized studio model ought to be replaced by the smaller, decentralized Silicon Valley-style startup model where VC funding is abundant. The compelling part of Mark’s argument is that the two main reasons the studio system worked — marketing and distribution — no longer matter. When everything is digital, distribution is virtually free, and old-style marketing doesn’t work very well anymore. The rise of the social web allows good stuff to spread virally.
I believe most of that (though VCs HATE the content game, which is hit-based and utterly unpredictable.)
The bigger problem with his scenario is the same issue that has plagued the content-creation business since the advent of the web: The creators can’t make a decent living here yet.
Those guys walking picket lines make very healthy six-figure salaries. (As they should! Writers ought to be among the highest-paid people on the planet!) Can they do that online, alone? No way. And not in the near future. No one has yet found a way to create the kinds of revenue streams from online content that would match what a pro makes working for traditional media.
Yes, we have a few one-man brands who are currently making at least as much money online as they could working for The Man. But so far, they are bloggers for the most part, with virtually no overhead — most of the success stories, in fact, work from home. Until someone figures out a better way to generate revenue than display ads, this medium won’t be able to attract the top talent.
Marc, please solve that one asap.
Mark Zuckerberg and his Facebook team spent an entire afternoon Tuesday explaining their new ad strategy to an audience of big-name corporate advertisers and Manhattan media. But as a series of high-profile executives from Blockbuster (BBI), Verizon (VZ), Coca-Cola (KO) and other new Facebook advertisers paraded across the stage, no one talked much about the Achilles heel of Facebook Ads: Facebook members.
Facebook is letting them control what advertising they see but also making members the unpaid purveyors of its clients’ brands. For the new form of advertising to work, members have to be willing to participate.
With Facebook Ads marketers can do three things: build their own profile pages to connect with Facebookers; use the Facebook news feed to broadcast updates of consumers’ interactions with brands to their friends; and analyze the Facebook members’ behavior to improve ad targeting.
Marketers can only advertise once consumers decide to “friend” a company or brand through its profile page. In theory, this sounds like an ideal way to build brand awareness, but will Facebook users actually do this voluntarily?
Maren Dougherty, a 23-year old San Diego resident with 400 Facebook friends pointed out that Facebook’s ad system couldn’t possibly work for every brand. “I can’t imagine saying I’m a huge fan or Best Buy or something,” she said.
On the other hand, casually sharing information about products like movies and music with friends makes some sense, Dougherty said. After all, that’s what Facebook users already do on with their profiles.
Even so, if Facebookers know that associating with a brand, even casually, will translate into marketing messages, will they still do it? The common theory among analysts and the social networks themselves is that people want to define themselves through their favorite brands.
That may be the case, but it doesn’t mean they want to sign up to be brand ambassadors.
Damon Brown, a 31-one year old Los Angeles writer and editor, said he’s a huge hip hop fan and not opposed to touting the latest Kanye West album on the various blogs he maintains. But he draws the line at overt advertising. “It’s a whole separate thing for me to be affiliated with Rockefeller Records or Kanye West,” Brown said. “If the point is to have a viral, organic feel, you can’t manufacture it and that’s hard for advertisers to understand.”
Advertising analysts responded favorably to Facebook Ads, though not without noting how complex the strategy will be to implement.
Emarketer senior analyst Debbie Williamson said the promise of social network marketing has been to tap into the way messages spread virally from person to person. “What Facebook is doing is trying to extend that to make word-of-mouth part of marketing online,” she said. “It’s a big, complicated undertaking and there are a lot of moving parts that need to fall into place.”
Facebook, however, has a knack for introducing features that spark an initial backlash among members but that eventually become accepted. It first happened in September 2006 when Facebook opening up its gates to members outside of the college crowd. That same month, Facebook introduced the news feed, inciting uproar among some members who thought broadcasting their activities to friends and the friends of friends was intrusive. Yet none of those changes did anything to slow Facebook’s growth from about 12 million users almost a year ago to nearly 50 million now.
Time will tell if Facebook’s bold advertising scheme will be tolerated, and more importantly, perform as planned. On the first point, the social network may not have much to worry about.
“This wouldn’t stop me from using Facebook,” said Sarah Baicker, a 23-year old graduate student at Northwestern University’s Washington, D.C., campus. “I don’t think anything can make us stop using Facebook at this point. It’s so engrained in the culture.”
A hush fell over a packed sixth-floor room this afternoon in a nondescript Manhattan warehouse as Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg took the stage. “Once every 100 years, the way that media works fundamentally changes,” he said haughtily. So began one of the most highly anticipated launch events this fall as Zuckerberg unveiled Facebook Ads, a three-part strategy to help advertisers better connect to customers on the social networking site.
Advertisers can create free Facebook pages for their products and services, build SocialAds that pair display and text advertising with personal recommendations, and access data about how Facebook members use their products.
Building on its strong history of giving Facebook members control over their online profiles and retaining an uncluttered, highly structured look and feel, the company will let users select the advertising that will be displayed on their social networks, creating advertising inventory only in the network of fans that a brand builds virally online. No fans, no ads.
Here’s how it works: First, advertisers can create free pages that play host to the same interactive applications that Facebook members now download in their profiles. A product called Beacon will allow advertisers to display their fans’ activities on newsfeeds — a running update of friends’ activities on a Facebook homepage. For example, if a Facebooker chooses to become a fan of Saturn cars, that fact may appear in the newsfeed.
Second, Facebook announced SocialAds, display and text ads that are paired with interactions with Facebook members. For example, if a user named Jane Doe purchases a pair of Puma running shoes, her friend may receive a social ad — either running down the side of the page or in a news feed — that consists of a banner paired with a notice that “Jane Doe has just purchased a pair of Puma running shoes.”
Last, without revealing personally identifiable information about users, Facebook will provide analytics and reporting to advertisers about consumer behavior. “In a fundamental way, the Facebook Ad platform may change the way people view advertising,” says IDC analyst Rachel Happe. “A brand will have to earn the affiliation of its customers in order to have the opportunity to advertise to a broader network.”
Application developers will watch the system closely. “It does begin to move Facebook into application-specific domains such as iLike and Flixster,” says Jia Shen, CTO and cofounder of RockYou, one of the largest widget makers on Facebook. “Another aspect of concern is how the new types of newsfeeds, placements, and pages do begin to dilute the Facebook newsfeed. We don’t know how Facebook will control the frequency and priority of these new events, but it adds more to the already crowded newsfeed area to contend for space.”
Facebook Ads follows an Oct. 24 announcement that Microsoft (MSFT) will take a $240 million equity stake in the site, valuing Facebook at $15 billion. The company is private and does not disclose numbers, but it is widely reported that Facebook earned a profit of $30 million this year on $150 million in sales. With a $15 billion valuation, that translates into 500 times earnings.
Industry analysts have long wondered how the startup plans to make money. Until now, Facebook’s advertising opportunities have been limited to banner ads that run down the side of pages and smaller ads that appear in newsfeeds. Advertisers can also pay to sponsor groups. Facebook’s move today ups the ante in the fast growing area of brand advertising on the Web. Ad spending on social networks in the United States alone will reach $900 million this year, according to online advertising research company eMarketer. That figure is expected to jump to $2.5 billion by 2011 as advertisers move brand advertising dollars online.
Major competitor MySpace made two advertising announcements of its own this week. On Nov. 5, the Web site revealed new behavioral targeting efforts that will allow advertisers to reach even more specific audiences. If Universal Pictures was able to connect with MySpace users who say they liked movies, for example, the company will now be able to target people who identify that they like movies and also that they prefer horror films. The site also unleashed a self-service advertising tool for small businesses, bands and individuals.
Facebook’s new strategy is a welcome innovation, says Michael Barrett, chief revenue office for Fox Interactive Media, the Newscorp (NWS) division that oversees MySpace. “There’s a lot less competition with Facebook for real ad dollars than with the portals,” he says. MySpace’s advertising efforts are better spent trying to harness ad dollars directed at banner ads on sites like Yahoo (YHOO), MSN and AOL. His take? Any innovation on the part of Facebook will ultimately help everyone profit from social networks.
As of this afternoon, 100,000 new advertiser pages have gone live on Facebook. Logos of Facebook’s 60 advertising partner companies — including Blockbuster (BBI), CBS (CBS), Coca-Cola (KO), Sony Pictures Television (SNE) and Verizon (VZ) — flashed across the screen as Zuckerberg completed his address. Many advertisers don’t yet know what to expect. Jessica Jackley Flannery, co-founder of microlending site Kiva.org, says her colleagues anticipated so much traffic from Facebook Ads that they stopped to consider whether their site could handle it before signing on. “We were on Oprah a couple months back, and we survived the sudden spike then, but this could mean an even bigger gain.”
Google today announced two big new partners in its battle to make social networks more open — MySpace and Bebo.
When news surfaced Tuesday of Google’s (GOOG) OpenSocial alliance, MySpace (NWS) and Bebo were conspicuously absent from the list of partners joining the effort to create common standards for social networking applications. So, not surprisingly, was top-tier network Facebook.
OpenSocial will allow developers to build widgets that work across a network of social networks that include Hi5, LinkedIn, Ning, Friendster and now MySpace and Bebo.
“This is the logical next step,” said MySpace CEO Chris DeWolfe during a Thursday afternoon conference call at Google headquarters. “Having an open platform where developers can reach a critical mass of people — we’re at over 200 million users now — is an amazing breakthrough for the developer community.”
“We want to see [OpenSocial] adopted by as many people as possible,” said Vic Gundotra, head of Google’s developer program. “We have reached out to almost everyone in the industry.”
Facebook did not immediately return requests for comment.
Google’s new OpenSocial initiative is just the opening shot in what promises to be a long fight with Facebook.
The OpenSocial alliance, which seeks to create common standards for social networking applications, has so far signed up Google’s (GOOG) Orkut social network — it’s big in Brazil — as well as Hi5, LinkedIn, Ning, Friendster and business software makers Salesforce and Oracle.
“I view this as Version 1.0 of a fairly extended conflict that’s going to happen over the next few years,” says Ray Valdes, research director of Internet platforms at Gartner. “This was an important move by a major player but by itself it’s not going to make or break any individual network.”
Google announced Thursday afternoon that it’s adding MySpace and Bebo to its list of partners. MySpace, the largest social network with over 200 million registered users, will double the number of users developers can access with their applications through OpenSocial.
The question is whether Google will have the pull to bring Facebook into the fold.
Facebook has been tremendously successful in attracting developers to its own proprietary platform, which explains why the company is absent from Google’s OpenSocial network. At last count, Facebook had collected almost 7,000 widgets that let members do everything from discovering new music to engaging in virtual food fights.
Another big name not being openly social with Google is Yahoo (YHOO), which has been struggling to make its mark in social networking. It recently decided to close its personal profile network, Yahoo 360, choosing to focus on a new network called Mash. Currently invitation-only, Mash lets members modify the look of their friends’ profiles. Mash is considered the testing ground for a much larger concept that Yahoo is calling the “universal profile,” or a social network that will integrate other features like Yahoo Mail and Yahoo Answers.
When the company reported its third quarter earnings on Oct. 16, Yahoo CEO Jerry Yang said two of his strategic goals were to become the “starting point” for the most consumers on the Web and to offer the most desirable platform for third-party developers. On Wednesday, a company spokeswoman declined to say whether Yahoo will join OpenSocial, but did remark that the industry needs “common sets of socialization standards.”
Google’s OpenSocial officially launches today with widgets from RockYou and Slide, as well as music and movie applications iLike and Flixter. Most of these applications can already be found on Facebook, MySpace, Bebo and other social networks – a sign that developers are agnostic when it comes to which sites they’ll work with.
“Facebook is open to a point and they’re criticized for it but it makes sense,” says Biz Stone, co-founder of Twitter service that lets friends send each real-time updates of their activities. Twitter built an application on Facebook and Stone says the company is working on one for OpenSocial.
Gartner analyst Andrew Frank says the evolution of the Internet may be one indication of the how the battle between the social networks will play out.
“One of the things that made the Internet so successful was that it was based on common standards,” Frank says. “With Facebook you have a return to proprietary programming.”
With Microsoft (MSFT) buying a minority share that values Facebook at $15 billion, hyperbole became reality. Or did it? The answer to that question turns on whether the social network is worth what Microsoft paid.
And that depends on whether you believe Facebook is just the latest online fad—or whether, as Facebookies believe, the social network is building the next, grand computing platform. (A platform is geek for a computer environment upon which applications can be built. Windows, for instance, is a platform. So is the Web.) Silicon Valley, and the rest of the tech world, is divided on this point.
In one camp are the cynics, or rather, the folks who believe that the One, True Platform is the wide-open Web. The people on this side of the debate tend to be Google (GOOG) partisans—and never mind that Google is the 800-pound gorilla that, through its brilliant, targeted search advertising, rules the Web. On the other side are those who believe the Web is too open, too raw, too unruly. Facebook, which is closing in on 50 million members, promises to restore control—over privacy, unwanted email, and virtual contact of any kind—to users. That’s a pretty powerful lure, and I’ve already written that, in my opinion, building the “Innernet”—where we can define our persona and limit our contact with the outside world—is the next big stage of online evolution.
The tricky part? How does Facebook/Microsoft make money? Advertising is the obvious answer, but how that works, is anything but apparent. Most people believe that when Mark Zuckerberg & Co. talk about social ads, they’re conjuring up a scenario that looks like this: I login to my Facebook page, and instead of a normal ad, I’m greeted with a banner that says something like, “Hey Josh! It’s your friend Jim Smith’s birthday in two weeks. Jim loves Neil Young and Neil has a new album that just came out last week. Buy it here.”
Now, that’s pretty compelling. Or pretty intrusive. I honestly don’t know how I’ll respond to such a solicitation. Again, the geek world is split on this point, with some people saying that’s a violation of privacy, while others maintain that privacy—as one social network pundit told me recently—is an old man’s concern. So whether Facebook is worth $15 billion (or a whole lot more) really depends on whether it can figure out a way to gin up new kinds of online ads that work far better than anything we’ve seen. If it makes that breakthrough, $15 billion for Facebook will look like the deal of the century.