Facebook's holey grail

Now that it been valued at $15 billion (quite a reasonable amount, me thinks, for an unprofitable start-up with annual revenue less than $100 million), Facebook needs to develop a business model. So Mark Zuckerberg has been explaining how he is going to make money out of his social network. On Tuesday of this week, regurgitating the surreal language of Web 2.0, the kid Zuckerberg announced to the world:

"For the last 100 years media has been pushed out to people, but now marketers are going to be part of the conversation."

Huh? Here's a college-dropout giving the adult world a ludicrous beginning-of-history lesson about the "people", "media" and something called a "conversation." What exactly does this kind of linguistic garbage mean?

Actually it means quite a lot -- once you get behind the idiotic words. According to Wednesday's Financial Times ", this means that Facebook's "new technology represented a new era for advertisers, where commercials would be replaced by messages planted in online conversations between friends."

Now what, exactly, does that mean? Yes, you read it right -- "Messages planted in online conversations...."

It's almost as absurd as that $15 billion valuation. As the FT goes on:

Facebook's new technology, dubbed "Facebook ads", will allow businesses to build custom-designed "pages" on the social networking site. Users will be able to become "fans" of a company's page, 10,000 of which were launched last night. Any actions they take on the page, such as reviewing a product or uploading a photograph, would then be communicated to that user's friends and accompanied by a logo, creating "social ads". The ads will be auctioned, and buyers can opt to pay for impressions on the number of clicks.

A social ad indeed. Facebook is figure out how to transform its users' social networks into advertising networks. I want my 105,000 Facebook buddies to know how delicious Diet Pepsi is, so I'm going to review it on the Mr Diet Pepsi page which in turn will alert all my intimate friends about my feelings toward Diet Pepsi. Facebook is attempting to transform itself into a viral, user-generated advertising network. Thus the kid Zuckerberg's words about marketers finally becoming part of the "conversation". How collaborative, how communal, how delightfully conversational it all is.

Except that it won't work. People -- even the kids on Facebook -- aren't that stupid. They are going know they are being duped by the kid Zuckerberg and his new grown-up friends at Microsoft. After all, why would anyone advertise commercial products to their friends without financial reward? Why would I hawk the benefits of Diet Pepsi to my friends for free?

But, in a Freudian slip, Zuckerberg acknowledged the absurdity of his new business model. In redefining Facebook users as trusted referrer, he confessed on Tuesday, "a trusted referral is the Holy Grail of advertising."

Exactly. Had Zuckerberg stayed at Harvard to finished his education, he might have learned that a Holy Grail is an illusion (even the Monty Python boys know that). A Holy Grail is a miracle that never happens. Facebook and its surreal plan to plant messages in online conversations is a good example of a Holy Grail. A $15 billion one. Trust me -- your trusted friend -- on this one. And I won't even charge you for my wisdom.