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No. of Recommendations: 1
i posted this on vic too

I think this was interesting - from the call:

So GDPR didn't have a significant impact in Q2 partially because of its implementation date. So you're just seeing effectively 1 month of it. In terms of revenue, we do think that there will be some modest impact. And I don't want to overplay these factors, but you've got a couple things going on. You've got the impact of the opt-outs. And while we're very pleased with the vast majority of people opting into the third-party data use, some did not. So that'll have a small impact on revenue growth. And then we're also seeing some impact from how advertisers are using their own data for targeting, so again, that'll have a modest impact on growth. And then in addition, we're continuing to focus our product development around putting privacy first, and that's going to, we believe, have some impact on revenue growth. So it's really a combination of kind of how we're approaching privacy as well as GDPR and the like. So I think all of those factors together are one of the factors that we're talking about, the other being obviously the currency flip.

ok, so GDPR might have 'some' impact

ok, so opt-outs might have 'some' impact (not so far, but hey - it might!)

ok, some impact from advertisers (they make it clear elsewhere there's been no change)

ok, some impact on privacy (so far, no impact, but hey - it might!)

and then fx (could flip too)

really, that's all you've got?

I've read some bummer calls in my time, but this one?

p.s. I liked the bit where they say part of the lower operating margin targets are due to "increasing mix of business shifting to Asia and towards what are CURRENTLY lower APRU markets" so I guess they expect those areas to REALLY grow, but I must be missing something...though it was pretty funny when asked when this would happen they said something to effect that it would be 2 years to whenever ("this is several years, so more than 2 but less than many" I actually laughed aloud at that).

as noted before, I read the google call too, and the difference between goog and fb is fb provided some glum guides and google didn't say anything - kinda weird how this played out short-term

this reminded me of the MA and V calls where they'd suggest that OM can't get too high cause then they'd get in trouble - sure sounded like the same script; you would almost think this CEO was hauled before congress lately...
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I'm not in a position yet to dig deep on these issues, but at a high level I think you have to divide the concerns into two buckets:

The first bucket is the near certainty of substantially increased costs over the near and medium term as they ramp up their privacy, security and AI capabilities, coupled with the leveling off of growth in their core Facebook product, and migration of their customer base towards lower margin Instagram and (so far) no margin Snapchat. As a long-term FB investor, none of this would concern me. To paraphrase the article linked above, the increased costs can just as easily be referred to as "moat expansion" and there is no reason to believe that FB will be any less successful in figuring out how to monetize their new products than they have been historically in monetizing their old products.

The second bucket is legal and regulatory uncertainty, and here the jury is still out. In a world where a 5 Billion fine for an internet company is little more than a one day story, this would also seem to be a non-issue for the long term, but I think there are clear dangers for FB in the future. Here, what is going on in the UK is of the most interest. I'm not so much talking about the penalties for failing to protect user information, though that is a concern, but rather the recommendation from Parliament that companies like Facebook and Twitter be held liable for "harmful and illegal" content on their site. It is not hard to imagine something like this coming to pass in the UK in particular and the EU more generally. And even in the USA, the degree to which Facebook is protected (if at all) by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act is very much an open question. It's one that I can't answer, though I would be very much be interested in hearing from anyone with expertise in this matter.

One theory out there for that somewhat bizarre call is that FB was deliberately downplaying the strength of their business in a jujitsu move designed to defuse some of the pressure. I don't buy that. It probably wouldn't work anyway, and even if it would I don't think they would be capable of doing it. They're very smart, but they have drunk too much of the company Kool-Aid to deliberately disparage themselves in that way. They truly believe they are the good guys, and to be fair they have many times been a positive force in society. But they have some major blind spots, and it's not clear that they really understand that even now. FB desparately needs to hire an outsider at a high level and to give that person real authority to make changes to the culture. If I see that happen, and this person is credible, I would be inclined to buy at almost any price within shouting distance of current levels. Failing that, I want a bigger margin of safety at least until I have a better handle on the long term.
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They truly believe they are the good guys, and to be fair they have many times been a positive force in society. But they have some major blind spots, and it's not clear that they really understand that even now.

based on what?
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based on what?

Well, many widely disseminated comments by Zuckerberg are a good start (the Holocaust Denial comment being the most recent). It sometimes seems like they are trying to p* off people and daring governments to regulate them, though I'm sure that is not the intent. And then there's that conference call, for which the only logical explanation is that it was delivered from an alternate universe.

An internal memo from outgoing security chief Alex Stamos outlines a lot of the issues, here's a link to a Buzzfeed article about it:

https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/ryanmac/facebook-alex-s...

FB began easing out Stamos last December, before the Cambridge Analytica mess put a spotlight on the problems. At the time, he was kind of the canary in the coal mine, though it's not necessarily fair to say this was the reason he was eased out. From what I've heard, he is a visionary on security strategy in today's world, but he is not necessarily the best person to lead a team to execute said strategy.
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Well, many widely disseminated comments by Zuckerberg are a good start (the Holocaust Denial comment being the most recent).

I don't know anything about this, so I used the internet and came up with the Guardian (which I don't know either, other than when they reported about Jordan Peterson vs. Cathy Newman they intentionally misquoted his stance/views even though the interview itself was a public record and so you could see exactly what he said, but the reporter didn't seem to mind mixing fantasy into reality, so based on one single example - highly unfair - it make me believe the editorial standards were lax - perhaps they need to bring in an outside person to fix this) here:

https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2018/jul/19/mark-zuck...

Unfortunately, they don't quote everything I guess, but he said:

“I don’t believe that our platform should take that down because I think there are things that different people get wrong. I don’t think that they’re intentionally getting it wrong … It’s hard to impugn intent and to understand the intent.”

Which makes sense to me. Even racists ought to have access to a platform because policing morality is a very tricky business, but that's just my initial thought. I believe in free speech, even free speech by idiots. Agree, they ought not to tick people off, but we live in an age where people have multiple ventures to express their 'I'm offended by you' views (I try to stay away from people like this).

I am still confused on your comments - FB had added about 10,000 people in the last year, so they are bringing in a lot of outsiders. And 'Buzzfeed' publishing an internal memo - if you'd been party to the sorts of things I've said about my own business at times you would have no faith in me, so I'm not sure of the logic of what you are doing here.

I honestly don't understand your view - I think FB is a really good buy here, and I hope they don't change anything. Agree that they could face fines from time to time - who cares, builds a moat. But I'm basing that on a feeling vs. hard analysis.
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Well, many widely disseminated comments by Zuckerberg are a good start (the Holocaust Denial comment being the most recent).

https://www.recode.net/2018/7/18/17575156/mark-zuckerberg-in...

Although I think using Holocaust Deniers is a particularly poor choice for defending an open platform and every PR flack must have winced at the comment, I think Zuck's commentary is more nuanced. Unfortunately, you can't win when you discuss the Holocaust ... it's an automatic loss.

A separate passage in the Recode interview touches on the difficulty Facebook faces regulating speech; outside the USA there may be much less tolerance for extensive free speech rights (even in democracies) and inside the USA we have our own debates; I can't imagine how difficult it is to find the proper balance on Facebook:

***

Regulation, how much do you think is coming from if the Democrats get back in power? They’ve gotten rather hostile towards you and Google, it seems.

Well, I think you’re too focused on the U.S.

Okay, across the world. Do you see regulation being … Obviously, Europe is a place where there’s much more regulation happening and more activity. Do you see it-

The area that I think is most likely is content. So the U.S. has a very rich tradition of free speech; it is written into the Constitution, free speech, so here, we have a very strong allergic reaction to trying to regulate that. But in almost every other country in the world, while people generally want as much expression as possible, there’s some notion that something else might be more important than speech; so preventing hate or-


***

Facebook is a commercial enterprise so it has much wider discretion to regulate speech or behavior on its site (similar in some ways to the power the NFL has to facilitate or punish Anthem protestors). Ultimately, I believe the degree of free speech will be dictated by Facebook platform advertisers who themselves will be influenced by the wider public and governments.

And then there's that conference call, for which the only logical explanation is that it was delivered from an alternate universe.

I read the same call and although I wished the CFO focused less on foreign currency and more on capital expenditures I thought it quite reasonable. There's a transition going on due to 'Stories'; management doesn't exactly know how it's going to play out; user growth is occurring in regions with less immediate monetization capability; at the end of the day Facebook may have TREMENDOUS operating margins or it may have FANTASTIC operating margins.

Facebook as a potential investment reminds me of the MA/V controversy a number of years ago when grand predictions of European regulation and lawsuits and retailer backlash knocked it for a loop.

ET
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p.s.

I was reading a book on Paul Simon (singer) and the was a section in their about the protesters against his Graceland album including South African music and helping South African musicians. The book at least suggested he went to VERY great pains to honor everybody involved but there was still a group of people who implied he was a racist. Goodness knows what people like this would do to him today...cultural appropriation and all that stuff. It is easy to see how FB is in the center of this - if you have users, you will have other users who get upset at those users, and then those users will get offended at this user and that user, and on and on it goes, an endless line of offended people getting upset and all that. I'm offended by the suggestion that a Facebook ad would make me vote for one person over another, but I tend to believe that most of my fellow human beings aren't complete and total idiots. Mostly, but not entirely! :-)

as to whether it hurts the business, we'll see - you don't to get making 30 billion in cash flow and not taking your shots...it is interesting how nobody seems to impugn Microsft's biz anymore. I do appreciate your perspective, and agree it is an important issue to consider.
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Well, many widely disseminated comments by Zuckerberg are a good start (the Holocaust Denial comment being the most recent). It sometimes seems like they are trying to p* off peoplE

I thought his comments were more or less fine and appreciated his somewhat firm commitment on freedom of speech for the ignorant on his platform[s]. As most people are fairly ignorant.

Banning users on 'Denying X' is the definition of a very slippery slope they shouldn't get involved in regulating imnsho.

I'm fairly well-read up on WW2, read Churchill's 6-volume memoirs, read the Shirer diaries, Time-Life books, et al, but I couldn't tell you for certain exactly how many jews the Nazis murdered in that timeframe. If they say it was 5.5m are they a 'denier?' What about 5m? What if someone says it was 15m?

Do we want FB to set, like, a 20% error band on statements of fact and your posts get pulled otherwise? Can I say the human body temperature is 95 degrees?
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I honestly don't understand your view - I think FB is a really good buy here, and I hope they don't change anything. Agree that they could face fines from time to time - who cares, builds a moat. But I'm basing that on a feeling vs. hard analysis

GM, I should be clearer. My problems with Facebook are also based more on feeling vs. hard analysis. I want to own it, but I do not have a good feeling about their management right now. I am afraid the mindset that got them to where they are will not serve them as well going forward. I am painfully aware that my current feelings on FB are closer to the mindset of the short term herd and far away from that of many value investors whose opinion I respect. I could well be wrong, and this could be added to my long list of called strikes. At least I have some money in Sequoia.

Facebook is a commercial enterprise so it has much wider discretion to regulate speech or behavior on its site (similar in some ways to the power the NFL has to facilitate or punish Anthem protestors). Ultimately, I believe the degree of free speech will be dictated by Facebook platform advertisers who themselves will be influenced by the wider public and governments.

ET, I agree with this 100%. Probably the most important question, for the core Facebook business at least, is how well they are able to manage this in the future, and what legal or regulatory issues will ensue when they screw it up. That's where I see the risk.

Regarding the Holocaust comment, part of my point was the complete tone deafness of it. But beyond that, I think there are some real issues that need to be sorted out. Zuckerberg's comments could be described as nuanced, but I thought it was a little glib. They're not going to regulate content as long as the user is "not trying to organize harm against someone, or attacking someone" (and how do they determine that, and when?). And they will move harmful stuff down in the news feed (once again, who will make that determination and how?).

There were some things that were wrong with the old model of delivering news, and some things that were right. The journalistic judgment that went into filtering the news in an attempt to make sure it was accurate fell into both of those categories. For better or worse, that judgment is not so slowly being replaced by complex systems of artificial intelligence the workings of which, and the long term effects of which, no one completely understands. The attitude at Facebook, as in most of Silicon Valley, is that they are inevitably moving us towards a better world, and this will be good for everybody, especially Facebook. I would feel much better about them if I thought they understood it better and were approaching it with a little more humility. Maybe I should read less dystopian science fiction.
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I thought his comments were more or less fine and appreciated his somewhat firm commitment on freedom of speech for the ignorant on his platform[s]. As most people are fairly ignorant.

Banning users on 'Denying X' is the definition of a very slippery slope they shouldn't get involved in regulating imnsho.

I'm fairly well-read up on WW2, read Churchill's 6-volume memoirs, read the Shirer diaries, Time-Life books, et al, but I couldn't tell you for certain exactly how many jews the Nazis murdered in that timeframe. If they say it was 5.5m are they a 'denier?' What about 5m? What if someone says it was 15m?

Do we want FB to set, like, a 20% error band on statements of fact and your posts get pulled otherwise? Can I say the human body temperature is 95 degrees?


Okay, one follow up and I'll shut up. As stated in the interview, they are going to make judgments, and they will ban people. But they'll somehow be able to figure out whether someone is trying to organize harm against someone or attacking someone. And they will figure out who the real crazies are and blunt their effect by moving them down in the news feed. The devil is in the details, and I remain skeptical.

And can we agree that "Holocaust Denial" is, shall we say, a term of art? What you describe above does not remotely resemble any commonly understood use of the term.
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I honestly don't understand your view

sorry, that was a stupid thing for me to say - I get what you are saying

perhaps it is because I am not nuanced myself, with base emotions and a general inability to read people (me = caveman). I guess in the end i figure fb is worth 450m EV and will likely generate 25% or more in cash flow in the next three years and that's about as much as I think about.

we can disagree here with no issues - please don't feel you need to refrain your opinion as that's what causes exchanges which is always good
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The attitude at Facebook, as in most of Silicon Valley, is that they are inevitably moving us towards a better world, and this will be good for everybody, especially Facebook. I would feel much better about them if I thought they understood it better and were approaching it with a little more humility. Maybe I should read less dystopian science fiction.

Tongue firmly in cheek but the good news is that Netflix, Google and Amazon undoubtedly will take advantage of the opportunity to hit Facebook by "suggesting" (pushing) additional dystopian science fiction video and reading material to millions of John Q. Publics.

Hopped up on sci-fi dystopian ideology, these Amazon-Google-Netflix users will use their political voice and vote to hamstring "digital share-of-time" competitor Facebook.

The weakened Zuckerberg will respond by ramping up capital expenditures on secret AI technology and use an army of employee news vetting personnel to both defend the Facebook empire and probe weaknesses in the Netflix-Google-Amazon axis of digital weasels.

This is what stands as balance of power in the digital economy.

All of this will be unfortunately glossed over by social media users who are mesmerized by improved, immersive cat video technology and their money grubbing partners, the Investor Class, who care little except for PROFITS and OPERATING MARGINS and other Capitalist Stooge ejaculate.

ET
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Hopped up on sci-fi dystopian ideology, these Amazon-Google-Netflix users will use their political voice and vote to hamstring "digital share-of-time" competitor Facebook.

The weakened Zuckerberg will respond by ramping up capital expenditures on secret AI technology and use an army of employee news vetting personnel to both defend the Facebook empire and probe weaknesses in the Netflix-Google-Amazon axis of digital weasels.


... as Fools continue to post erudite and thoughtful mini-essays unadorned by photos, videos, images, filters, or vines from the Amish corner of the digital landscape.
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I see your points, but FB's faux-5% humility is still better than the news media's 0.00% humility.

I mean, CBS News said 'Fake, but accurate!' with no sense of irony or wit. They actually meant it.

Things have only gotten worse since. Even without trucks rigged to blow up on camera.
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What you describe above does not remotely resemble any commonly understood use of the term.

I was 100% sure someone would complain about my carefully chosen example and say this, thus proving my point.

The debate becomes about the error bands. We agree that within 20% is not 'xxx denial' but a larger amount is!

And FB gets sucked into a debate they can never win.



best,
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I am painfully aware that my current feelings on FB are closer to the mindset of the short term herd and far away from that of many value investors whose opinion I respect. I could well be wrong, and this could be added to my long list of called strikes.


As a new shareholder to this story, after years of thumb-sucking, I certainly agree that FB is in the strike zone right now. However, there are no called strikes, according to Buffett. Swing when you think it's a sure thing, and you won't be called out while you're waiting.


Regarding the Holocaust comment, part of my point was the complete tone deafness of it. But beyond that, I think there are some real issues that need to be sorted out. Zuckerberg's comments could be described as nuanced, but I thought it was a little glib. They're not going to regulate content as long as the user is "not trying to organize harm against someone, or attacking someone" (and how do they determine that, and when?). And they will move harmful stuff down in the news feed (once again, who will make that determination and how?).

I suppose Hitler and the Holocaust should always be avoided, but Z was trying to provide a concrete example, and as a Jew, he has more legitimacy saying he wants a light touch on a subject like the Holocaust, than if he said he wants a light touch on, say, the Union flag or gay marriage or misogyny. And thank goodness he wants a light touch. If the company has to start picking sides on every issue, it's no longer a social medium for anyone except the minority that are offended by almost anything nowadays. I don't know how they plan to do it, but I suppose it will be some combination of AI, user feedback and review by FB employees on disputed cases. And hopefully, it will not involve stopping people from saying ridiculous things like the Holocaust or 9/11 or evolution never happened, even if they say these historical facts or well-proven theories are 100% invented. Stupidity is part of normal human society and there's not much left if you have to get rid of all of it.

Regards, DTB
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I don't know how they plan to do it, but I suppose it will be some combination of AI, user feedback and review by FB employees on disputed cases.

Agree - a 90% perfect filter is better than 0% even if they can't achieve 100%. There are precendents in terms of things like which readers' letters a newspaper will publish, or better yet, what a Community Access channel will allow you to show, etc. A bit of common sense to weed out much of the nonsense.

More subtle question is, what is Facebook? Is it a neutral carrier that has to allow everyone to say everything or does it have the right to curate the content? If it does, does FB own any content or are they acting as unpaid editors? I'd think the latter but IANAL and the idea of looking through people's content might give them unwanted liability for its effects. This is US, I won't be too surprised if some crazy posts "I am going to kill X Y and Z" on Facebook before doing it; and someone sues Facebook for not preventing it.
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More subtle question is, what is Facebook? Is it a neutral carrier that has to allow everyone to say everything or does it have the right to curate the content?



Zuckerberg testified under oath before Congress that Facebook is a publisher. I'm also not a lawyer, but I think that means that it is not (or is no longer) claiming to be a neutral carrier.
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NYT just published an article, which appears to be well sourced and well researched, and which provides an internal look at what went on at FB during the recent crises.

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/11/14/technology/facebook-data-...

It reinforces my feeling that Sheryl Sandberg should go. I don't take the article completely at face value, the long knives are obviously out for her in some parts of the company and the sources criticizing her have their own agenda (as sources always do). However, I think there's enough prima facie evidence that she completely mishandled this on several levels, and that to a large degree this is a consequence of the insular attitude of her in particular and FB upper management in general. She has in many ways been an asset to FB for much of her tenure, but I think it is time for new blood. The one thing I really don't understand in this whole saga is FB's seeming pursuit of revenue growth at all costs during this period (which has been reported in a lot of places). I thought the main point of having the founder as controlling shareholder was that they wouldn't be forced to play those kinds of games.

Having gotten the armchair quarterbacking out of my system, I will say that I am more positive on FB at this point. I think they have a much better understanding of the problems they face. Zuckerberg has been hit up the side of a head by a 2x4, and that's gotten his attention. It is less likely that they are going to really screw things up going forward, and the valuation has always been compelling as long as they don't really screw things up. I do wish I understood the transition to stories better and could share their confidence that it will be as successful as they think it will, but that's the kind of thing they should be able to figure out in the long run.

The one recent development that concerns me is the departure of the Instagram founders. That's a sign that the insularity of the FB culture continues. Maybe those guys were loose cannons, and management was left with no choice other than to let them go. However, given FB's historical inability to handle dissenting points of view, I worry that it goes deeper than that.

FWIW, I haven't bought yet, but I'm getting closer to being comfortable with it.
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I don't take the article completely at face value

LOL
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Ok, I've skimmed the article

FB elected Donald Trump
They hate jews
They love conservatives
They are capitalists (this seems to be the real problem)

What else did I miss?

What an unadulterated pile of steaming stinking BS...
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p.s.

that's just my opinion MM - you are free to share yours, and I appreciate the link
kinda nicely coordinated with the 60 minutes piece too, right? If you scroll thru the authors on that piece, you'll see they've all made a cottage living writing the same article with the same sorts of things over a long period of time.

But when they say FB used a republican firm to go after Soros cause he was a jew, I really couldn't keep reading...
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FWIW, I finally broke down and bought FB shares today. I still have plenty of concerns but we're to the point where I'm comfortable with the downside.

I'm pretty sure that we're nearing the end of headline risk from the execution failures* regarding their pre-2017 activity. While it remains to be seen what the extent of the fallout from those failures will be, they will probably be manageable. Virtually any financial penalties which aren't large enough to help close the Federal deficit should be a short term event. As many have pointed out, any regulatory changes will probably be a net positive for the big players, including FB, since they will probably raise the barriers to entry. Specific sanctions on FB, especially around their potential violation of their 2011 consent decree with the FTC could be a little more problematic, but they should be able to work through this as long as they don't really p!ss off the regulators.

Re the future, I'm convinced that growth and margins are both going to go down. The core Facebook platform is looking very mature (my son, two years ago, referred to it as the "new AOL", and he had a point). Instagram is growing nicely, of course, but they seem to be encountering some challenges in monetizing it to the degree they have with Facebook in the past. On top of this, their expenses are increasing dramatically, and that is going to continue. They need to get to a place where they are better able to manage their content. That will not be cheap, and to some degree the required changes will not be as scaleable as other parts of their business.

But for the foreseeable future they are very likely to continue to be an advertising juggernaut and a cash flow monster. That gives them a lot of maneuvering room to fix their problems.


* I have my own opinions as to what FB did that was seriously wrong. Others may disagree with those opinions, or even disagree with the idea that FB did anything that was seriously wrong. However, I hope that we all can agree that they were sometimes careless with their customer's data, and they completely lost control of the narrative once that became public. To me, this counts as a major execution failure.
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The core Facebook platform is looking very mature (my son, two years ago, referred to it as the "new AOL", and he had a point)

2015 FB reported 18b in revenues
this year they could be at 54b.
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2015 FB reported 18b in revenues
this year they could be at 54b.


Not to belittle those numbers, which are impressive, but their reported revenue includes all platforms, and those numbers are not forward looking. Anyway, I was referencing user growth. The reported MAU, DAU, and ARPU numbers are specific to the Facebook platform, and the numbers have been slowing down. Also, while I don't think FB breaks this out, the perception is that the users of the Facebook platform tend to be old folks like us, which doesn't bode well for future growth. The general consensus is that Facebook (as opposed to Instagram or WhatsApp) user growth will continue to slow down or even flatten. Though based on their recent changes to unify the logins, there will probably be some Instagram growth disguised as Facebook growth.
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Not to belittle those numbers....

??

I posted that without commentary to show a contrast between a 2 year old opinion (which, by the way, mirrors comments I've seen for a while and in many places, including VIC) and the actual growth rates achieved by the company - that's all.


...the perception is that the users of the Facebook platform tend to be old folks like us

you mean the demographic with the money

:-)
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Not to belittle those numbers....

??

I posted that without commentary to show a contrast between a 2 year old opinion (which, by the way, mirrors comments I've seen for a while and in many places, including VIC) and the actual growth rates achieved by the company - that's all.


I probably should have left my son out of this, but now that I've dragged him in...

I was trying to focus specifically on Facebook user growth, which has been slowing. My son's point was that Facebook was becoming an app for old people, the youngsters had moved on (in many cases to Instagram). Kind of like AOL from the late nineties on.


...the perception is that the users of the Facebook platform tend to be old folks like us

you mean the demographic with the money

:-)


Yeah, but we're not a growth demographic, plus a lot of us are cheapskates who don't spend as much as the youngsters. :-)
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