Facebook to join the UN? If it can find a way of financing the subscription

This morning’s Observer column.

It was announced last week that the population of Facebook now exceeds that of America. Since mid-September the social networking service has added 50 million users, which means it now finds itself with 350 million of them. I am sure that Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook, takes the same view of his subscribers as PG Wodehouse attributed to the male codfish – “which, suddenly finding itself the parent of three million five hundred thousand little codfish, cheerfully resolves to love them all”. But even Zuckerberg must be wondering how he can monetise the little darlings.

There they are, cavorting in the corner of cyberspace so thoughtfully and expensively provided by him, where they post photographs of themselves in embarrassing situations, write affectionate or silly messages on one another's "walls", become "fans" of obscure comedians, join witty "groups" to support the Tiger Woods driving school and do other cool things too numerous to list. And all without paying a cent…

LATER: It’s interesting to see how this piece has been picked up across the Twitterverse — and slightly misinterpreted as a claim by me that Facebook won’t make money. I have no idea whether it will or not. All I was trying to say is that advertising isn’t necessarily the key to Facebook profitabiity. This is because the service is not primarily about content but activity. Maybe that can be monetised, but at the moment it’s not clear how.

What I was trying to say is that the hopes of content providers that they will make money from advertising may turn out to be fantasies. The only online business that really makes money from advertising is search. Which is why Google is as big as it is.

Cisco flips

From today’s NYTimes.

Now, however, Cisco seems to have found its way with the Flip. A couple of weeks ago, the company began putting out 10-second television commercials and Web clips that show snippets from the lives of both celebrities and “regular people.” The spots for Flip include a nod at the end to Cisco, when the company logo appears.

“We get unsolicited e-mails from people all over the country telling us how excited they were to capture some moment,” said Jodi Lipe, the Cisco executive who spearheaded the campaign. “We wanted to capture that authenticity in our television campaign.”

Some of the ads appear to document the banal. For example, there is one of a man picking at his bacon and eggs with a fork, and another of someone brushing his teeth. The obligatory parental video of baby with food dangling from her mouth? It’s there.

But, look more closely, and you’ll find that the authenticity of Cisco’s campaign comes with some caveats. The man brushing his teeth is the singer Lenny Kravitz. One of the most popular clips — four guys singing an ode to hamburgers in their car — turns out to be the creation of budding marketers from Hollywood.

Briefly Dreaming

We went to a school concert this evening at which a very talented lad played a guitar piece I’d never heard before — Briefly Dreaming of a Night Fly by Pietro Nobile. Afterwards I asked him how he’d come across it. “On YouTube”, he replied. So when I came home I went looking. There are several video performances. Here’s one I liked.