Market Overview

The Countdown to Facebook's IPO - What Could Spoil the Party?

With Facebook expected to go public in May, all eyes are on the social network giant and most expect it to perform well. Not only that, but analysts are hoping that the Facebook IPO, obviously the biggest IPO in some time, will provide a much needed boost to a market that has done little to inspire confidence of late.

Indeed, some analysts are hoping that the Facebook IPO, if it goes well, will open the door to more IPOs and create some positive feelings about the market which, despite a recent rally, has managed to conjure up a lot of cynicism.

Facebook is undoubtedly the cool kid on the block. It and Zuckerberg already had a movie made, starring Justin Timberlake and a bunch of other hipster actors. Facebook is the financial equivalent of the quarterback at the frat party; people hope to harness a little bit of his "cool" factor, simply by associating with him. Or, Facebook financial fans are like a girl who dates musicians in order to hang in those circles.

And yet it was created by a bunch of high school computer geeks. Who was it who said that the meek shall inherit the Earth? These were the guys who used to be ignored, the guys who were studying while other students were vomiting Boones Farm into each other's hair. Look at them go.

How did they do it? Simple. They turned us into them.

Facebook thrives because the world has been transformed into one of bedroom-inhabiting computer geeks. This writer included. Try to deny it, but how many of you can't wait to see how many of your friend requests were accepted? How many of you look forward to seeing the comments under the picture you posted of the cat looking angrily at the baby?

How many of you play (shiver) Farmville?

Well, here's a theory to throw at you. Everything goes full circle. Retro is cool. Look at it this way - who wears a digital watch anymore? Just when we think music can't get any more electronic, it is an acoustic artist who tops the charts. On that same note, young band's continue to release vinyl, no matter how many digital downloads are sold. Our children will probably be wearing flared jeans at some point.

So what is the social network version of that? What if we, and bear with me here, actually socialize with people again. Like, real people. What if the word "friend" actually meant something. You know, like it used to, in the old days.

It is the natural order of things. If Facebook is techno music, we all need a little Bob Dylan from time to time to keep us grounded. Imagine if we used our phones to talk to people, rather than to take pictures, make videos, synch our diaries and, hell, to check our Facebook profiles. We can thank Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) for that.

Guys, wouldn't it be nice if the you could be sure that the girl you have been flirting with for six weeks isn't in reality a 56-year-old truck driver called Larry? It is possible, you know. All you have to do is go out. Actually be social and actually network.

This isn't an anti-Facebook or, indeed, an anti-technology tirade. These tools can be useful and they obviously have a place in the modern world. But all too often, we see Facebook become the life rather than offer a glimpse into it.

Back to the original point. Facebook is about to go public. It will very likely do very well in the stock market, and it will make a lot of money for a lot of people. But which companies could spoil the party?

To start, how about Nokia (NYSE: NOK), or any other phone provider? Cell phones are a modern miracle. Back in the '80s, most homes had one phone line and teens would beg their parents to let them use it to call friends. There was little privacy - if a girl (or guy) called, mom and dad knew about it because they probably answered the phone. Nowadays, people can hide away in a corner and speak to anyone. For a while, THAT seemed like the end of civilization. Now, in the internet world, it seems like salvation. Please, talk to someone real.

Here's a wild idea - how about we all go out and see people in the flesh, socially. Try Buffalo Wild Wings (NASDAQ: BWLD) - you get to eat questionable food and watch a ball game at the same time. If you start to get Facebook withdrawal symptoms, we're not without sympathy. Simply turn to the person next to you and offer up an inane status update (suggestions: "I am very rich with love", 'I kicked ass today" or "I have no problem with the secret service getting prostitutes, how about you?"). Who knows, you might get a conversation out of it.

Buy a game that you can play with the family, like Monopoly from Hasbro (NASDAQ: HAS). First of all, it's a really good game and it blows Farmville, Yoville, Cityville or, to be honest, most video games out of the water. If Monopoly sounds like a dinosaur pastime, you've probably never played it. Importantly, more than one person plays it in a room at the same time, and talking is a vital part of the game.

Again, this isn't an anti-Facebook story. It's a great website and, when used properly, can enhance a real social life. But when it becomes your social life, it is time to switch the computer off.

Follow me @BCallwood.

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