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Bianca Bosker

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Facebook Is Officially 'The Man,' According To The Internet

Posted: 04/18/2012 2:57 pm

It was a "smokin'-hot social-networking site" and a "rapidly rising Internet star" offered $1 billion by an enormous corporation with millions more users.

No, not Instagram. That's Facebook -- circa 2007.

Those days as Internet darling are long gone, however. The big takeaway from the furor over Facegram isn't just that photos are popular online, or that Facebook needs a better smartphone app. The explosion of commentary and complaints following the $1 billion buy also offered insight into how the web feels about Facebook. And it isn't good.

Facebook, the Silicon Valley rebel that rebuffed Yahoo's 10-figure check, broke rules, and had the audacity to imagine itself taking over the web, has officially completed its transition from "cool" to "corporate" in the eyes of the Internet.

That's a stark contrast with Facebook's own messaging -- the social network prides itself on embracing the "hacker way" -- and it underscores a new challenge for the company. Facebook's inauguration into the elite country club reserved for corporate overlords doesn't mean people will stop using Facebook. But it suggests we don't like that we use Facebook, which is a dangerous thing.

Here are a few companies I don't like, yet still use: CVS, Time Warner, Verizon and United. They're services I tolerate because I have to, but ones I don't love, identify with or endorse to others. I'm putting up with them, and I'm also ready (in some cases, desperate) to spend my dollars and time elsewhere.

In the flurry of blog posts, tweets and status updates about the Instagram deal, Facebook was likened to Dr. Evil, Foxconn, the North Korean army, and the Evil Empire -- precisely the same nickname given to Microsoft in its monopoly phase.

In his (incredibly fun) take on the acquisition for New York magazine, Paul Ford suggested that Facebook buying Instagram was "like if Coldplay acquired Dirty Projectors, or a Gang of Four reunion was sponsored by Foxconn." He also called Facebook the "great alien presence that just hovers over our cities, year after year, as we wait and fear," and likened it to the "monolith in the movie 2001." Big and scary.

According to BuzzFeed's Matt Buchanan, "beloathed" Facebook's purchase of "beloved" Instagram means "the neighborhood just got demolished by giant bulldozers loaded with money and is being paved over with 800 million McMansions." Facebook as McMansion -- a symbol for complacent corporate culture and stodginess if there ever was one.

This text from a 12-year-old sums up Facebook's reputation conundrum to a tee: Buying Instagram would ruin the service, she told her father, because Facebook "is stupid and for old people and it will change Instagram."

Could all that grumbling be just grumbling? Definitely. Facebook users love nothing more than to complain about Facebook, while also giving it more and more of their time. But the subtext of the debate over Instagram's $1 billion coming-out party leaves little doubt that next to Instagram, the fresh-faced debutante Facebook is seen as the awkward, sweaty, middle-aged chaperone who stifles fun and turns on the lights during the final slow dance.

Of course even before last week, Facebook was more blue chip than startup. It's worth an estimated $93 billion, boasts nearly 1 billion users, and has more than 3,000 employees spread across more than two-dozen offices.

But in the tech world, mature doesn't always have to mean "the Man." Apple, bigger than Exxon and with more money than pretty much any institution without its own currency, has maintained its outsider gloss.

It seems possible that Facebook, which boasts a rags-to-riches story and its own headstrong, visionary, rule-breaking CEO at the helm, stands a chance of following in Apple's "think different" footsteps. And Facebook certainly seems to be trying. Mark Zuckerberg's S-1 manifesto was tinged with rebellion-speak and a disregard for the status quo. "Move fast and break things," he urged. "The riskiest thing is to take no risks."

The web's wariness of Facebook may be a product of Facebook's dominance rather than its size. Facebook has trounced its competitors and come out looking like the tyrant. By contrast, Apple has succeeded in being big and beloved in no small part because of the rivals it has defined itself against.

Consider the success of Apple's "1984" ad or "Mac vs. PC" campaign, where Apple seized on the opportunity to cast itself as the hip underdog up against the corporate machine and its stodgy suits.

We love an underdog, and we'd probably love Facebook more if we thought it were one. While snapping up Instagram allowed Facebook do to away with a competitor, it may be that a rival -- or even the illusion of one -- is exactly what it now needs.

 
 
 

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