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Its Financial Future In Question, Facebook Tries To Tell A Different Story

On its first day as a public company in May, Facebook's stock traded for more than $40 a share. On Thursday, investors could pick up a share for less than $20. Facebook has lost nearly half its value during its first few weeks on the Nasdaq. Institutional investors such as Fidelity are selling their stake. Facebook executives are now desperate to change the conversation about the company.

For years the vast majority of business stories about Facebook seemed to describe some kind of unstoppable force. A company that was doubling in size every year — with members who spent more time on the network month after month, and a user base so large it rivaled the most populous nations on Earth.

And then as Facebook prepared to go public, suddenly the only thing business writers and analysts were interested in talking about was the money.

Analyst Debra Aho Williamson says Facebook's projected annual revenues are now more than $1 billion less than what she and other analysts had expected before the company went public.

"So Facebook is now in the ranks of the big companies, and essentially it'll stop innovating the way we've seen innovation before," says technology researcher Vivek Wadhwa.

Anant Sundaram, with the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth, says, "We're talking about Facebook having to grow its revenues at between 25 and 30 percent per year."

Facebook Stories

They are among many analysts who recently have expressed their skepticism about Facebook's future as a business. Now Facebook is trying to change this narrative. The company is launching Thursday what it calls a micro-site, facebookstories.com.

It's really an online monthly magazine devoted to stories on how Facebook can be used.

"In collaboration with over 950 million people around the world, we're creating this map of human connections that really has never existed before," says Peter Jordan, one of the site's creators.

If Facebook were a religion, Jordan is a true believer.

"In a way we're charting that map of human connections and I think we don't even know what's going to be possible with this," he says. "And so for us it's really just exciting to see what people around the world are doing with this technology that we're building here."

Each month Facebook Stories will have a theme. This month it's memory.

"The first story that we're going to be releasing is about this guy Mayank Sharma in New Delhi, India," Jordan says.

Sharma was struck with meningitis and hydroencephalitis "and lost his entire life memories at the age of 27," Jordan says.

In a short film produced by Jordan, Sharma says that after his illness he didn't recognize his mother.

"I couldn't even recognize my own reflection — I had to get used to this idea that this is how I look," he says.

His family and friends were a mystery.

"It's the past that makes you who you are, right?" he asks. "So who am I?"

Jordan says Sharma used Facebook to rebuild and rediscover what he lost.

'Are You From My Past?'

Sharma would contact people on the site and ask, "Are you from my past?" or "Are you my friend?"

Using Facebook's "people you may know" function, Sharma has been able to "reclaim some of those memories that he's lost and get a sense of who is and who he was," Jordan says.

When he got sick Sharma had just five friends on Facebook; now he has close to 100. Although Jordan says Sharma's memory hasn't returned, he now at least has been told stories about his past.

This is the kind of story Facebook is now desperate to tell about itself — one where the network is transformative and maybe miraculous.

Brian Solis of the Altimeter Group says Facebook needs investors, advertisers and especially employees to buy into the idea that it's more than just another tech business built on hype.

On Aug. 20, employees who own Facebook shares will be allowed to sell them. The value of employee stocks has greatly diminished since its IPO," Solis says. "That has to hit the morale at some level."

And while CEO Mark Zuckerberg may say Facebook was not initially created to be a business, it is one now, and ultimately its success or failure will be measured in dollars and cents.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Steve Henn is NPR's technology correspondent based in Menlo Park, California, who is currently on assignment with Planet Money. An award winning journalist, he now covers the intersection of technology and modern life - exploring how digital innovations are changing the way we interact with people we love, the institutions we depend on and the world around us. In 2012 he came frighteningly close to crashing one of the first Tesla sedans ever made. He has taken a ride in a self-driving car, and flown a drone around Stanford's campus with a legal expert on privacy and robotics.
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