Is social media facing its moment of truth?

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IOL pic oct29 facebook internet addiction Associated Press

San Francisco - At the end of last year, the biggest questions that social media mavens were debating was when Facebook would go public and for how much.

It didn't take long for them to get their answer. In February, the social networking giant filed papers to go public at a valuation of 106 billion dollars, amid the kind of hoopla that hadn't been seen since the climax of the dotcom bubble in 2000.

That was when media giant Time Warner agreed to a merger with what was then the high flying darling of the internet, AOL, in a “deal of the century” worth a jaw-dropping 182 billion dollars. Yet the ink was hardly dry when the dotcom bubble burst turning the deal into one of the worst corporate fiascos on record.

“Fiasco” was also the word used by the Wall Street Journal to describe the fate of Facebook's record share launch May 18, when only the failure of the trading system and the intervention of underwriters stopped the share price falling below its launch level. But by the end of May the stock had lost a quarter of its value, sinking to a low of 17.55 dollars in September.

The King of Social Media, the giant of the internet with over 1 billion active members, seemed to have faced its moment of truth, and been found severely wanting. Facebook was a waning fad that couldn't possibly justify its valuation, naysayers said.

But, hopefully, long-term investors didn't dump their stock at that juncture. Facebook has come roaring with a stronger advertising platform and new money-spinning ventures, such as a Gifts service which allows members to buy each other presents, - quite a useful little trick when you have a billion birthdays on file.

Fears that users were rebelling against the ubiquity and incessant stream of social media also seem unfounded. While Facebook may not be piling on the users at the same rates it did when it was just a snappy start-up, other sites, such as Twitter, Google+ and Pinterest, are still piling on the users.

And Facebook itself is still enormously popular with the average US internet user spending eight hours a month on the site in September, according to Nielsen. The influence of such sites is unparalleled say experts.

“Collectively, we're creating the most valuable source of information in human history,” says Pat Kinsel, chief executive of a company called Spindle, which mines social media for information that's relevant to specific users.

“Every day, as 300 million photos are uploaded to Facebook and 400 million tweets are shared, every person, place, event, topic, and organisation is being documented and discussed.”

If social media proved its importance as a communications tool in the Arab Spring, the huge attention it garnered during the recent conflict in Gaza reinforced how dramatically the flow of information has changed, says social media expert Dale Peskin.

The Gaza conflict “could be seen as the first Twitter war, as the combatants used the microblogging platform to disseminate their propaganda directly and in real time to millions of people around the world,” Peskin noted.

“Concurrently, civilians on both sides used Twitter to tell the world what was happening - often doing so much faster than any journalist could.”

This use of social media is no flash in the pan. The world first learned of the military operation that killed Osama Bin Laden when a local Pakistani tweeted about the strange helicopters landing in his neighbourhood.

“More is coming,” Peskin said in a blog posting on his site, “Technologies applied throughout the world will accelerate the democratization of media, empowering the rest of the planet. Expect more chaos as we embrace new ways to communicate.” - Sapa-dpa

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