Cheers Facebook!

Matthew Reeves ponders the social media site's business model over a few drinks

I went to a bar the other day - one of those nice places where it's too dark and you aren't allowed to go and get your own drinks from the bar. A girl in a grey skirt, who must have weighed exactly the same as the black napkin she places under each glass, showed me to a table of my own friends, a table I could quite easily have found myself. It's one of those awkward �work friends" meet-ups where everyone's only knowledge of each other comes from the confines of one room and, so as not to come across as miserly, we agree that an overly expensive watering hole is the place to go to get lashed.

I don't understand why anyone other than oligarchs and those who like to push themselves and their finances to the limit go to these bars. Everything is designed to push the bill up and slow the drinking down. You're greeted by someone whose sole job is to walk you to a table. Once there, more waiting. Sit and look at a menu, knowing what you always drink. Then you order and finally, about the time you'd be on your third pint in a regular pub, your �New York Guinness" arrives in a glass more floury than Elton John's breadmaker.

It'd be bad for business if the place wasn't packed fuller than an Egyptian marketplace with �work friends" trying to prove to each other how well off they are. Luckily for the exclusive watering hole, alcohol and pride bring the credit cards out. Especially when the better halves are involved. No one's significant other wants to look cheaper than anyone else's, so drinks are bought liberally, as if running a tab is cool. Like running Libya, it is for a bit, but eventually it'll all end in tears.

As I sat there in the near pitch-black, I found myself chatting to a colleague's partner. A man whose whole income is earned by the making, maintaining and updating of busy people's social networking sites. Whether it's Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn or just a plain old, oh-so-90's website, his job is to create and run their �online presence". I'd have concluded he was a waste of vital resources if he hadn't admitted that all his work is done drunk from the comfort of his own underwear. This is my kind of chap. �So social networking is really important for these guys?", I found myself saying, as the P45 for my boring job burned brightly in my mind. �No, it's just rich old lawyers scared of technology", squawked the work-shy oaf.

That's social media, Web 2.0 and so on explained in a nutshell. The popularity of Facebook, Spotify and Twitter is not due to the fact that they offer a new kind of targeted advertising which can locate an exact, down-to-the-day-of-birth demographic as opposed to a plain old age and gender range, or the perfect audience through the breakdown of �likes", or when people �check-in" at H&M on their iPhones. It's down to the fact that the out-of-touch and thick are blowing money out of fear.

They are the equivalents of the punters of my exclusive bar, piling in to be ripped off because of pride. So are we facing a second dot com crash? No. It's just classic advertising. Whether it's cars painted as cans of drink, or people on stilts handing out chewing gum, there's no proof that it works. Facebook and all the guff that comes with it is no different - just a new extension of the existing market. So either all the execs choose against it, decide they know their audiences and can reach them themselves, or they succumb to these sites, relax, and have a drink� on a tab.

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