Weekend news roundup: Facebook smartphone and the end of Silicon Valley’s Golden Age

21 May 2012

The weekend newspapers’ tech coverage was full of interesting insights into the Facebook IPO but what’s coming next is what most folks would really need to know. One Silicon Valley investor believes the Golden Age of Silicon Valley has passed, while there is a growing belief Facebook may invest in creating its own smartphone to reach the next billion internet users.

Is the Golden Age of Silicon Valley over?

‘The Golden Age of Silicon Valley Is Over, and We’re Dancing on its Grave’ was the attention-arresting headline on The Atlantic at the weekend.

Steve Blank a professor at Berkeley and Stanford and serial entrepreneur from Silicon Valley. Blank said it’s the beginning of the end of the valley as we know it. “Silicon Valley historically would invest in science and technology, and, you know, actual silicon. If you were a good VC you could make $100m. Now there’s a new pattern created by two big ideas. First, for the first time ever, you have computer devices, mobile and tablet especially, in the hands of billions of people. Second is that we are moving all the social needs that we used to do face-to-face, and we’re doing them on a computer.

“And this trend has just begun. If you think Facebook is the end, ask MySpace. Art, entertainment, everything you can imagine in life is moving to computers. Companies like Facebook for the first time can get total markets approaching the entire population.

“For Facebook, it’s spectacular. But Silicon Valley is screwed as we know it. If I have a choice of investing in a blockbuster cancer drug that will pay me nothing for 10 years, at best, whereas social media will go big in two years, what do you think I’m going to pick? If you’re a VC firm, you’re tossing out your life-science division. All of that stuff is hard and the returns take forever. Look at social media. It’s not hard, because of the two forces I just described, and the returns are quick.”

So, is Facebook working on a smartphone or not?

Immediately following the Facebook IPO The Guardian asked if a smartphone is next on the agenda for CEO Mark Zuckerberg?

With Facebook now sitting on $16bn after its flotation, will we see the massive social network do a Google and develop its own phone? The Guardian‘s Charles Arthur said don’t be surprised if the next big thing is a Facebook phone – running its own software and developed from top to bottom to involve you in the site all the time.

He said Zuckerberg’s team has been advised to do this directly, because it needs to reach the “next billion” internet users, and they are mainly going to be using mobile phones, not desktop or laptop computers. Selling its own phone would mean it could make itself the background hum of many peoples’ lives everywhere – and show adverts and collect data on its own terms.

What the other Facebook co-founder is up to

The weekend papers were full of Facebook post-IPO analysis, but the most interesting stories are about what is coming next. Take the other billionaire co-founder Dustin Moskovitz. He is focusing on a new productivity start-up called Asana, according to The New York Times.

Moskovitz helped found Facebook along with Mark Zuckerberg, Eduardo Saverin and Chris Hughes while at Harvard in 2004. His job was to make sure the computers straining to run Facebook’s expanding network never went down.

After leaving Facebook in 2008 with enough equity to make him one of the world’s youngest billionaires, Moskovitz, now 27, works on his own version of company management software for the networked age. He calls it Asana.

Asana is task-based software, a shared to-do list for the company. Work is assigned and completed by a potentially unending set of teams created on the fly. Asana is a Sanskrit word meaning “easeful posture.” Yoga practitioners think of it in terms of complex poses done effortlessly. “You should read a lot into the name,” Moskovitz said.

And what Facebook staff got up to

It’s an engineering thing. Apparently the staff at Facebook’s HQ took a more subdued approach to marking the company’s momentous IPO, opting for a sports bar, beer and barbecue chicken wings just down the street.

According to The Guardian, it looked like college kids out for a typical Friday night, but the scene in the Old Pro, an unremarkable bar tucked off a side street in Palo Alto, California, the heart of Silicon Valley, was the celebration of a cultural and financial milestone which mesmerised the world.

“Yeah, it’s been a big day,” grinned a lanky software engineer. “So we’re here chugging a few.” He checked his watch. “Still happy hour.”

He and his colleagues clinked beers, manifestly happy. Facebook had just completed its first day as a public company after one of history’s most frenzied share sales valued it at $104bn. The trading took place in New York but the company’s founder, Mark Zuckerberg, stayed with 2,000 employees at their colony in Palo Alto, the capital of social media.

As the largest shareholder, Zuckerberg (28), ratcheted up a paper fortune of $20.4bn. An estimated 88 employees saw the value of their individual holdings exceed $30m.

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John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years