Lloyd Dobler and the Facebook conundrum

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Say hello to the newest VP at Facebook.

Lloyd Dobler, kickboxing enthusiast, protagonist of Say Anything, and idealistic rom-com champion extraordinaire, missed Facebook by a generation.  But if he were looking for work today, he’d be knocking on Mr. Zuckerberg’s door.  His one true goal in life, after all, defines Facebook biggest problem.

Lloyd famously rambled:

I don’t want to sell anything, buy anything, or process anything as a career. I don’t want to sell anything bought or processed, or buy anything sold or processed, or process anything sold, bought, or processed, or repair anything sold, bought, or processed. You know, as a career, I don’t want to do that.

For me, there is a straight line between Lloyd Dobler and Facebook’s infamous IPO flop.  Sure, there are a lot of clinical reasons for the early underperformance of FB on NASDAQ.  Morgan Stanley surely played a role, and Megamind Zuckerberg apparently went a little overboard on his personal valuation of the stock.

But the reality is that while the world loves Facebook, it doesn’t actually produce anything.  It connects us.  It entertains us.  Its value, though, can’t be measured in returns as evidenced by its struggle to monetize.  It is a brilliant platform that even at its peak so far can be described with that haunting word: potential.

FB has the potential to be anything, to say anything (get it?), and it’s testing the waters on all of it. To date, though, it has mostly succeeded in just expanding…and expanding…and expanding.

Facebook’s problem is an outstanding metaphor for the ambiguity of modern communications.  With a continuous flow of new tools, we have the exhilarating challenge of balancing traditional channels against new devices.  Magazines and newspapers still have appeal in their original format, but even the most well-reputed online outlets are shifting to a blog-heavy environment that favors searchability over headlines — they want readers to seek and discover on their sites, instead of highlighting stories that editors believe will grab the biggest swath of their audience.

Twitter, meanwhile, continues to hover between a legitimate news source and an overwhelming stream of blather.  Apps like Flipbook redesign the reading experience, while Pocket turns web browsing into an on-demand experience.

Sifting through it all, we come back to the refrain: “what does it do?”  Does it work?  Does it make us stronger?  Weaker?  Foolish?  Brilliant?

Of course, it’s difficult to answer those questions sitting on the sidelines.  We have to marry a traditional understanding of media goals with a fascination for new opportunities.  Along the way, we’ll take solace in the fact that we always wanted Lloyd Dobler to stay true to himself, and we knew in our hearts that he would make it as a VP at Facebook:

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