You have a friend request from Santa Claus: How Facebook covered its site in gift wrap

You have a friend request from Santa Claus: How Facebook covered its site in gift wrap
·National Correspondent

If you want to know how a digital enterprise is faring in this fluxy world, try an experiment.

Don’t think about how visible a brand is, or how beloved of investors, or how exciting its management. Rather, ask your own darn self: Have you even thought about spending so much as one thin dime at that particular digital shop in the past month?

If the answer is yep, 11 cents or $1500 or $12.50, the company is humming along just fine. Or maybe even soaring, as Facebook suddenly was, shooting up 30% on Thursday, and dipping only negligibly on Friday.

“We were wrong,” admitted Richard Greenfield of BTIG Research, who’d been among those chanting sell-Facebook.

This isn’t exact science. Much of the rocket surge of Facebook stock is credited to an increase in spending on mobile ads, the Holy Grail for all tech companies these days. But it’s also clear, just from a glance at the News Feed, that Facebook doesn’t just want those Madison Avenue dollars: It wants yours, too.

Now, ask yourself: You didn’t spend any money at Facebook this quarter, did you? A little disbelief might inflect the question, which wouldn’t have even made sense a year ago. Facebook used to be a place where users ponied up information for access. Privacy and dignity, sure—but not money.

That’s changed. Many of our credit-card bills now reflect Gift payments to Facebook. “Real moments. Real gifts,” says the slogan. “Real money,” someone might add. This is not that kind of esoteric fortune-making that was promised in the IPO: dizzy initiatives involving awareness and advertising and partnerships. This is about the bell of a cash register, and the—get this—exchange of money for goods.

Cruise around on Facebook, reading airline complaints or bon mots involving Carlos Danger, and you now find yourself half at a checkout counter. Starbucks cards. iTunes cards. Philipp Keel calendars. Flowers. Into the cart they go, and then the birthday people are contacted; addresses are nefariously solicited; flowers and tunes and baked goods are bestowed.

And your muscle memory gets the point: Facebook is for shopping. The home page isn’t just plastered with display ads; it’s also dotted by little gift boxes tied with red bows. It’s a social network covered in wrapping paper.

Years ago, Amazon turned from being an online bookstore to a massive content site chocked, far fuller than any online magazine or channel, with reviews and lists and discussions and biographies and videos. You wheel around that galactic site, these days, doing makework “research” into various items, and then you happen to merchandise that reading and research by buying a few chunks of expensive consumer electronics. No ads. All sales.

Once Facebook followed suit and started selling regular, tangible, marked-up, cheap-to-make stuff—trinkets and coffee and chocolate—right in the middle of things, it seemed clear the company had remembered how to make money, real money, now and forever. Sell stuff. And we’re all buying. Thirty percent seems only just reward as this elementary lesson dawns for Facebook and its users.

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