Clinging to Dying Web 2.0 Dreams

Being a startup is way more fun than being a business. Which is why we see Twitter and Facebook in seeming economic denial this morning. Who wants to confront financial reality, like Google?

Google, once a Silicon Valley fantasyland, increasingly looks like other bloated corporations: with antitrust concerns, fringe-benefit cutbacks and, reports the Wall Street Journal this morning, a robotic human resources operation. Literally:

The Internet search giant recently began crunching data from employee reviews and promotion and pay histories in a mathematical formula Google says can identify which of its 20,000 employees are most likely to quit... Google's algorithm helps the company "get inside people's heads even before they know they might leave," said Laszlo Bock, who runs human resources for the company.

Creepy and inhuman? Sure, but deemed necessary at a company where workers "continue to decamp to hot start-ups like Facebook Inc. and Twitter Inc."

Then again, those companies look less "hot" each day. Facebook was just offered venture funding that valued the company at $8 billion, according to TechCrunch — half what Microsoft valued the social network at a year and a half ago.

Twitter, whose utter lack of revenue has unintuitively been one of its key selling points in Silicon Valley, is now groping for various ways to make money as it races to double its headcount this year to keep up with user growth. Among the ideas outlined by co-founder Biz Stone yesterday: Begging some more money from wireless carriers as compensation for all the lucrative text-messaging traffic the microblogging service generates on their networks.

More free money, in other words. Because who wants to dive into the cold waters of economic reality during a recession? Not Facebook, which dismissed the investment it was proffered (over control of the board, supposedly) and the lower valuation along with it. And not Twitter, which rejected any thought of selling advertising as boring, or "not quite as interesting to us," in startupese.

Making money isn't much fun, especially if you have to do it in such a clichéd manner as selling ads. But recessions, like breakups and other misfortunes, have a way of bringing out the desperate banality in everyone.