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Who controls the future?
Anjana Menon/ - Feb 04,2012 00:46 AM

In the past week, the international business community has had only two talking points: Davos, the laddered annual elite jamboree in the snow-soaked peaks of Switzerland, and Facebook, the unstructured networking platform which connects anyone, anytime. Ironically, the theme at Davos "The Great Transformation: Shaping New Models&" rings far more true for social media icon Facebook, than it ever will for the World Economic Forum. What's worse, in the new world order, WEF trapped in its old ways, will need some of the Facebook philosophy to stay relevant.

The annual shindig in Davos, attracts some 2,600 participants and 1,000 journalists each year who crowd the icy slopes trying to capture the one phenomenon that will change the world. Yet, last year it missed predicting the Arab spring which got fair momentum on Facebook, with its 800 million active users. It's easy to see why internet networking, rather than an elite gathering of people, is shaping and influencing world events.

Mark Zuckerberg's social media site is built on an ethos opposite that of Davos. In a letter to investors, Zuckerberg says it's a network built from the bottom up, or peer-to-peer, rather than monolithic and top-down. And it's about making sure the best idea wins, not the person who is best at lobbying for an idea. It's about personal relationships versus professional ones, making it a seamless community that unites for a common cause.

Davos, on the other hand, is all about the pecking order. From the rare hologrammed ones to a raft of coloured ones, passes ring-fence a new class order that deconstructs any notion that people have gathered for a common cause. The networking among attendees, intense and unrelenting, is driven by business agendas.

It doesn't end there. The majority of attendees at Davos are above 40. Barely 17 per cent of them are women. Facebook has one of the youngest workforces in the world and the chief operating officer of Facebook, about to raise $5 billion in Wall Street's largest Internet IPO, is a woman. Sheryl Sandberg, incidentally, was also the female co-chair at the WEF this year.

While Facebook is all about being open, so open that it embraces the hacker culture that helps break structure, Davos screams secrecy, social order.

Everyone who attends the carnival knows that the real meeting they should have been at was the heavily guarded one at some posh hotel, between company heads and bankers or the other Davos elite — the political few. Some infamous ones such as the Informal Gathering of World Economic Leaders is one such. It's a grouping of the influential who determine what the not-so-elite should have. Facebook, on the other hand encourages the establishment to respond to ordinary people, be that a campaign against corruption or oppression. It aims to give everyone a voice, just as Twitter does.

Facebook draws its strength from being informal. An accidental public posting by a 16-year-old about her birthday bash in Germany led to 1,600 gathering for the party. WEF attendees though sign up months in advance for Davos. And some shell out big bucks for it — $1 million in fees, not to mention the wallet- thinning rates for hotels, barely- there cabs and dour security guards. And after sticking out the hat the WEF nets a few million dollars from the gathering. Last year its revenue was $185 million.

Facebook is free. Its revenue was $3.1 billion; its net income was a cool billion in 2011. It's creating 1,000 new millionaires in its employee ranks. Let's not doubt where the king makers of the future will huddle.

Anjana Menon is a Delhi-based business writer. You can send your comments to bsshoptalk@gmail.com
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  • Sat, 03:07: Kodak in the USA caused privacy challenges long before internet emerged @davos
  • Sat, 03:08: Are we living in the age of transparency and the end or privacy? @davos #wef
  • Sat, 03:08: RT @emikolawole: The likelihood of war is lower than it has ever been in Asia, says Mahbubani, because leaders are connect. @davos #WEFP ...
  • Sat, 03:16: Young entrepreneurs have more socially responsible mindsets than older generation @DAvos @wef
  • Sat, 03:17: E-bay CEO: Young entrepreneurs have more socially responsible mindsets than older generation @DAvos @wef
  • Sat, 03:23: Speak-to-tweet service by Google saved the Arab Spring! @davos @wef @globalshapers
  • Sat, 03:26: Kenneth Roth: Al Jazeera was more important for Arab Spring, than social media (confirmed by Amira from Tunisia) Surprise-surprise! @davos
  • Sat, 03:28: Very few companies have joined the Global Network Initiative @davos @wef
  • Sat, 03:28: Roth: Twitter has announced yesterday that it will allow national censorship @Davos #WEF
  • Sat, 03:36: Jarvis: if we are cut off the internet, is it a violation of human rights? @davos @wef
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  • Сб, 13:44: Packing for the WEF annual meeting at Davos. Will see if my fresh Fletcher knowledge of international economics and trade applicable there..
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