Facebook offices
Facebook offices
Caroline Ferstl

Over 150 years ago the Gold Rush began in California. It made some people very rich, but most people who were a part of it were only enriched by the experience.

Today, the state is making people dream again – but this time it’s silicon, not gold, that’s making them see big. The half-metal is used to make computer chips and is not to be confused with the silicone of breast implants - although there’s plenty of that out here too.

South of San Francisco, Silicon Valley draws men and women from all over the world – all of them hoping to get rich. Since a certain Mr. Hewlett and David Packard took $538 starting capital in 1939 and set up a semiconductor business in a Palo Alto garage, the place has possessed a kind of magic.

In the decades that followed, businesses like Intel, AMD, Google and Yahoo were born in the Valley, and since 2004, the new millennium turned the enthusiasm into real hype when a young man named Mark Zuckerberg started making headlines there.

Zuckerberg, now 28-years-old, had the chutzpa to turn down offers to buy his social network called Facebook for several hundred million dollars and then, on May 18, 2012, to go public with a $100 billion IPO.

But May 18 could also turn out to be a breaking point, because since that day there has been something damped about the company’s aura. Nobody wants to say it out loud, but the fact is that since going public the value of Facebook shares has been heading south. They are now worth about 50% less.

Since then some other high profile stock exchange newbies have bitten the dust. And the uncomfortable questions are starting to surface. Is social media hype going to turn out to be another bubble? Are billions of dollars of "silly money" going to disappear into thin air again?

Facebook itself doesn’t see things that way and has enlarged its premises by taking over offices once occupied by Sun Microsystems, which it is in the process of converting. The new offices have the feel of shoes several sizes too big – Sun had 29,000 employees before its takeover by Oracle, and Facebook currently has 3,500, albeit with the intention of growing that number.

The magic number: one billion members

Mark Zuckerberg, despite the setbacks is still considered something of a saint. The offices may be different, but he still has a Q&A session with employees every Friday, many of whom became millionaires after the company went public. But now they’re worried about their money. There’s a feeling that Facebook has been unfairly treated by the market. After all, the numbers are good, they’ve met expectations – and 955 million people worldwide use the social network.

Some say that maybe the market wanted the magic figure of one billion members. But the reason the stocks fell was actually the lack of future perspectives -- because despite the large number of users, Facebook has yet to demonstrate how it intends to bring in advertising revenues as more and more users migrate to smart phones and tablets. "We have the strategy, we just can’t talk about it yet," says Facebook VP for marketing David Fischer. And there’s another thing – the market hates secrets.

Despite or maybe because of the worries about Facebook, investors with large amounts of money continue to look for Silicon Valley vehicles to sink it into. They don’t care if they put it into one or five companies: the goal is to find that rare pearl, maybe the next Facebook, a future Zuckerberg.

The fever also affects recent graduates: "Hardly anybody goes for employment," says Lucas Artusi of Stanford d.school (Institute of Design). "Everybody’s a founder, an entrepreneur." The big money and ideas have also led to new recruitment styles: “aqui-hire” is the new buzzword for turbo-charged success – you don’t hire individual employees, you buy whole teams or start-ups. And global investors are throwing even more money at companies just before they go public.

And that’s an area where expertise is required – something that seems to escape investors struck blind and dumb in their frenzy over cloud and mobile, virtual reality, e-commerce. They prefer to spend money on quick success. Just how sustainable that strategy is, remains to be seen.

For now though the new ideas out of Silicon Valley continue to amaze and delight. Something about the place and the money seems to bring out the creativity in people. So you end up sitting near a young entrepreneur at Starbucks who’ll tell you that so far the link between social media and regular media hasn’t worked: "Nobody’s been buying movies off of Facebook," says Andrew over a caramel Frappuccino. He claims to have figured out how to make regular and social media mesh. But it’s a business secret. And he’s not about to let anybody steal his idea.

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Pro-life and Pro-abortion Rights Protests in Washington

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Håfa adai!*

Welcome to Thursday, where new Omicron findings arrive from South Africa, abortion rights are at risk at the U.S. Supreme Court and Tyrannosaurus rex has got some new competition. From Germany, we share the story of a landmark pharmacy turned sex toy museum.

[*Chamorro - Guam]

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This is our daily newsletter Worldcrunch Today, a rapid tour of the news of the day from the world's best journalism sources, regardless of language or geography.

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🌎  7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

• COVID update: South Africa reports a higher rate of reinfections from the Omicron variant than has been registered with the Beta and Delta variants, though researchers await further findings on the effects of the new strain. Meanwhile, the UK approves the use of a monoclonal therapy, known as sotrovimab, to treat those at high risk of developing severe COVID-19 symptoms.The approval comes as the British pharmaceutical company, GSK, separately announced the treatment has shown to “retain activity” against the Omicron variant. Down under, New Zealand’s reopening, slated for tomorrow is being criticized as posing risks to its under-vaccinated indigenous Maori.

• Supreme Court poised to gut abortion rights: The U.S. Supreme Court signaled a willingness to accept a Republican-backed Mississippi law that would bar abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, even in cases of rape or incest. A ruling, expected in June, may see millions of women lose abortion access, 50 years after it was recognized as a constitutional right in the landmark Roe v. Wade case.

• Macri charged in Argentine spying case: Argentina’s former president Mauricio Macri has been charged with ordering the secret services to spy on the family members of 44 sailors who died in a navy submarine sinking in 2017. The charge carries a sentence of three to ten years in prison. Macri, now an opposition leader, says the charges are politically motivated.

• WTA suspends China tournaments over Peng Shuai: The Women's Tennis Association (WTA) announced the immediate suspension of all tournaments in China due to concerns about the well-being of Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai, and the safety of other players. Peng disappeared from public view after accusing a top Chinese official of sexual assault.

• Michigan school shooting suspect to be charged as an adult: The 15-year-old student accused of killing four of his classmates and wounding seven other people in a Michigan High School will face charges of terrorism and first-degree murder. Authorities say the suspect had described wanting to attack the school in cellphone videos and a journal.

• Turkey replaces finance minister amid economic turmoil: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan appointed a strong supporter of his low-interest rate drive, Nureddin Nebati, as Turkey’s new finance minister.

• A battle axe for a tail: Chilean researchers announced the discovery of a newly identified dinosaur species with a completely unique feature from any other creatures that lived at that time: a flat, weaponized tail resembling a battle axe.

🗞️  FRONT PAGE

South Korean daily Joong-ang Ilbo reports on the discovery of five Omicron cases in South Korea. The Asian nation has broken its daily record for overall coronavirus infections for a second day in a row with more than 5,200 new cases. The variant cases were linked to arrivals from Nigeria and prompted the government to tighten border controls.


#️⃣  BY THE NUMBERS

¥10,000

In the northeastern Chinese city of Harbin, a reward of 10,000 yuan ($1,570) will be given to anyone who volunteers to take a COVID-19 test and get a positive result, local authorities announced on Thursday on the social network app WeChat.

📰  STORY OF THE DAY

Why an iconic pharmacy is turning into a sex toy museum

The "New Pharmacy" was famous throughout the St. Pauli district of Hamburg for its history and its long-serving owner. Now the owner’s daughter is transforming it into a museum dedicated to the history of sex toys, linking it with the past "curing" purpose of the shop, reports Eva Eusterhus in German daily Die Welt.

💊 The story begins in autumn 2018, when 83-year-old Regis Genger stood at the counter of her pharmacy and realized that the time had come for her to retire. At least that is the first thing her daughter Anna Genger tells us when we meet, describing the turning point that has also shaped her life and that of her business partner Bianca Müllner. The two women want to create something new here, something that reflects the pharmacy's history and Hamburg's eclectic St. Pauli quarter (it houses both a red light district and the iconic Reeperbahn entertainment area) as well as their own interests.

🚨 Over the last few months, the pharmacy has been transformed into L'Apotheque, a venture that brings together art and business in St. Pauli's red light district. The back rooms will be used for art exhibitions, while the old pharmacy space will house a museum dedicated to the history of sex toys. Genger and Müllner want to show that desire has always existed and that people have always found inventive ways of maximizing pleasure, even in times when self-gratification was seen as unnatural and immoral, as a cause of deformities.

🏩 Genger and Müllner want the museum to show how the history of desire has changed over time. The art exhibitions, which will also center on the themes of physicality and sexuality, are intended to complement the exhibits. They are planning to put on window displays to give passers-by a taste of what is to come, for example, British artist Bronwen Parker-Rhodes's film Lovers, which offers a portrait of sex workers during lockdown.

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com

📣 VERBATIM

I would never point a gun at anyone and pull a trigger at them. Never.

— U.S. actor Alec Baldwin spoke to ABC News, his first interview since the accident that killed cinematographer Halyna Hutchins on the set of the movie Rust last October. The actor said that although he was holding the gun he didn’t pull the trigger, adding that the bullet “wasn't even supposed to be on the property.”

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet and Jane Herbelin

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