|Over the next two years, Hammerbacher assembled a team to build a new class of analytical technology. His crew gathered huge volumes of data, pored over it, and learned much about people's relationships, tendencies, and desires. Facebook has since turned these insights into precision advertising, the foundation of its business. It offers companies access to a captive pool of people who have effectively volunteered to have their actions monitored like so many lab rats. The hope—as signified by Facebook's value, now at $65 billion according to research firm Nyppex—is that more data translate into better ads and higher sales.|
After a couple years at Facebook, Hammerbacher grew restless. He figured that much of the groundbreaking computer science had been done. Something else gnawed at him. Hammerbacher looked around Silicon Valley at companies like his own, Google (GOOG), and Twitter, and saw his peers wasting their talents. "The best minds of my generation are thinking about how to make people click ads," he says. "That sucks."
You might say Hammerbacher is a conscientious objector to the ad-based business model and marketing-driven culture that now permeates tech. Online ads have been around since the dawn of the Web, but only in recent years have they become the rapturous life dream of Silicon Valley. Arriving on the heels of Facebook have been blockbusters such as the game maker Zynga and coupon peddler Groupon. These companies have engaged in a frenetic, costly war to hire the best executives and engineers they can find. Investors have joined in, throwing money at the Web stars and sending valuations into the stratosphere. Inevitably, copycats have arrived, and investors are pushing and shoving to get in early on that action, too. Once again, 11 years after the dot-com-era peak of the Nasdaq, Silicon Valley is reaching the saturation point with business plans that hinge on crossed fingers as much as anything else. "We are certainly in another bubble," says Matthew Cowan, co-founder of the tech investment firm Bridgescale Partners. "And it's being driven by social media and consumer-oriented applications."