There is a lot to ponder in the Facebook WhatsApp deal but one thing that struck me is how Silicon Valley has changed.

It has always been a place rife with existential questions about purpose and survival but now it's about leaping off cliffs and betting big on the future.

Compare Facebook's bid for WhatsApp to Hewlett-Packard's purchase of Compaq in 2002. The amount HP paid and ultimately what Facebook will dole out is roughly the same -- $19 billion.

HP, founded in 1939, struggled for years to find growth outside of its lucrative printer business. The board set its sights on Compaq's personal computer and enterprise divisions as a way to complement its strengths and shore up its weaknesses.

And although the merger resulted in a big shareholder battle, one could argue that the deal made some business sense. Compaq, founded in 1982, had a long balance sheet, sales channels, customers. It has problems but it was a business.

Forget that playbook.

Now, Internet firms of all sizes are in a race to grab a piece of the future. No one knows what that is exactly except it's mobile. In this strange new Valley, apps are born and grow in obscurity only to appear one day to announce they already dominate the planet.

Companies like Facebook are not sitting back waiting like an elder statesman for it to all shake out.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg took a couple weeks to propose and seal the WhatsApp deal, according to reports. In HP's case, the shareholder battle took months and left a cloud over the deal. HP's stock plummeted and stayed low.

Even though the amount Facebook offered to WhatsApp is more than any amount offered to any Silicon Valley company, the stock market has so far barely blinked.

That's surprising given that the social networking giant has bet the house on a five-year-old company with no marketing, uncertain revenue, 50 employees and a stated goal of not badgering its customers with advertising. With WhatsApp, there is no need for a user to figure out how to describe one's gender as you do now on Facebook or read lengthy privacy policies. The Mountain View firm, which claims nearly 500 million users worldwide, doesn't really want to know anything about its customers. And it doesn't store any messages sent.

Comparing Facebook-WhatsApp to HP-Compaq isn't perfect, I know. HP is a legacy company that has fought to stay relevant. Facebook is on the top of the social networking heap and is taking risks so that it stays there.

But in some ways, the problems are the same: Where is the future going? Success and even market dominance do not predict a company's longevity.

The Facebook WhatsApp deal also points to other differences from the old Valley.

For example, marketing.

Sure engineering is key but marketing has long been the life blood of tech firms. To get big fast, the goal of many companies, involves getting the firm's name out there.

But the WhatsApp story undermines that model.

"WhatsApp didn't grow with a single dollar of marketing expenditure," said Debra Aho Williamson, principal analyst at eMarketer. "During the dot-com boom, companies got funding and then bought ads in the Superbowl. As WhatsApp shows, you can get big without any advertising."

Contact Michelle Quinn at 510-394-4196 and mquinn@mercurynews.com. Follow her at twitter.com/michellequinn.