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Status update: Facebook to go public, raise $5B
“What new areas of business is it expecting to pursue beyond display ads?”
What’s not in the documents, yet, is Facebook’s market value. That figure could hit $100 billion, based on Facebook’s private valuations and the expectation that it will continue to grow at a rapid pace. Facebook also did not say what percentage of its shares it plans to sell.
Facebook heads a class of Internet startups that have been going public during the past year to some disappointing results. Among them: Daily deals company Groupon Inc., Internet radio service Pandora Media Inc. and Zynga Inc., which has built a profitable business by creating games people can play on Facebook.
Facebook stands apart, though. As it rapidly expands, people from Silicon Valley to Brazil to India use it to keep up with news from friends and long-lost acquaintances, play mindless games tending virtual cities and farms and share big news or minute details about their days. Politicians, celebrities and businesses use Facebook to connect with fans and the general public.
It’s becoming more difficult to tell whether going to Facebook is a pastime or an addiction. In the U.S., Facebook visitors spend an average of seven hours per month on the website, more than double the average of three hours per month in 2008, according to the research firm comScore Inc.
More than half of Facebook users log on to the site on any given day. Using software developed by outside parties _ call it the Facebook economy _ they share television shows they are watching, songs they are playing and photos of what they are wearing or eating. Facebook says 250 million photos alone are posted on its site each day.
To make money, Facebook sells the promise of highly targeted advertisements based on the information its users share, including interests, hobbies, private thoughts and relationships. Though most of its revenue comes from ads, Facebook also takes a cut from the money that apps make through its site. For every dollar that “FarmVille” maker Zynga gets for the virtual cows and crops it sells, for example, Facebook gets 30 cents.
Last year, Facebook got about $3.2 billion in advertising revenue, which accounted for 85 percent of its total. The rest came from what it calls “payments and other fees,” namely the app payments. Zynga alone accounted for 12 percent of Facebook’s revenue in 2011.
Research firm eMarketer had expected higher ad revenue _ $3.8 billion _ and higher overall revenue of $4.27 billion.
Analyst Debra Aho Williamson offered one reason that Facebook’s revenue is lower than she expected: its focus on the user experience. The company, she said, has been “very deliberate” about how it displays ads. There are no splashy banners plastered across users’ home pages and no intrusive video ads popping up left and right.
“Advertisers possibly want more,” she said. “They want more proof that advertising works.”
For all of Facebook’s success, the company has had its troubles. It has gone through a series of privacy missteps over the years as it has pushed users to disclose more and more information about themselves. Most recently, the company settled with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission over allegations that it exposed details about people’s private lives without getting legally required consent. And the legal fights over Facebook’s origins have been embarrassing and sometimes distracting, though Zuckerberg has consistently denied allegations that have depicted him as ruthless.
Zuckerberg has made it clear he isn’t especially keen on leading a public company. He has said many times that he prefers to focus on developing Facebook’s products and growing the site’s user base, rather than trying to hit quarterly earnings targets in an effort to keep investors happy.
By Mangosuthu Buthelezi
Memories of a long brotherhood tempered in common struggle
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