A return to the dotcom bubble days of 10 years ago then? Not necessarily. The bursting of said bubble may have shown the folly of chucking massive sums at geeks to create the ‘next big thing’, but Facebook has proven itself to be one of the few that are genuinely different. For one, it’s actually engaged in that decidedly undotcom practice of turning a profit – something that previous online casualties never seemed too concerned about. The company doesn’t actually disclose its financial performance, just to complicate matters, but analysts estimate it had sales of about $2bn last year, double those of 2009.
More importantly, it’s also one of the few – like eBay and YouTube – to have lived up to the hype and become central to people’s lives. Last year, according to internet analyst Experian Hitwise, the site beat Google to become the world's most visited website – an incredible achievement, given how useful Google has become for, well, pretty much everything. Facebook now has more than 500m active users, half of whom come to the site at least once a day. Given that most of these are willingly shoving their most intimate thoughts and photos on the site (and down their ‘friends’’ throats) it’s essentially the biggest revolution in web use since Google made search its own. With a potential audience like that, it's no surprise that the advertising cash is said to be pouring in.
It all suggests this year’s going to be another to remember for founder Mark Zuckerberg. Not only was he Time magazine's man of the year in 2010, he also managed another unlikely feat: becoming the focus of a Hollywood film about a social networking site that was actually quite good. Weird. Now he’s within poking distance of becoming one of the world’s richest people. Given that he owns around 25% of Facebook, any flotation at the new valuation would double his estimated $6.9bn fortune.
Speaking of which... Zuckerberg has always been keen to deny rumours that he’s heading public, but you have to suspect it could happen - particularly now Goldman is involved. There’s certainly no shortage of interest: the investment bank is rumoured to be setting up a ‘special purpose network’ to allow its rich clients to invest in the firm. Facebook shares, like those of Twitter and LinkedIn, can be traded on private secondary stock exchanges. But this has become so popular that the regulator, the US Securities and Exchange Commission, is starting to get a bit twitchy: it's apparently upping its scrutiny of how these shares are dealt, which might be another possible spur to push Facebook towards a public offering.
But other factors will play a part too. While all the plaudits keep pouring in, Facebook still needs to fund expansion, and to convince existing investors that their pot is still growing - although admittedly it seems to be having no problem on either front at the moment. But we live in hope that one day it’ll join its millions of users in sharing more intimate information about itself. Like how much money it’s making...