16 September 2009

Facebook Makes Friends -- and Money

Facebook, the social networking phenomenon, announced this week that it now has more than 300 million users worldwide -- having added 50 million just since July -- and has become "free cash flow positive," the Guardian reports on its Technology blog.

That means it is finally making money after five and a half years and an estimated $716 million of investment.

Facebook now has as many users as the entire internet population of China -- or of Europe's 10 largest countries combined. It is still growing in Britain and the United States, and its recently launched Facebook Lite is designed to appeal to users with slower internet connections in countries such as Brazil and India.

The news prompted speculation that the company could prepare for a stock market launch as early as next year, a rumour that senior executives have tried to squash in the past.

Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg, 25, seem to have settled on several key ways to bring in the money, the Guardian reports in a sidebar post:

* Self-serve advertising allows marketers to buy ads to put in front of users who precisely fit a desired profile. This has proved appealing for some big brands.

* In addition, almost anyone can walk up and buy space on the site if they have the cash -- including other Facebook users, who try to direct people to their profiles, fan pages or elsewhere in order to promote a cause or pitch a product.

* Users also can buy gifts and other virtual property to give to each other. This still seems like a crazy idea to some people, but it can be profitable. Think of ringtones, for instance.

* In addition, the company is working on a micropayments system that likely will allow it to take a slice of any transaction conducted through the site.

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