Facebook rakes in $2B in 2010

The social network is reeling in big ad dollars this year, report says

Not long after being criticized for not knowing how to make money, Facebook is looking to reel in more than $2 billion in sales in 2010.

Financial news site Bloomberg reported Thursday that the world's largest social network is expected to more than double its 2009 sales figures, which reportedly came in between $700 million and $800 million. Citing unnamed sources, Bloomberg also reported that Facebook executives were only expecting to bring in $1.5 billion in sales this year but exceeded those expectations by half a billion dollars.

"I'm not surprised they're finally effectively monetizing their assets," said Ezra Gottheil, an analyst with Technology Business Research. "It's been a combination of increasing page views, increasing customer interest in social media and a tidal wave of publicity."

It wasn't so long ago that Facebook was receiving a lot of scrutiny about its need to develop a solid business plan. The social network, while growing fast, needed a business model to take advantage of its momentum. Facebook answered its critics by beginning to draw in big advertising dollars.

According to Bloomberg, Facebook has become an attractive vehicle for major advertisers, including Coca-Cola, JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Adidas.

Facebook had no comment on the Bloomberg report.

Gottheil said Facebook has made some wise business decisions, but he was quick to add that it would be difficult to not make a lot of money with such a massive customer base. Facebook announced last July that the social network had pulled in its 500 millionth user.

"Facebook has certainly had a big turnaround, but it's not really a surprise," said Gottheil. "Any time you've got that much traffic, that much user information, and that much leverage with your users, the dollars are bound to show up eventually."

Earlier this week, Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook's CEO, was named Time's Person of the Year. Zuckerberg and his company also have been the focus of widespread media attention this year. The movie The Social Network came out this fall, focusing on Zuckerberg as he created the company that quickly made him a billionaire.

However, Gottheil also noted that Facebook needs to be careful with users' privacy because that could be the company's Achilles' heel.

This past year, the social network has found itself in the middle of several contentious privacy debates with angry and frustrated users.

While privacy advocates have pummeled the social network with criticism for several years, the issue heated up last April after Facebook unveiled a bevy of tools that would allow the sharing of user information with other Web sites. That move caused an uproar among users and even prompted a handful of U.S. senators to send an open letter calling on Facebook to amend its privacy policies.

And in August, Facebook developers had to quickly fix a bug that allowed spammers to harvest users' names and photos from the site.

Then this fall, Facebook admitted that applications made for the social network, such as FarmVille, Texas HoldEm Poker and FrontierVille, have been sending users' personal information to dozens of advertising and Internet-monitoring companies.

"They need to manage privacy and security issues to stay on track," Gottheil said.

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed . Her e-mail address is sgaudin@computerworld.com.

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