Facebook may aim for 2012 IPO and $100B value

Reports indicate the social network could go public as early as April

Facebook executives reportedly are looking to take the company public this coming spring with an eye on valuing the social network at more than $100 billion.

The company, the largest social network in the world with about 800 million users, may file for the IPO before the end of this year and to take the company public between April and June 2012, according to reports from the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post.

Facebook hopes to raise about $10 billion in its IPO.

The expected $100 billion valuation is twice the company's estimated value from January, when Goldman Sachs invested $450 million in Facebook and valued the company at $50 billion.

Facebook this morning declined to comment on any IPO plans.

"This could be the biggest IPO we've seen in years," said Zeus Kerravala, principal analyst with ZK Research. "There definitely is value in communities and being able to facilitate conversation. With 800 million users, that's about 10% of the world population connected through Facebook."

And since studies have shown that many people are so dedicated to their social networks that they'll update their status in the middle of the night, from the bathroom and even in the middle of a dinner date, this kind of social obsession only makes Facebook that much more valuable.

"When people wake up in the morning, Facebook is the first thing they check," said Kerravala. "People get their news from Facebook. If you want to tell people anything, you put it on Facebook. It's the fastest, best way to get information out to the masses.... There's no doubt that Facebook can fetch that kind of huge valuation."

Many industry observers have been waiting for Facebook's IPO as something of a bellwether for what could be the next wave of hot online investments.

A little more than a year ago, Facebook board member, venture capitalist and PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel said the company was considering an initial public offering for sometime after late 2012. But in November 2010, when asked about taking the company public, Facebook co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg told an audience, "Don't hold your breath."

There have been several noteworthy high-tech IPOs in recent months.

Groupon, which made its name in the local daily deals business, went public earlier this month, opening its first day on the market 50% above the $20-per-share price set for its appearance on the Nasdaq.

And last May, LinkedIn, a second-tier player in the social networking world, went on something of a wild ride during its first day being publicly traded. The company initially aimed for $45 per share but ended up seeing shares sell for more than twice that.

"Facebook has the biggest network out there," said Kerravala. "This is going to be interesting."

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

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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