Facebook Going Public, Aims for $5B IPO

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NEW YORK — Facebook made a much-anticipated status update Wednesday: The Internet social network is going public eight years after its computer-hacking CEO Mark Zuckerberg started the service at Harvard University.

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That means anyone with the right amount of cash will be able to own part of a Silicon Valley icon that quickly transformed from dorm-room startup to cultural touchstone.

If its initial public offering of stock makes enough friends on Wall Street, Facebook will probably make its stock-market debut in three or four months as one of the world's most valuable companies.

In its regulatory filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, Facebook Inc. indicated it hopes to raise $5 billion in its IPO. That would be the most for an Internet IPO since Google Inc. and its early backers raised $1.9 billion in 2004. The final amount will likely change as Facebook's bankers gauge the investor demand.

Joining corporate America's elite would give Facebook newfound financial clout as it tries to make its service even more pervasive and expand its audience. It also could help Facebook fend off an intensifying challenge from Google, which is looking to solidify its status as the Internet's most powerful company with a rival social network called Plus.

The intrigue surrounding Facebook's IPO has increased in recent months, not only because the company has become a common conduit —for everyone from doting grandmas to sassy teenagers— to share information about their lives.

Zuckerberg, 27, has emerged as the latest in a lineage of Silicon Valley prodigies who are alternately hailed for pushing the world in new directions and reviled for overstepping their bounds. In Zuckerberg's case, a lawsuit alleging that he stole the idea for Facebook from some Harvard classmates became the grist for a book and a movie that was nominated for an Academy Award last year.

Even before the IPO was filed, Zuckerberg was shaping up as his generation's Bill Gates — a geek who parlayed his love of computers into fame and fortune. Forbes magazine estimated Zuckerberg's wealth at $17.5 billion in its most recent survey of the richest people in the U.S.

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Depending on how long regulators take to review Facebook's IPO documents, the company could be making its stock market debut around the time that Zuckerberg celebrates his next birthday in May.

The IPO filing casts a spotlight on some of Facebook's inner workings for the first time. Among other things, the documents reveal the amount of Facebook's revenue, its major shareholders, its growth opportunities and its concerns about its biggest competitive threats.

What's not in there, yet, is Facebook's market value. That figure could hit $100 billion, based on Facebook's rapid growth and the appraisals that steered investors who bought stakes while the company was still private.

Facebook heads a class of Internet startups that have been going public during the past year.

The early crop has included Internet radio service Pandora Media Inc., professional networking service LinkedIn Corp. and daily deals company Groupon Inc. Most of those Internet IPOs haven't lived up to their lofty expectations. The list of disappointments includes Zynga Inc., which has built a profitable business by creating a variety of games to play on Facebook. Zynga's stock fell 5 percent below its IPO price on the first day of trading.

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 each month, more than doubling from an average of three hours per month in 2008, according to the research firm comScore Inc.