There’s no denying: Facebook had a hell of a year.
From a media standpoint, its copious (and sometimes scandalous) headlines were a dream – even Hollywood agreed. There have been few stories to match Facebook’s, and when they come along, the world seems to pounce. But mistaking the company (or its 26-year-old billionaire CEO) as pure blog fodder would be a mistake. Projected to hit a wowing $2 billion in revenue this year, Facebook’s star is just beginning to rise.
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A few weeks ago, Facebook Manager of Corporate Development Michael Brown hinted at just a few of the site’s planned points of strategy for 2011: an aggressive push for more e-commerce, broader mobile use and even more talent poaching – nothing out of order there. As Forbes reported a few weeks ago, Facebook has been cultivating virtual currency system Facebook Credits since last year, and while its greatest success so far is a 30% cut from its partnership with Farmville creators Zynga, that’s no small feat. Don’t be surprised if a changed Facebook Marketplace heads to users this year. As the company sees more opportunity to put money into its Credits tool, not to mention it’s new deal-based tool Facebook Deals, more opportunities for spending will surface. Whether these will take the shape of an exclusive Facebook app store, or more third-party partnerships is unclear, but an all-in-one Facebook shopping center wouldn’t shock me in the slightest.
Whatever Facebook’s next round of moves will be, expect them to be radical. “We’re looking for hackers,” Brown told the audience at a San Francisco startup seminar earlier this month. “We’re looking for men and women who want to drink Red Bull or Mountain Dew and stay up all night, and turn an idea into an ugly-looking prototype that they can buy some Google search traffic on and test, and see what people think of it. We’re looking for people who are impatient. Who like to write code. Who want to crank stuff out, and think social is going to change the world. So hackers, welcome.” Translation: “Join up, or get out of our way.”
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Even more attention has been focused on the site’s continued expansion of its mobile platform, and as job postings go up, the buzz soars. New listings for mobile-focused positions require applicants be ready and willing “to build and manage a high performance team, develop and enhance successful partnerships and influence internal and external partners and industry stakeholders in the mobile industry” – just further proof the company sees an ache in the mobile experience just waiting to be soothed. Whispers of a Facebook phone made waves back in September only to be quashed by the company, but don’t be so sure it’s not on the way. As Facebook continues to become a major gateway tool to our everyday Internet experience, it would make sense to take this idea mobile, with smartphones running Facebook software, much like Google did with the Andriod platform. Using the Internet on a Facebook-equipped phone would allow the company to provide the user experience it so desires to conquer online. Named as the third largest web site ever, after surpassing Yahoo in November, Facebook users experience the web differently than non-adapters do with third-party site integration of recommendations and comments viewable only by those with Facebook accounts.
Though the site hasn’t been secretive about its mobile and commerce plans, there’s still one facet of its plans they’re keeping quiet: China. CEO Mark Zuckerberg is currently touring the country “on holiday,” yet he’s been in meetings with Chinese search engine Baidu; Sina, owners of microblogging service Weibo; and e-commerce company Alibaba. The government has long-blocked access to the site from within China, leaving its 1.3 billion population untapped. Access within the country would a huge get for Zuckerberg, whose biggest competition is search giant Google, still accessible, though unsteady within the Chinese firewall. Though not likely to be reached in the immediate future, a deal with China would secure Facebook’s inheritance of the “web throne,” not to mention add billions in revenue. At this point, even a mild return to China is necessary, as competitor Renren, the proclaimed “Facebook of China” is readying plans for a U.S. launch.
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Seeing as Google’s negotiations with the country were often less than friendly this past year, it wouldn’t be surprising for Zuckerberg’s Rainbow Tour to wrap up without major results. Still, the battle for China’s sphere of social media wages on. Stay tuned, it could get interesting.