Facebook to go public, raise $5B
Facebook is going public eight years after its computer-hacking chief executive Mark Zuckerberg started the service at Harvard University.
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 start-up 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 indicated it hopes to raise five billion US dollars (£3.2 billion) in its initial public offering (IPO).
That would be the most for an internet IPO since Google and its early backers raised 1.9 billion US dollars in 2004. The final amount will likely change as Facebook's bankers gauge the investor demand.
Joining corporate America's elite would give Facebook new-found 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 Google+.
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.
Mr 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 his 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, Mr Zuckerberg was shaping up as his generation's Bill Gates - a geek who turned his love of computers into fame and fortune. Forbes magazine has estimated his wealth at 17.5 billion US dollars (£11 billion) in its most recent survey of the richest people in the US.
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 Mr Zuckerberg celebrates his next birthday in May.