Facebook is celebrating its fifth anniversary with much controversy regarding its future options to become a revenue generating business.
Unlike other Web giants such as Amazon, eBay, Google and Yahoo!, Facebook is yet to prove how it is going to translate traffic into cash.
In 2007, US software giant Microsoft bought a 1.6 per cent stake in Facebook for $240mn, valuing the social network on paper at $15 billion (Dh55bn).
Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg, who co-founded the social networking website with two Harvard University roommates five years ago, marked the occasion in low-key fashion with a blog post urging its 150 million members to send a virtual gift to their online friends.
Since its inception, Facebook is visited by netizens from all over the world and its owners have come all the way to the Emirates seeking financial support and turn it into a commercially viable venture.
"In the spirit of celebrating connections between people, we encourage you to use this gift to give thanks to your friends, colleagues and family members with whom you are connected on Facebook," he wrote.
Zuckerberg, 24, said he was "humbled" by the phenomenal growth of a website which began as a way for his fellow Harvard students to stay connected and has blossomed into a worldwide network that has dwarfed rival MySpace.
"Facebook was founded in 2004 to give people the tools to engage and understand the world around them," he said. "We are glad and humbled that so many people are using Facebook in this way."
Zuckerberg, who has a personal worth of $1.5 billion according to Forbes magazine, launched Facebook from his Harvard dorm room on February 4, 2004, with roommates Dustin Moscovitz and Chris Hughes.
It quickly spread to other schools around the country and eventually anyone aged 13 or older with an Internet connection was allowed to create a Facebook profile and post photos or update their friends on their status.
With the astronomical growth has come controversy also. Facebook has been accused of violating privacy, facilitating online sexual predators and hate groups and simply being a colossal waste of time.
It has also been touted as a force for good, serving as bridge between people and even as a tool to counter terrorism and repressive governments. Both Moscovitz and Hughes have since left the company – Moscovitz last year to set up an Internet technology firm and Hughes to join the online campaign of then-Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama.
Zuckerberg predicted a bright future for the Palo Alto, California-based Facebook and its 800 employees.
"Building and moving quickly for five years has not been easy, and we are not finished," Zuckerberg said. "The challenge motivates us to keep innovating and pushing technical boundaries to produce better ways to share information."
"There is no significant visible source of revenue other than investors," said Silicon Valley analyst Rob Enderle of the Enderle Group.
"There is a lot of potential there but they are still kind of living in this dotcom mindset where a business plan does not make a difference," he said. "And as we saw with the dotcoms, that has a very unfortunate end to it."
"Google was able to figure out fairly quickly how to monetise what they were doing and they became a giant and that is the potential for Facebook but they have got to cross that chasm," Enderle said.
Going public with an IPO, or initial public offering, would not appear to be an option for Facebook right now.
"Doing a public offering when you have no revenue? Good luck with that – particularly in this market," said Enderle.
Advertising could be a money-spinner but "the ad model doesn't seem like it works all that well for Facebook – though it could," said Enderle. "You know an awful lot about people, and so you would think they could do targeted ads."
Arabic Translation In Progress
Arabic translation of Facebook is reported to be in progress, according to the social networking website.
A total of 17,878 phrases of 24,000 Facebook phrases have already been translated by 1,000 volunteers and are subject to voting for accuracy.
With more than 256,000 users in the UAE network alone, and more than 1.5 million in the Arab World, the translation application launched by Facebook in 2008, is still awaiting volunteers to help provide a complete translation to launch the Arabic version.
Currently, 63 languages are open for translation by the Facebook community. The website said it was soon going to support translations for right-to-left languages such as Persian, Arabic and Urdu.
The footer language browser contains around 44 language, while Facebook has only 16 languages released and eight in process of being translated.
Among the languages supported by Facebook to this date are French, German, Japanese, Chinese, Spanish, Greek, Russian and Italian.
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