Posts Tagged Facebook

Asian Perspective: Why networking sites can be addictive

1st August 2010
HUNDREDS of online social networking sites (SNS) are available these days catering to various interests — friendship, dating, business networking, among others.Sites like Facebook, MySpace, Urkut, hi5, Bebo and Friendster are very popular.

Almost 85 per cent of Malaysia’s online population belongs to one or more of these sites. Of the many SNS, Malaysians have taken a liking to Facebook which has a 77.5 per cent reach of the web population.
This phenomenon, states a report on social networking activities by comScore Inc, is common in most Asia Pacific countries such as the Philippines, Australia, New Zealand, Indonesia and Singapore.

What drives online users to Facebook?

The ability to establish and maintain relationships is the primary drive, says Dr Adrian M. Budiman, a senior lecturer at Universiti Utara Malaysia. It could be real contacts (established in real life), virtual contacts (established online), or old relationships.
Adrian, who conducts research in new media and culture, says there are several interesting reasons why Facebook appeals to the online population.

“It is a tool for members to boost their self-esteem. The more friends they have, the more popular they feel. They receive feedback for the content they publish though the site.

“There is a sense of constantly being surrounded by a circle of friends.”
Another reason, he says, is the voyeuristic tendency to view other people’s information in private.

“People want to explore other people’s personal lives without suffering negative social consequences. It also provides a platform to rekindle old relationships.

“The ability to search for old friends and colleagues, former romantic partners, and discover their current status is quite appealing for some members.”

He says the majority of the younger generation (21 years and below) embrace social networks more comfortably than the older generation, and tend to be more liberal in revealing personal information through the site.

While younger people are interested in making new friends, the older generation is more interested in maintaining existing friendships through this medium.

“For younger people, it is their primary method of communication in some cases. In my study, I have discovered that the older generation still has a tendency to value human communication as superior and have greater respect for traditional values and morality,” says Adrian.

He believes it is not all bad.

“It may enhance social interaction. The ability to communicate through interactive media allows more options and more frequent interactions with our contacts. I have found that existing relationships formed in real-life may be strengthened through Facebook.”

Nonetheless, he agrees that some relationships initiated through Facebook may be superficial.

“Before the popularity of interactive media, a ‘friend’ was associated with a person with whom he had a positive relationship with. This is no longer true with the advent of new media.

“The idea of ‘friend’ itself degrades the value of friendship since a Facebook ‘friend’ can be as distant as a friend of a friend of a friend whom we know nothing about.”

Julian Hopkins, a doctoral student at Monash University Sunway Campus who researches social media, says for some people, retreating into the virtual world to make friends can be a means to overcome social awkwardness or loneliness.

“I think that is in the minority, and is not the main reason for people using SNS.”

The fascination with self-display as seen on SNS is not unusual says Hopkins. It only seems more obvious because it’s online and archived.

“We all self-display all the time. With technological advances, especially digital photography, a lot more of that is happening now.

“Doing something such as posting photos of a party online is a way of reinforcing ties with other people who went to the party.”

One of the biggest mistakes in the public debate on SNS, says Hopkins, is that it is assumed the generation of “digital natives” are not concerned about privacy.

While these platforms offer users the ability to disclose a wide variety of personal information it also differentiates between public and private, where public means that a profile is available to anyone and private means that it is only for selected friends.

“Facebook is popular because users think that they are only sharing with people they want to share with.

“Teenagers, for example, may want only people like them to see their profile but they do not want the same attention from an adult.

“One noticeable trend in this regard is that, as more and more parents go into Facebook, young people are creating multiple profiles — one for the ‘parent public’ which includes their school, potential employers and one for their own public.”

Generally, he says, people are ignorant about the risk factors when using these platforms. Many don’t understand that their indiscretions will be online indefinitely.

“Users must realise that anything that goes online may be seen by their parents, their teachers, their future partners, their future employers and even their children.

“I don’t think social networks are damaging. It only becomes a problem when people reveal things that come back to haunt them or they become addicted to it.”

Read more: Why networking sites can be addictive


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Yes, we can bring law and order to the Wild West Web

By Neil O’brien
Last updated at 10:23 AM on 19th July 2010

The setting-up of a Facebook tribute page to the gunman Raoul Moat gave voice to a wave of emotion from some that surprised and shocked Britain.

The expressions of support and sympathy for Moat’s actions and the vitriol directed towards the police and his ex-partner revealed an astonishing disregard for both social norms and the rule of law.

The sheer hatred underlying some of the messages rendered them both too offensive to print in mainstream media, and simply incomprehensible to the vast majority of the public.

Controversy: The setting-up of the Facebook group in tribute to Raoul Moat has shocked Britain
Controversy: The setting-up of the Facebook group in tribute to Raoul Moat has shocked Britain

David Cameron captured this exactly when he said last week: ‘It is absolutely clear
that Raoul Moat was a callous murderer, full stop, end of story. I cannot understand any wave, however small, of public sympathy for this man.’

It is difficult not to be struck by how unequivocally the Prime Minister responded with his swift condemnation of the material on the site. We have almost become used to being a society where the default is ‘non-judgment’.

The last Government was particularly odd in this regard. It combined a desperate desire to avoid moral judgment with a hair-trigger ­willingness to pass all-encompassing legislation – sometimes to an absurd degree.

Mr Cameron did precisely the opposite; he didn’t rush to regulate, but he did provide moral leadership. As a result, common sense prevailed and the page has since been removed from the site.

But in this case, the issue is really something more than freedom of speech, which is so often the defence used by providers of platforms, such as Facebook, to justify internet content.

Yes, the internet is a wonderful thing, providing access to a wealth of information that was unimaginable even a decade ago. But there is a darker side, too.

We must protect the right of people to say what they wish, however unpalatable it may be. That more than 30,000 people apparently signed Moat’s tribute page – many of their messages were said to be deeply misogynistic and even an incitement to violence against the police – is something that we should be concerned about.

Even a few decades ago, people would have been totally appalled by the comments. But now they are seen as ironic or normal.

Prime Minister David Cameron Angry: Prime Minister David Cameron voiced his disappointment with the setting up of a tribute page on Facebook to killer Raoul Moat – it has since been taken down

The internet, it seems, has become the Wild West of the written word. It is unregulated – or rather, the regulation does not appear to be enforced – in a way that would seem bizarre for any other form of media. As it stands, publishers, the printed Press and broadcasters are strictly regulated as to what they can say.

Any columnist or commentator expressing some of the sentiments on Moat’s tribute page would quickly – and justifiably – find themselves facing the wrath of the Press Complaints Commission or Ofcom, or even criminal investigation for ­incitement to violence.

Yet advocates of an unregulated internet commonly argue that blogs and social networking sites are no more than ‘e-age’ ­versions of a pub conversation. This is disingenuous. Rumours and gossip, slur and libel can be put up on the internet for anyone to see, and whizz round the world in seconds at the click of a mouse.

‘Going viral’ gives them the power to shred business, harm lives and ruin reputations.
Only last week, a judge warned jurors against researching cases on the internet after a teenager was found guilty of contempt of court for texting false rumours about a defendant to a member of the jury hearing his case.

It is damaging enough that people’s reputations can be unfairly maligned by internet gossip. But baseless rumours can leak into mainstream media.

It has been suggested that wall-to-wall coverage of the Moat case was influenced by views expressed on Facebook. When facts are thin on the ground, the mob mentality of some internet sites risks creating a false impression that the views of a vociferous minority are widely held or that fiction is fact.

Ask France’s First Lady and her husband Nicolas Sarkozy about the power of internet ­chatter. Earlier this year, speculation appeared on the social networking site Twitter that Carla Bruni had enjoyed a close relationship with a musician. This was rapidly relayed on other websites, and within a few days had appeared in newspapers and magazines in France, and picked up around the world.

Since the run-up to the World Cup, the web has been awash with lurid chatter about foot­ballers, High Court super-injunctions and sex scandals.

This is where the analogy of the internet as giant pub conversation really breaks down. Pub conversations can be easily forgotten and brushed off – or the landlord can throw a boorish, rude customer out of the pub.

Others say the Raoul Moat internet shrine was no different from the flowers and cards left at the site of his death. Yet the cards and flowers are seen by few and will soon be cleared away. But once on the internet, the genie, so to speak, is out of the bottle.
However, we know the internet is not immune from the law.

Two years ago, company director Mathew Firsht sued over a mischievous Facebook entry. Retired teacher Jim Murray was awarded damages over a former pupil’s insults on Friends Reunited.

There have been successful prosecutions for copyright and data protection violations.

But they seem rare, and we appear resigned to applying different standards where the internet is concerned.

Part of the difficulty is that the worldwide web is just that – a jurisdictional nightmare where communications cross national boundaries and multiple time zones. Add to this the pace at which the technology develops and it is clear that internet regulation will continue to be a thorny issue long after this media storm has blown itself out.

Doubtless, the Moat scandal will not be the last to shock us. But it has been instructive. In a sense, the internet holds up a mirror to our society. It shows us some things we might have preferred not to see.

But draconian legislation is not the answer. The laws that frame freedom of speech in books, newspapers, magazines and on television – copyright, libel and incitement – all apply to the internet.

It is simply that it is a new and little-understood medium and there is little attempt, in general, to apply the law. And yet it can be done, as the record industry showed when it successfully prosecuted over illegal free downloads.

On top of the existing laws, there is the little-known Electronic Trading EC directive of 2002, which gives all of us the power to fight back.

The directive gives providers of sites such as Facebook immunity from prosecution only if they act promptly to remove offending articles from the web when a complaint is made. Thus, if we want a ‘cleaner’ internet, it is up to us as individuals to complain about offensive material. Websites such as Facebook make it a simple matter to do so and they are compelled by law to comply.

In the digital age, Government cannot legislate for every problem. On the net, as in real life, it is the responsible actions of individual people and communities that ultimately create a good ­society – not government regulation.

There are laws and regulations, but we don’t obey them only because there is a policeman on every corner .

It seems our Prime Minister has instinctively understood this new challenge and provided moral leadership, rather than ill thought-out legislation. It is up to us as a society of internet users to use the existing laws to get the worldwide web we would like to see.

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New Asian customer put in spotlight at Web in Travel 2010

Wednesday, 14 July 2010
Media Asia Booming
Facebook Travel Internet

The new Asian customer and the way she plans, books and buys travel will be in the spotlight at this year’s Web In Travel conference taking place in Singapore in October.

“There is a new customer emerging in Asia,” said Yeoh Siew Hoon, owner of the conference. “She is extremely value-conscious and tech-savvy in the way she seeks and accesses information on the web, comparing not only prices but also what other people are saying about a product or service.

“Game-changing gadgets such as the iPhone or the iPad, social networks such as Facebook and travel review sites such as TripAdvisor are just some of the factors that are influencing traveller behaviour across the region.

“We also have a very Internet-savvy and mobile-connected generation of customers emerging in Asia. In July, Asia became the largest producer of tweets on Twitter and some of Facebook’s biggest growth markets are found in the region.”

This, she said, explains why TripAdvisor, the biggest travel review site in the world, and Facebook are setting up regional headquarters in Singapore.

Social networking activity is on the rise in Asia, as tracked by comScore, the global company that gathers digital media intelligence, showing that 50.8 percent of the total online population in the Asia-Pacific region visited a social networking site in February 2010, reaching a total of 240.3 million visitors.

Brett Henry, Vice President Marketing, Abacus International, the travel technology company which processes most of the region’s air reservations, said, “The people going to social networks are no longer just the younger generation. Granted that in Asia, there is still a market for the 50s and above who are less Internet savvy and prefer to book offline. But if you project ahead, in a decade or less, the Internet and social media savvy Generation C will be ruling the world.”

In India, for instance, more than one-third of its total Internet population visit travel sites with comScore reporting that top online travel brands are seeing double and triple-digit growth as consumers take to the web in search of deals.

AirAsia’s Facebook fan page grew from zero members to more than 200,000 within a year and now stands at 339,009 members.

Said Kathleen Tan, regional head of commercial for the airline group which will fly its 100th million passenger by the fourth quarter of this year, “With an average of 6,500 fans and over 33,000 visits to our fan page weekly, we know that they are taking us seriously on the social media front.”

Said Yeoh, “Everyone recognises the huge travel demand there is in Asia, not only in the major population areas of China and India, but also across the whole of South-east and North Asia. People are travelling either for the first time, thanks to low cost airlines, or for the umpteenth time, and they are branching out to try new places. And they are being adventurous not only in where they travel to but how they plan and book their travels.”

In July as well, Google, which commanded 72 percent of the search market in the US in May 2010 (Experian Hitwise), paid US$700 million to acquire ITA Software, a company whose technology solution helps travellers search for air fares.

“This development which sees Google moving into the travel vertical can only benefit travellers as this will spur the industry to improve search and make it easier for us to look for the best air fares to anywhere,” said Yeoh.

It is against this backdrop that leading travel marketing and technology experts from around the world will gather at the Web In Travel conference to discuss and debate the latest customer trends emerging in Asia.

Represented on the speakers list are new brands such as TripAdvisor;, the publicly-listed Japanese meta travel search site;, the leading online hotel portal in South Korea; NileGuide, the US-based travel planning site; Holiday IQ, the India-based travel media site that’s expanding in South-east Asia; and Indonesia’s Mandala Airlines, which is launching international services to Singapore, Hong Kong and Macau soon.

Established online travel brands such as Wotif, ZUJI/Travelocity, Expedia and will also be represented, along with the leading players in search, revenue management, social media, branding, marketing and distribution.

“What we wanted to do this year was to widen our net to cover players who are making waves in Asia Pacific, international brands who are entering the region and emerging markets such as Indonesia and Korea,” said Yeoh.

Close to 60 speakers have been confirmed, with more likely to be added in the months to come. Among the speakers are “archangel” investor Morten Lund who has co-founded and invested in more than 50 high-tech startups including Skype and online stockbroker Zecco; Adrian Hamilton-Manns, CEO of Mandala Airlines in Indonesia; Cui Guang Fu, CEO, Elong, China; Gerry Samuels, CEO, Mobile Travel Technologies; Hrush Bhatt, founder and director of Cleartrip/Small World in India; Marc Charron, managing director of TripAdvisor APAC; and William Bao Bean, partner, Softbank China & India Holdings.

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Pakistan Monitors Websites For ‘Blasphemy’ Against Islam

Free speech is precious. We don’t realize how much but maybe as Pakistan monitors websites for “blasphemy” we’ll begin to understand. Pakistan banned Facebook last month when someone wanted people to submit their drawings of the Prophet Muhammed. Now Google, Amazon, Yahoo, Bing and others will be monitored for what Pakistan deems “blasphemous.”

YouTube was also banned by Pakistan for sacrilegious material according to their definition of sacrilege. The monitoring of the websites in Pakistan began with the banning of 17 websites by court order. These sites contain, according to the LaHore High Court, blasphemous material. My Way News reports that one of the banned sites is a site called The “blasphemy” in this case is headlines such as “Islam: The Ultimate Hypocrisy.”

Pakistan is not the only country that has monitored or banned websites. China has monitored websites searching for blasphemy against their god; the government. Other Islamic countries do and will most surely follow Pakistan’s lead in suppressing freedom of speech. Islamic extremists can’t afford for other thoughts and ideas to penetrate their world of indoctrination.

Here in the states, the Obama Administration is looking to “regulate” the internet. Regulation is just another term for monitor. If the Administration has their way, we could be on the slippery slope to outright suppression of our First Amendment rights if they are allowed to monitor sites that may be in opposition to Obama’s policies.

Pakistan monitoring websites for “blasphemy” is a scary thing. The internet is a place for the free exchange of thoughts and ideas. Sure there are wacko’s out there, but even they have the right to speak their peace.

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In Pakistan, a censor’s hand in Facebook, Twitter woes?

By Danny O’Brien/CPJ Internet Advocacy Coordinator
21 June 2010

Last week, users of Facebook and Twitter in Pakistan began reporting a strange security problem. When they visited those sites, they found they were logged in—but with the accounts and privileges of complete strangers. Private Facebook information and Twitter direct messages belonging to other users were viewable, and the surprised Pakistani users had complete control over these accounts. Soon after the problem was noticed, Facebook and Twitter themselves blocked anyone attempting to log in from Pakistan. Eventually the problem went away.

What could have caused such strange and privacy-violating behavior? From the reported symptoms, it sounds like Pakistan’s main Internet Service Provider (ISP), PTCL, was experimenting with a transparent proxy server for certain Web sites. Proxy servers are machines that sit between a user and the Web site they visit, and rewrite or replace the content of the original destination. Proxy servers often have positive uses; volunteer-run proxies, for example, are famous for offering a way around censorship in Iran and China.

An uproar over a Facebook campaign may have led to some strange security problems for the site. (AP)

PTCL’s experimentation occurred shortly after Pakistan had enforced (and then lifted) a block on Facebook. (A campaign on Facebook had been soliciting caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad, which many Pakistanis found blasphemous.) Such timing suggests that PTCL might be using proxies to construct a better local censorship system, not evade it. One configuration that an ISP-wide proxy such as PTCL seems to be using is a relatively sophisticated form of Internet blocking called CleanFeed. It’s used by British Telecom in the United Kingdom to block Web pages reported as child pornography.

The difference between CleanFeed and the current filtering used in Pakistan is that CleanFeed-style systems permit individual Web pages to be blocked, rather than whole sites. That means that in the future, if the Pakistani authorities demand that a single page on Facebook has violated local laws, ISPs there could block that single page, rather than the whole of Facebook.

One side effect of the CleanFeed system is that traffic to sites that host those Web pages (but no other traffic) is redirected through a set of proxy machines at the ISP. If those proxy machines were misconfigured, you’d see exactly this kind of broken behavior that Pakistani users saw this week. Individual PTCL users would receive each others’ logins on censored sites, but not on others.

The evidence of PTCL experimenting with CleanFeed isn’t conclusive. There are other explanations that fit the known facts. It may be that PTCL was trying to save international bandwidth by using proxies to keep local copies of all Web pages (a more common use of proxies, and one which tripped up AT&T earlier this year when implemented for their mobile users). Some Pakistani users have described problems with sites that Pakistan has made no effort to censor, such as Google’s main site and Hotmail.

If this was an attempt to introduce a CleanFeed solution, however, it won’t have been the first time that PTCL’s attempts to comply with censorship demands have backfired.

In February 2008, PTCL tried to introduce a country-wide block of YouTube by announcing a new route to the Internet addresses used by YouTube’s own machines. That’s a very unusual act by a major ISP; usually a net provider will only announce routes to addresses it owns. In this case, however, PTCL was effectively claiming that it knew the best route to YouTube—but instead of directing Internet machines to the real servers, it sent everyone to the Internet equivalent of a ditch on the side of the road. PTCL intended the announcement to propagate only in Pakistan, but an international provider, PCCW, applied it to the rest of the global Internet. For a few hours, PTCL went from being YouTube’s censor in Pakistan, to its censor across the world.

It’s not just Pakistan’s censorship systems that have collateral damage outside of their borders. This week, one of China’s filtering strategies leaked onto the wider Internet. China’s Great Firewall not only blocks direct connections to sites like Facebook and Twitter, it is designed to return false information to anyone in China asking the whereabouts of those sites.

When you instruct your Web browser to go to a Facebook page, your PC will first ask the domain name service (DNS) for the location of servers. Make that request across the Great Firewall, and the Firewall’s servers will answer faster than any other domain name server (including Facebook’s). Like PTCL, the fake addresses you will be given will redirect your browser into the ditch.

China’s fraudulent DNS results are intended to affect only the Chinese, but like Pakistan’s block, sometimes its censorship system leaks. As Earl Zmijewski at Renesys noted, many countries that are “near” China in the geography of Internet connectivity have ended up using servers within the PRC, making them vulnerable to China’s fake results. Ironically, one of those nearby countries is Pakistan, meaning that while Pakistani authorities have lifted their ban on Facebook, some users will still suffer from nearby China’s perpetual block on the Web site.

It’s not surprising that these censorship systems have unintended consequences and destabilize the smooth operation of the Internet. In the slang of technologists, they’re “hacks,” clumsy patches onto existing systems that attempt to use them in ways that they were never designed to support. Middle men, like ISPs, aren’t supposed to mess with your data based on the Web address you type; route announcements are supposed to point Internet traffic to the right servers; and if you ask a particular domain name server for an address, you should get the address it sends, not a forged reply from the Chinese government.

The good news is that there are technical solutions to all of these problems that can improve the resiliency of the Internet from censorship hacks. Web sites can use SSL (the encryption protection you get when you use an “https” address) to protect communications between browser and Web server, which would prevent CleanFeed-like systems from intercepting these requests. This week, a group of U.S. civil liberties groups petitioned Facebook to turn on such protection by default.

Defending the Internet’s routing and domain name systems requires a more coordinated effort. Changing the protocols behind route announcements and DNS to be more secure involves an arduous and convoluted task for network operators, but it is possible. Just this week, the custodians of the Internet’s primary domain name servers, ICANN, officially “signed the root”, the first step in a long road of cryptographic protections that will eventually defend DNS from forged responses, such as those seen emanating from China.

The old saying that the “Internet perceives censorship as damage and routes around it” may no longer be true in the short term. But as long as local censorship causes damage to the global Internet, we can hope to see technologists work to route around the real problems it causes to us all.

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Open Letter to Will Ferrell: Help Us Save the Internet

Megan Tady
Megan Tady
Blog Editor and Video Producer, Free Press

Posted: June 21, 2010 10:51 AM

Dear Will,

I sent you an e-mail awhile back asking you to get involved in the fight to save the Internet, and a writer at said she was going to forward it to your people. Did you get it? I haven’t heard back from you, and I’ve triple-checked my junk mail, my Twitter DM box, my Facebook events (in case you invited me to do something), my YouTube channel (maybe you subscribed), and an old high school Hotmail account I opened before I knew passwords were supposed to be tricky and not just for the user to remember (password: hotmail).

So I’m taking my request to this blog: I need your help saving the Internet and preserving Net Neutrality, the principle that protects our free speech online. (I also sent along the treatment for a dramedy about two adopted brothers – you and John C. Reilly – who learn to walk by copying each other’s first steps. I don’t know, I think it could be a hit).

I bet you’re wondering, “Why me?” You’ve made history, my friend, and it ain’t drunk. Your “Landlord” video on has become a Web classic, with over 72 million people watching as a smashed, swearing toddler/landlord berates you for not paying your rent.

The ingenuity of this video isn’t the comedic timing, or the way Pearl says “evicted” – it’s the platform on which it exists. The open platform of the Internet has allowed you, and millions of other people not as funny as you, to make and share their own videos without anyone’s permission. On the Internet, there’s no Hollywood studio holding you back and your creativity can flourish. Thanks to the Internet, comedy has entered a new, no holds-barred arena where anything is possible and the audience gets to decide what’s funny, and what’s failing.

But there’s a problem: Internet service providers like Comcast and AT&T want to tame the Internet, put restrictions on our free speech, and charge users and creators to prioritize their content to load quickly. They want to clamp down on the level playing field that has made the Internet so sensational.

In 2008, when was just a start-up, could it have survived in an environment where AT&T and Verizon demanded extra payment to get FoD videos in front of audiences? Maybe not.

This month, a group of young Internet “stars” (we tried to get Pearl, but she wanted her payment up front in beer, and our lawyers said no) joined together in this video to appeal to the public about Net Neutrality and the fight for the Internet.

Now we need you, and other prominent people who rely on the Web to create and share their art and comedy and music, to join this fight and tell the Federal Communications Commission and Congress to protect the Internet and Net Neutrality.

Can you ask your friend Ashton Kutcher, who used the Internet to create his own Web series called “BlahGirls,” to get involved? When people think of Twitter – let’s face it – they think of Ashton. And what about your pal Gwyneth Paltrow, who uses her blog to teach me how to be a celebrity and still cook for myself? Surely you know Justin Bieber, who would still be singing into the mirror in Canada if it wasn’t for YouTube. And if you’re tight with Madonna, we’ll take her, too.

Basically, we need the creative community to get involved and embrace this fight as their own. In an age where mega media companies decide everything we listen to, read and watch on the big screen, the Internet gives you – and all of us – freedom.

Will you help? This is me asking if you’ll help, not saying your first name followed by “you help?” That would be awkward.

But this isn’t: If you care about the Internet and want to preserve it, have your people call my people. Which is actually just me answering my phone using a different voice. So call me. I’m awake, just clicking refresh on my Hotmail account.

Thanks, and we need you.

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Rocketing growth at self-effacing Facebook

Facebook’s financial performance is stronger than previously thought.

SO COY: Facebook is reportedly playing down its  performance Picture: GETTY IMAGES

SO COY: Facebook is reportedly playing down its performance Picture: GETTY IMAGES

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The Internet social network’s explosive growth in users and advertisers boosted revenue to as much as $800-million last year, according to two insiders.

The group also earned a solid net profit, in the tens of millions of dollars, one of the sources said.

That growth in profit and revenue underscores how Facebook is increasingly making money off its six-year-old service. It’s the world’s largest web social network with nearly half a billion users.

This performance is likely to whet the appetites of investors keen on a public share issue, despite the group’s insistence that an IPO is not a near-term priority.

California-based Facebook, the booming social networking site dreamed up by Mark Zuckerberg and his buddies in a Harvard dorm room in 2004, is privately held and has released only snippets of financial information.

Its results last year were significantly higher than figures Facebook suggested earlier and analysts’ estimates. Last July, Facebook director Marc Andreessen said the group was on track to top $500-million for the year. And in September, Facebook said it was generating enough cash to cover its operating expenses and capital-spending needs.

Estimates in the media pegged revenue last year at $550-million to $700-million, but the two sources said it was $700-million to $800-million.

“They are downplaying their performance,” one source said. Revenue was more than double the previous year’s.

Facebook is now one of the Internet’s most popular destinations. The social network is increasingly challenging longer-established Internet players such as Yahoo and Google for online time and ad dollars, even as it tries to strike a delicate balance between protecting privacy and promoting social sharing by users.

After criticism by privacy advocates of new Facebook features, the group said last month it would introduce tools to give users more control to limit how much of their profile information is publicly accessible.

Facebook’s backers include Digital Sky Technologies, Microsoft Corp, Hong Kong tycoon Li Ka-shing and venture capital firms Accel Partners, Greylock Partners and Meritech Capital Partners.

As investors wait for signs of a Facebook IPO, a vibrant market has developed for private shares of Facebook in specialised exchanges like Sharespost and SecondMarket.

Combining a large audience of web surfers with innovative online advertising has become a recipe for supercharged revenue growth in the Internet business.

In 2002, after Google overhauled its AdWords search advertising system and introduced cost-per-click pricing, yearly revenue quadrupled to $347.8-million. The following year revenue surged to about $962-million. Google ended last year with nearly $24-billion in annual revenue.

Facebook revenue grew as the number of its website users exploded. In January last year it said it had 11million users. By December, that had risen to 350million.

At the All Things Digital conference this month, Facebook chief executive Zuckerberg cited statements by other Facebook executives that the number of advertisers on Facebook had risen fourfold in the past 18 months.

Big brands such as AT&T, Ford and Blackberry-maker Research in Motion all advertised on Facebook in the first four months of this year, according to Internet analytics firm comScore.

In addition to courting household names, Facebook also allows smaller firms to craft their targeted pitches on its site, using a web-based self-service advertising system.

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