Facebook: Bigger Than France

The Population Reference Bureau estimates the population of France at 62 million as of mid-2008. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg pegs his site's population at 125 million. Facebook is bigger than France. Heck, it's twice as big.

Congrats, Facebook Nation. You're officially huge. Maybe it's time that this Silicon Valley resident bid for a seat at the United Nations?

Well, okay, maybe not. An IPO isn't in the works, and it may not be for years. Executives are cashing in stock, then leaving. Beacon, the intrusive ad platform whose failure made headlines last year, is back in the news thanks to a civil lawsuit filed this summer. Google's (Nasdaq: GOOG  ) Friend Connect and OpenSocial programming interfaces, while not directly competitive, should create more social software and, thereby more competition for Facebook.

In short, France hasn't seen an assault like this since Burger King co-opted the croissant for its (ahem) breakfast sandwiches.

Yet Facebook continues to attract users. Last week, Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg said that Facebook has 280,000 applications hosted at its site, small programs that enhance the service. Some, like Mob Wars, are huge moneymakers. Facebook's own virtual gifts -- $1 page decorations -- bring in more than $30 million annually.

That's today. Tomorrow, Sandberg says, you'll see Facebook become like France -- and the U.S., U.K., China, or any other country -- as a platform for business. Count Starbucks (Nasdaq: SBUX  ) among the early adopters. Using salesforce.com's (NYSE: CRM  ) Force.com cloud computing tools, Starbucks has created "My Starbucks Idea," a community for gathering feedback from customers. It will soon expand the app to a home on Facebook as well. Think of this social-networking site as a country-sized platform that's more diverse than Apple's (Nasdaq: AAPL  ) iPhone App Store or Google's Android Market.

Frankly, Facebook's size and grown-up ambitions are huge differentiators. While News Corp's (NYSE: NWS  ) MySpace is selling virtual gifts, Facebook is creating a business-friendly virtual economy whose borders have yet to be fully defined.

The revolution is upon you, Fool, and it's serving no-foam skinny lattes. Want a croissant with yours?

Take a sip of related Foolishness:

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Fool contributor Tim Beyers had stock and options positions in Apple and Google at the time of publication. The Motley Fool's disclosure policy will take a no-foam, no-whip, decaffeinated half-caf, if you don't mind.


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