A 27-year-old geek is touring the US asking investors to buy up more than 300 million shares in his company, in what is set to be the fourth biggest IPO in history, making his eight-year-old site worth up to $100 billion.
Facebook's flotation is a landmark moment in internet and media history, but the relationship between the era-defining social networking service and the established media ecosystem is complex and fraught.
So in short, is Facebook a good thing for professional news and information publishers?
Facebook's pitch to publishers and brands is this: build your audience through Facebook and then you can monetise them however you want. But does that stand up to scrutiny?
The first part of it does. There are obvious benefits to having a lively, engaged audience on Facebook - some journalists are even basing their newsgathering and discussion activities on Facebook, using it as a distribution tool and sounding board for new ideas.
Facebook itself documents the many success stories with publishers and journalists using the public Subscribe feature - a way to make some of your updates public while still maintaining private conversations. These are not insignificant numbers: New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof has 447,000 subscribers, while Arianna Huffington has 1.1 million.
The photos, videos, polls, snippets of articles mean Facebook is a far more natural home for journalism than the 140-character attention-deficient Twitter, and a far greater traffic referral source. According to one study from November 2011 of Mail Online, probably the most-clicked online news brand in the world, 45.8 percent of referrals came via Facebook compared to just 3.2 percent from Twitter.
The Guardian's Facebook app sent more traffic to the site than Google - more than 30 percent of total traffic. Six months ago social represented just two percent of Guardian traffic (a speech by the Guardian's Tanya Cordrey on this is worth reading in full).
Facebook's ability to drive audience and brand loyalty is undisputed. But publishers and agencies are and should be concerned at the site's long-term goal, which is to consolidate and dominate online display advertising budgets, while keeping a tight hold of its precious user data. That process is going OK as this chart shows, despite still being a relatively minor player in digital ads...
The IPO prospectus document released last week is clear that Facebook's success hinges on its ability to increase the sale behavioural-targeted ads, particularly on mobile devices. Advertising managers should pay close attention to this section of the prospectus (emphasis mine):
"Our addressable market opportunity includes portions of many existing advertising markets, including the traditional offline branded advertising, online display advertising, online performance-based advertising, and mobile advertising markets."
Facebook is keen to point out that it is not a media company nor a publisher. Head of partner relationships Karla Geci told me last year: "I wouldn’t say that our partnerships are commercial. The ad revenue of the FT or New York Times is nothing to do with us – we are not privy to that. There are two things that online businesses worry about – traffic and engagement – and that’s what we help them with."
The prospectus warns against "adverse media reports or other negative publicity involving us, our Platform developers, or other companies in our industry". As Facebook's commercial rise continues, it wouldn't be surprising if negative coverage did increase rapidly, just as Google was the news industry's bogeyman in mid-2000s.
Founder Mark Zuckerberg says in a letter to investors: "We don’t wake up in the morning with the primary goal of making money, but we understand that the best way to achieve our mission is to build a strong and valuable company."
That may be so, but there is no escaping the uncomfortable feeling that the people Facebook is partnering with on content are the same people it's competing with on advertising.
Update: I should point out something I've just spotted, figures from Appdata.com (via a post from Buzzfeed), showing that usage of Guardian and Washington Post Facebook apps have falled off a cliff in recent weeks.
So The Guardian went from 6 million to just over 3 million monthly active users in April. It's not quite as simple as that however: Facebook has changed the way content is viewed and recently launched its Trending Articles feature, which simply gives social readers less prominence than previously.
There is a serious point here: Facebook can and does change the rules of the game and the look and feel of the site whenever it wants.