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Facebook IPO Highlights Hacker Culture

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Facebook is going public.

It’s a strange phrase for a company that makes its money by way of 845 million monthly active users that share their information — publicly — everyday. Facebook filed its S1 registration form with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) for its Initial Public Offering (IPO) late Wednesday in a bid that could value the company as high as $100 Billion.

The S1 filing is a treasure trove of information about Facebook’s business model and revenues, as well as its development culture. According to Facebook, their 845 million monthly active users upload 250 million pictures a day and hit the ‘like’ button 2.7 billion times a day.

The company generated $3.7 billion in revenue for 2011, growing from $1.97 billion in 2010 and only $777 million in 2009. Facebook’s Net Income has followed a similar trajectory of rapid growth. In 2009, Facebook’s Net Income was $229 million, which grew to $606 million in 2010 and came in at $1 billion for 2011.

Facebook warns in its S1 that the hyperactive growth it has delivered in recent years is unlikely to continue.

“Our annual revenue grew 154 percent from 2009 to 2010 and 88 percent from 2010 to 2011,” Facebook’s S1 states. “Historically, our user growth has been a primary driver of growth in our revenue. Our user growth and revenue growth rates will inevitably slow as we achieve higher market penetration rates, as our revenue increases to higher levels, and as we experience increased competition.”

While revenue growth is likely to slow at Facebook, the company has made it clear in its S1 that it intends to maintain its developer culture. It’s a culture that CEO Mark Zukerberg refers to as, “The Hacker Way.”

“The word ‘hacker’ has an unfairly negative connotation from being portrayed in the media as people who break into computers,” Zuckerberg wrote. “In reality, hacking just means building something quickly or testing the boundaries of what can be done. Like most things, it can be used for good or bad, but the vast majority of hackers I’ve met tend to be idealistic people who want to have a positive impact on the world.”

Zuckerberg’s view on the word ‘hacker’ is one that security researchers have also been pushing for several years. In 2011, a top security researcher at the U.S Government’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) also stressed that the word ‘hacker’ isn’t a bad thing. Hackers are a pathway to innovation in a manner different than the typical structured and hierarchical approach to software development.

“The Hacker Way is an approach to building that involves continuous improvement and iteration,” Zuckerberg wrote. “Hackers believe that something can always be better, and that nothing is ever complete.”

Zuckerberg explained that to foster The Hacker Way at Facebook, there is a testing framework that supports thousands of different versions of Facebook to continually try out new things. Though testing is critical, even more important is actually completing new features and then continuously iterating them to make them better.

“We have the words ‘Done is better than perfect’ painted on our walls to remind ourselves to always keep shipping,” Zuckerberg wrote.

Facebook also supports The Hacker Way with hackathon events where developers build prototypes to try out new ideas and see what will work. Zuckerberg noted that items such as Timeline, video, chat and even the PHP HipHop compiler all came out of hackathon events.

“We have a saying: Move fast and break things,” Zuckerberg wrote. “The idea is that if you never break anything, you’re probably not moving fast enough.”

Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at, the news service of the IT Business Edge Network, the network for technology professionals. Follow him on Twitter @TechJournalist

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