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Facebook’s 2012: IPO, a billion users and a shift to mobile

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Facebook had what may be the most eventful year in its history in 2012. After months of preparation, the company went public in May -- with some unexpected results. As the site hit a billion users, it also struggled with the pressure to make money without hurting the experience on the site. Finally, the company made several moves to address its self-admitted largest weakness -- the shift to mobile devices. Here are some highlights (and lowlights) of Facebook’s year.

Going public: Eight years after it was founded, Facebook hit the public market with a highly anticipated initial public offering. The company originally priced shares at $38 and saw a initial spike to the $40s. But technical glitches and hype brought the company’s shares down -- fast. The stock closed at its opening price after the first day of trading and has never fully recovered.

Last week, Morgan Stanley, , the lead underwriter for the IPO, agreed to pay a $5 million fine to Massachusetts’ securities regulators for selectively disclosing revenue figures to certain analysts and not the general public. Facebook shares, meanwhile, are mounting a slow climb to $30 per share.

A billion users: The company hit a new milestone this year as growth continued to skyrocket. In October, Facebook announced that it officially recorded its billionth user. The company is seeing its greatest growth in regions such as Latin America, Asia and the Middle East. In its last earnings report, Facebook said its number of daily active users had grown 28 percent from the same period last year.

It is a sign of strong growth for the company, which moved to a larger campus in Menlo Park, Calif., last year.

Privacy flaps: Facebook has always had a difficult relationship with privacy, having to walk a fine line between pleasing users and pleasing advertisers. Though the company states in its policies that it does not sell personal information to advertisers, many users remain wary of the company’s data collection and use practices. For example, when Facebook announced planned changes to its policies, more than half a million of the site’s users voted against the changes -- which included removing the option to vote on policies.

However, Facebook required 30 percent of its users, or 300 million people, to vote to overturn a change, so the company moved forward with its new policies.

The company continues to make changes to its policies and has rolled out several initiatives to explain how privacy works on the site -- including redesigning the controls in December.

Instagram: In part of an aggressive growth strategy, Facebook moved to acquire several companies in 2012. The most notable was the April acquisition of Instagram, the photo-sharing social network founded by Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger. Facebook bought the company for $1 billion in cash and stock, though the deal depreciated slightly with Facebook shares. When the deal was announced, Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg said the two companies would maintain a measure of separation.

Since the acquisition closed earlier this year, the two companies have faced some growing pains. Instagram announced last week that it intended to change its terms of service. Some of those changes, particularly regarding the language around licensing photos on the site, were not well-received by users and Instagram was forced to revert to the original language.

Shift to mobile: Facebook users began visiting the site more through mobile devices than on their computers. In its last earning report, Facebook said it had seen mobile users increase 68 percent over the same period last year.

Mobile use gives Facebook the option to reach more aspects of users’ lives more immediately, and the social network has introduced several initiatives to make the most of the fast-growing platform. In the past year, Facebook has remade its main apps and also revamped Facebook Messenger and introduced two new apps -- Facebook Camera and Poke. The company still has work to do in figuring out how to better display advertisements on the smaller, mobile screens and has recently said it will concentrate on making effective ads appear in users’ news feeds.

Facebook Gifts, Promoted Posts: Facebook has also been trying to find ways to generate revenue directly from its users. The company has introduced a couple of ways to do that. One is through a gift-buying platform built on top of its network that will remind people of friends’ birthdays and offer the option to send a gift from within Facebook. Users can also increase the visibility of their personal posts by paying a small fee to promote updates within their network of friends.

(Washington Post Co. chairman and chief executive Donald E. Graham is a member of Facebook’s board of directors.)

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