Facebook.com Expands Amid Rumors of Buyout

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A popular networking site for college students is about to open its doors to everyone. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg started the service while at Harvard. There are reports of a Yahoo! buyout offer.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

This is a busy time for the social networking business called Facebook.com. It's a site where you can post information about yourself and read about other people, but not everybody is able to see everything - a specific group, like students from a particular school - have to join up.

Nearly 10 million members post photos and personal details to share with their friends - real or virtual. The Wall Street Journal reported Facebook is in quote "serious talks with Yahoo!," which wants to buy the site for close to one billion dollars. And this is the potential billion-dollar CEO.

Mr. MARK ZUCKERBERG (CEO, Facebook.com): I'm 22. I started Facebook when I was a sophomore in college.

INSKEEP: His name is Mark Zuckerberg and he launched Facebook with only his fellow Harvard students being invited. Later, other colleges got involved and other high schools, as well as businesses.

Starting today, anybody can join, which has provoked a backlash among some members who have used Facebook itself to petition against the expansion. To find out why, we met some of the members offline, in the flesh, at the University of Southern California.

Ms. STEPHANIE PORTNER(ph) (Student): I'm Stephanie Portner. I'm from Costa Mesa. I think it's really weird - just because like sketchy people can get on it, now. Because if it's just students then it's like - and like, I like how only people at your own school or people you know can see it.

Mr. JOSH MOSER(ph) (Student, University of Southern California): My name is Josh Moser. I'm from Thousand Oaks, California, and I'm a broadcast journalism major. On the topic of Facebook, I really don't like it being open to the public. Facebook is supposed to be for the students. It's not supposed to be used by the faculty. It's a student-run thing. If this is open to the public, then I mean, the sole purpose of Facebook is just kind of out the window.

INSKEEP: Mark Zuckerberg, those are a couple of students at the University of Southern California. Why do you suppose that anticipated expansion has caused a little bit of a backlash from some of your users?

Mr. ZUCKERBERG: I think that a lot of it is because people like exclusivity. What we found is that at every step along the way when we've moved to expand the site, the people on the site have felt like, oh, man, this is my thing. But we found at each step along the way people could then add their friends at other places, and use of the site just increased.

INSKEEP: This is the challenge of your product as it grows, isn't it? Because basically, you want to create something that's exclusive for everyone?

Mr. ZUCKERBERG: It is kind of exclusive, because Facebook isn't just one big site. It's made up of 40,000 different networks. So I mean, if you're at Harvard, then the only people you really see are the people at Harvard. The only people who really see your profile are the other people at Harvard - or your friends elsewhere.

But one thing that kind of came through from both of those people is that they're worried about something that may or may not already be the case. So I mean the first student was concerned that everyone would be able to see their profile. That's not how it works now. And that's now how it's ever going to work.

Remember that on Facebook, you can only see - like the average person only sees about 0.1 percent of the other profiles. So I think that it's kind of scary in some ways to some people that they think that all of a sudden Facebook is going to be completely public. But the reality is is that this is just another expansion, just like everything else we did. And if you ask them about what changed in their experience when we added high schools to the site, or what happened when we added companies, their answer is probably going to be not much, except now I can interact with the other people who I want to who couldn't get on the site before.

INSKEEP: This debate also comes amid reports that Yahoo is interested in buying out Facebook. Is that true?

Mr. ZUCKERBERG: I mean, I'm not going to comment on stuff like that. We, we have spoken with different companies about different things, but, you know, that's not something we're going to talk about.

INSKEEP: If you do sell to a company that will have lots of other tentacles and lots of other products that it'll want to sell and promote - on Facebook or anywhere else that it can - can you preserve the same kind of experience for people?

Mr. ZUCKERBERG: I think that it's unlikely that we're going to do anything that puts us in a situation where we can't focus on what we're doing. That's what we care about.

INSKEEP: Well, I'm just thinking, Rupert Murdoch's corporation bought out MySpace.com, which has a somewhat different business model than yours, but in some ways similar. And now that site is used to promote all kinds of music that Murdoch's news corporation is involved with, and media products that the news corporation is involved with. And would you be concerned about getting involved in something like that with a larger company?

Mr. ZUCKERBERG: Well, I think the important thing with MySpace is that they're trying to do something very different from what we're doing. We see ourselves as a utility that helps people understand what's going on around them. I think that they bill themselves as a next generation media portal, which, you know, makes a lot of sense to have a large media company own you then and just be partnered with them.

A portal focuses on being a destination. You know, it focuses on maximizing the amount of time that people spend there. You know what I mean? A lot of people spend a lot of time on Facebook, but to be honest, I'm not trying to maximize the amount of time people spend on the site. I'm trying to make it so that it's really efficient for people to go and get the information that they want so they can go use it however they want in life.

INSKEEP: Well, Mr. Zuckerberg, thanks very much for taking the time.

Mr. ZUCKERBERG: Yeah. Thank you.

INSKEEP: Mark Zuckerberg is the CEO of Facebook.com, which will be open to everyone starting today.

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