In the amendment Facebook filed Monday to its S-1 SEC filing, some of the best information about the company is embedded in the infographics it used to illustrate its points. They show a company that's booming, with rampant growth of users and revenue, but they also show a behemoth that's saturated much of the globe save for one glaringly dark patch where China sits.
There was the big blue box at the top of the filing, with news that the company had hit 901 million active monthly users, 3.2 billion likes and comments per day, 300 million photos updated per day, and 125 billion friendships. Last we heard these metrics, around Feb. 1, it was 845 active monthly users, 2.7 billion likes and comments, 250 million photos per day, and 100 billion friendships. So you know, progress. But those big blue and white numbers don't capture the imagination nearly as much as the above map.
Look at the mass of darkness where China is located, the stark border of Russia, the largely un-Facebook penetrated Africa, and the bright slash of Indonesia (at one point, Indonesian became the most-used Asian language on Facebook). That dislocation between population and Facebook users bears out some of the projections the company follows with in its filing, in particular its expansion plans: The first point in its "strategy" rundown reads as follows:
Expand Our Global User Community. We continue to focus on growing our user base across all geographies, including relatively less-penetrated, large markets such as Brazil, Germany, India, Japan, Russia, and South Korea. We intend to grow our user base by continuing our marketing and user acquisition efforts and enhancing our products, including mobile apps, in order to make Facebook more accessible and useful.
One of the most notable things about that plan is the absence of a mention of China. That's of course because Facebook is banned there right now, and can't viably hope to cover it as part of its steady expansion.
But the company clearly has designs on the world's most populous country. Aside from the "substantial legal and regulatory complexities that have prevented our entry into China to date," as the report puts it, China serves as the example cited for much general talk in the filing for moving into markets where Facebook is restricted or banned right now ("we expect to face challenges entering new markets such as China"). In fact, of the countries listed in the report that have restricted access to Facebook, including China, Iran, North Korea, and Syria, China's the only one mentioned as a potential market. (Sorry, North Korea!)
"We would ... face competition from companies in China such as Renren, Sina, and Tencent in the event that we are able to access the market in China in the future," the report noted. "We do not know if we will be able to find an approach to managing content and information that will be acceptable to us and to the Chinese government. It is also possible that governments of one or more other countries may seek to censor content available on our website, restrict access, block our website, or impose other restrictions that may affect the accessibility of Facebook for an extended period of time or indefinitely." As China expert Jeremy Goldkorn told Marketplace in February, "Chinese Internet authorities don’t like big, user-generated content sites who are not run by Chinese companies that self-censor." But with a population of 1.3 billion and growing, Facebook hopes it can figure out a way to make them like it, and bring some light to that map's darkest spot.