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Facebook's IPO stalling: Are we even still surprised?

A report from Bloomberg brings the shocking news that Facebook will not go public next year. Is the social network's repeated shying from an IPO more of a statement than anything else?

Must be a slow summer Friday: Bloomberg cites "three people familiar with the matter" who say that Facebook won't go public next year. This follows up on somebody else's story last year about the company definitely not going public this year, and another report the previous year about Facebook not going public last year, and so forth. Basically, every so often there's yet another report that Facebook is delaying a potential IPO. Again.

Granted, this sort of update about Facebook not going public is undoubtedly of value to the financial-services audience who read Bloomberg's news religiously, considering it seems to rule out a 2011 IPO altogether--but how likely was it that that would happen anyway? Ever since 2007, when Facebook really started to take off as a stable, lasting digital-media company, there have beenrumors of an IPO and subsequent denials by executives that it would happen any time soon. ("I'm not saying it's never going to happen," founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who controls the company's board, said in the fall of 2007. "But it's definitely years out.")

After Facebook changed its stock structure to a more IPO-friendly model in late 2009, rumors started flying again that the big offering would happen in 2010. Nope, investors said. The explanation is pretty much the same in Bloomberg's story Friday: "Facebook would benefit from another year of growth absent the added scrutiny that comes with a public listing, instead of holding an IPO in 2011 as investors speculated." Well, Wall Street doesn't just speculate; it wants a Facebook IPO. This could kick-start the entire tech IPO market, which in case you couldn't tell, has been more than sleepy as of late.

But it must frustrate Wall Street that the standard initial public offering isn't really in vogue among Silicon Valley's young and maverick-y, at least if you look at the signs out there. Zynga, the social gaming company that's one of the few Web companies to have risen far enough in the past few years to even be a contender for an IPO--sorry, Twitter, you aren't there yet--has raised well over $500 million in total, with some of the later funding intended in part to help early investors and employees achieve liquidity. (The Russian firm Digital Sky Technologies has been the financial force behind this kind of funding round for several companies, including Zynga and Facebook, to the extent that industry jargon has started referring to them as "DST rounds.")

Being a public company requires making a lot of concessions with regard to compliance and transparency--Facebook seems to take quite a bit of glee in reminding wild speculators that as a privately held company, it doesn't have to disclose its financials--and consistently delaying an IPO is, in a sense, stubbornness on Facebook's part. For years we've seen the company make controversial decisions in which it paved its own route rather than doing what common wisdom seemed to think it should, and perhaps what we're seeing right now is Facebook's opinion that the idea of a public company as we know it is as antiquated as, say, traditional norms of privacy.