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A Facebook IPO? It’s Coming … But Not Until 2012

Board member says “it will probably happen” late that year — or beyond

As Facebook prepares to ignore what may be a big opening weekend for "The Social Network" — the David Fincher film that depicts chief Mark Zuckerberg as someone you probably wouldn't "friend" — the social network is slowly inching toward its long-rumored initial public offering.

But we're still a couple years away, Facebook board member Peter Thiel, Paypal's co-founder, told Reuters.

"It probably will IPO at some point,"  Thiel said at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference in San Francisco on Monday. "The lesson from Google seems to be that you don't go public until very late."

In August, a Financial Times report put the Palo Alto-based company's valuation at $33.7 billion — a figure, at the time, bigger than the market caps of Ebay ($30 billion) and Yahoo ($18.1 billion), though well below Google’s ($143.9 billion).

The Times based that estimate on secondary market transactions of stock in the privately held company. According to the paper, common stock in Facebook is now trading as high as $76 per share "as investors scramble to get a piece the company before it files for an initial public offering." According to Reuters, Facebook's backers include Digital Sky Technologies, Microsoft Corp, Hong Kong tycoon Li Ka Shing and venture capital firms Accel Partners, Greylock Partners and Meritech Capital Partners.

A Facebook IPO would no doubt be the biggest in the technology sector since Google's $1.67 billion one in 2004.