Facebook is playing a dangerous game holding off going public for a 'couple of years'.
The speed with which Facebook quickly became part of our lives (I knew nothing of Facebook this time last year) surely is a good indication of how the same thing can happen, and i'm pretty sure WILL happen when the next big thing comes along.
And it's a brave man at Microsoft who paid £117m for just a 1.6% stake in Facebook. Remember Friends Reunited? One of the biggest sites in social networking, it's now being forgotten and finding it's methods old fashioned less than two years after it was bought (entirely) for 120m. If something bigger and better does come along then Facebook may start wishing they went public at the height of their powers and before that valuation of £7.3bn starts looking steep.
There's nothing to currently suggest Facebook is waning in popularity (although I check my Facebook profile a lot less than i did 6 months ago) but if i had £117m to spend on social networking i'd be looking at the future of social networking, and i don't think that's going to be Facebook.
The internet is becoming more and more personalised, iGoogle gives you your own search home page, MySpace show no signs of being a flash in the pan with it's own brand of 'let the user decide what's best' social networking, social bookmarking / RSS / news aggregators and blogging lets users pick and choose their own news and opinion. Marketing emails are addressed to your name, and offer you products that they know you have an interest in, if they don't you hit delete. Even the spam i get now is personalised, "Dear Ed, would you like a 9 inch...".
Unless facebook starts to provide more flexibility to users on everything from what their home page looks like to who and what can sign up they are going to start leaking users to sites such as ning.com.
Ning is a 'network of networks', allowing users to create their own social network and surpassed the 100,000 social networks figure a couple of months back. I'd put good money on Ning receiving a large amount of investment soon and i wouldn't be surprised if that company's name began with 'Goo' and ended with 'gle'.
Now this is just one vision of the future, there are plenty more ideas in the ether, most probably on the desktops of university students with an interest in open source.
Just don't spend your £117m of investment without doing a bit of research.
TIP for CEOs with wads of cash: What social networking tools are your children using?
(Update: I've just read this business article online which sounds exactly like my article! It's either great minds thinking alike or plagiarism of the highest order.)