Mark Zuckerberg, the 23-year-old Harvard dropout who started the site, is high tech's new prince. Having turned down a reported $1 billion offer from Yahoo last year?and enduring the taunts of bloggers who predicted that he'd rue the day - Zuckerberg in May took Facebook in a new direction: he opened up the Web site to thousands of developers, who can now unilaterally install applications designed to take advantage of Facebook's people connections.

This, along with an astonishing growth rate of 3 percent a week, has triggered a Facebook mania in the Valley. Early investor Peter Thiel, who sits on Facebook's board, believes that a measly billion dollars for this 300-person company spread over three buildings in downtown Palo Alto, Calif., is a risible sum. Instead, he compares Facebook's current price tag to that of MTV, which he values at about seven or eight billion bucks.

"Between the two, I'd want to own Facebook," he says. Not that it's for sale. Thiel and other Facebook folk are now talking about an IPO in perhaps two years that would almost certainly be the biggest public offering since Google.

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