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A Debate: Should You Jump In On Facebook Debut?

But don't wait too long to find out. At some point in the next few days or weeks, seize on the IPO as a rare opportunity to prosper from the ingenuity of a headstrong visionary in the mold of Apple's Steve Jobs, Microsoft's Bill Gates and Google's Larry Page and Sergey Brin.

There is one difference: None of them was named Time magazine's person of the year in his mid-20s, as Zuckerberg was in 2010.

Apple, Microsoft and Google, of course, all changed the world with their innovations and built steadily growing businesses that enriched investors. Collectively, the three technology titans have created more than $1 trillion in shareholder wealth since their respective IPOs.

The returns on a post-IPO investment in Facebook aren't likely to be as big because the company is starting with such a lofty valuation. Apple debuted with a market value of less than $2 billion in 1980, while Microsoft took its bow in 1986 with a market value of less than $1 billion.

More recently, Google had a market value of nearly $25 billion in 2004 when mainstream investors got their first chance to buy stock in the Internet search leader.

Just because Facebook's upside isn't as great doesn't mean it can't be a great investment. The chances of Facebook's stock doubling or tripling during the next five years look promising, given that the company is sitting on a gold mine of personal data prized by advertisers looking to sell products and services to the people most likely to buy them.

It's an advantage that Google also enjoyed as it figured out how to match ads with the preferences signaled by Internet search requests. Google's market value surpassed $200 billion less than 3½ years after its IPO, and Facebook knows even more about its users' preferences because it doesn't have to make educated guesses about them. Facebook users explicitly tell the company by pressing "like" buttons all over the Web and sharing revealing details about their lives in status updates.

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