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How Facebook will make the type of money it needs to make to satisfy Wall Street is yet to be determined, but one thing is certain: if Facebook is going to make the type of money it needs to make to satisfy Wall Street, mobile will have to be a big part of it.
Facebook's mobile usage has skyrocketed in the past year, and the common wisdom is that Facebook will have to find a way to monetize its users on mobile. But capitalizing on the mobile opportunity may not fully require Facebook to monetize them directly.
Yesterday, the world's largest social network announced that it has launched a trial of a mobile ad network that allows ad exchanges to target mobile ads to iOS and Android users based on Facebook's vast trove of user data.
The trial is not the first time Facebook has dipped its toes into ad network territory. Earlier this year, Facebook was seen syndicating ads to Zynga.com, the first time the company had served ads off of its own social network. For obvious reasons, this led many to speculate that Facebook was gearing up to launch its own version of AdSense.
It's all about the data, for now
Facebook's latest move is only increasing speculation that Facebook is going off-site to monetize. But right now, the company's experiment is less about advertising and more about data -- as is its Custom Audiences trial which is allowing marketers to stalk their own customers.
Facebook didn't launch an ad network or exchange yesterday; it is providing data to existing ad networks and exchanges which, as AdAge notes, will likely be sharing a minority of the revenue generated by ad sales involving targeting using Facebook's data. On their own, none of these initiatives will make Facebook a $100bn company once again.
But they could lay the groundwork for that. If Facebook is able to validate that its data is as golden as it appears to be in theory, and can be applied in practice in meaningful ways, the rest will eventually fall into place.