Twitter announced Thursday, in a tweet, that it has submitted papers for the most hotly anticipated stock offering in the tech sector since Facebook's last year.
"We've confidentially submitted an S-1 to the SEC for a planned IPO. This Tweet does not constitute an offer
of any securities for sale," the company tweeted.
Moments later, in typically breezy style, the company tweeted a picture of its staffers, and said: "Now, back to work."
Twitter's market value has been estimated around $10 billion based on early venture capital investments, but the initial public offering (IPO) is likely to bring a higher amount.
"We expect @Twitter to price #IPO conservatively at 20-30x revenue, or $15 billion, with about $500 million in revenue," said a tweet from the private company research firm PrivCo.
The firm added in another tweet: "Unlike $FB (Facebook) which waited too long to IPO (growth rate decelerated) Twitter will IPO at just the right inflection point."
Lou Kerner at the Social Internet Fund, said he expects a big reaction from investors.
"Given Twitter's significant growth, and the market's love affair with social media, the Twitter IPO is posed to be a home run," he said in an email.
Twitter has become one of the fastest-growing and most influential social media services, used widely by celebrities, journalists, politicians and others.
The company said earlier this year it had "well over 200 million" active users, although some analysts place figure much higher.
Twitter said this week it was moving deeper into mobile advertising with the purchase of MoPub, a startup focusing on mobile ad exchanges.
The acquisition was announced late Monday. It was estimated to be worth some $350 million, according to the technology news site TechCrunch.
The fast-growing social network is expected to earn $582.8 million globally in ad revenue this year and nearly $1 billion next year, according to industry tracker eMarketer.
The San Francisco company provided no details on the IPO dates or pricing.
It is taking advantage of a rule adopted last year by the Securities and Exchange Commission, which allows "emerging growth" companies with revenues of less than a billion to keep financial details confidential until they get closer to the IPO.
Under those rules, Twitter can keep its financials private until 21 days prior to its presentation to investors, known as a "road show."
But Trip Chowdhry, analyst at Global Equities Research, said Twitter is undermining confidence by keeping its finances private.
"The idea of doing a confidential IPO undermines the credibility of the Twitter IPO," he told AFP.
"If they are not transparent, it is that they have something to hide; we know nothing of how their company has been going for the last two years."
An analysis by the website Statistic Brain says Twitter has some 554 million active, registered users and is adding 135,000 on a daily basis.
In a sign of Twitter's growing influence, tweets have been analyzed en masse to measure happiness of cities and countries, and some scholars claim Twitter was an important factor in uprisings such as the Arab Spring.
Twitter is used to measure the popularity of TV shows, and some programs go to it for instant feedback.
"Twitter has firmly established itself as a social tool that people love to use and that the press loves to reference -- and more than 60 % of US marketers are now on Twitter as well," said Nate Elliott, analyst at Forrester Research.
"And Twitter works hard to serve those marketers: the company learned how to sell sponsored tweets without upsetting users, when critics weren't sure it was possible, and it offers more useful marketing measurement tools than bigger competitors like Facebook."
But Elliott said Twitter needs to do more to demonstrate it is a viable business.
"Marketers aren't yet fully satisfied with the results they're achieving on Twitter, and the company still has to improve its ad targeting and find additional ad formats to sell," he said.
The company was started by Jack Dorsey who proposed the idea for Twitter while working with Biz Stone and Evan Williams at podcasting company Odeo. Dorsey later stepped aside to run another startup, Square.
A year ago, chief executive Dick Costolo said the time was not ripe for a Twitter IPO but indicated Twitter would remain independent.
Some of the concerns over social media companies have faded with Facebook, whose shares lost 50 % after its May 2012 IPO, hitting an all-time high in recent days.
Facebook shares debuted at $38, and languished for months before recovering this year. Facebook hit a record above $45 this week, and closed Thursday at $44.75.
According to the analytics site Dashburst, at least 170 billion tweets have been posted since the company's launch in 2006, with users spending an average of 170 minutes on the site each month.
Dashburst estimates 80 % of Twitter users access the site via a mobile device.
The most popular person on Twitter is Justin Bieber, with some 44 million followers, while Katy Perry has 42 million and Lady Gaga 40 million, all ahead of President Barack Obama at 36 million.
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