Kara Swisher

Recent Posts by Kara Swisher

Exclusive: Facebook Will Announce 500 Million Users Next Week With "Facebook Stories"

Facebook confirmed that it expects to announce its 500-millionth user next week, and will mark the occasion with a new consumer marketing initiative called “Facebook Stories.”

Last week, BoomTown got wind of the effort–which will center on a variety of life stories from users about the impact of the social networking site on their lives–and asked Facebook about it.

The company said it was readying its launch for next week and put Randi Zuckerberg on the horn to tell me the story behind “Stories.”

“As we anticipated our 500-million milestone, and we wanted to find a different way to announce and celebrate it,” said Zuckerberg, who has spearheaded the site’s creation, in an interview this afternoon. “In the past, it’s been all about the numbers and milestones, and we realized we had never taken the opportunity to celebrate users.”

Getting to the 500-million mark, though, is a big deal for the Silicon Valley-based Facebook, which has been growing wildly over the last several years across the globe.

While the number has been widely expected to be announced soon, it will still be a big landmark in the history of the company.

Thus, a Web site within Facebook that is a visualization of some of the many kinds of consumer stories the company has collected over the years, but never showed off.

The stories will have two views–organized by by geographical location and by theme, such as “finding love,” “coping with grief” and “natural disasters.”

Facebook has seeded the selection with about 200 text stories it has, asking users again for permission to feature them.

But the point is to open the page up to all users to submit their tale in 420 characters, the same number as a status update on Facebook. The story can also be linked to the user’s profile.

Users can also “Like” stories, and the most popular will be featured. The site will also be optimized for the other devices, such as the Apple (AAPL) iPad and Amazon (AMZN) Kindle.

The site was designed by two outside firms, social marketing company Involver and JESS3, a design, branding and data visualization firm.

Zuckerberg, who said she would be adding her own story, said her favorite so far has been the story of a group that coalesced on Facebook to save an old theater in Kentucky.

But she is hoping for a varied collection that will appeal to, well, the soon-to-be 500 million people on Facebook.

“We really think by surfacing these stories, users can explain what Facebook is a lot better than we can,” said Zuckerberg.

Before the launch of “Facebook Stories” next week, you can start the tale-telling now here, using a newly tweaked form, pictured below (click on it to make image larger):

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I think the NSA has a job to do and we need the NSA. But as (physicist) Robert Oppenheimer said, “When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and argue about what to do about it only after you’ve had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb.”

— Phil Zimmerman, PGP inventor and Silent Circle co-founder, in an interview with Om Malik