The payments system, which is in its early stages, will allow users to purchase Facebook "credits", then use those credits to buy virtual goods from the third-party applications that run on the site, or from Facebook itself. Facebook, which has over 300 million registered users, hopes that by offering a site-wide currency it could become a "shopping portal" by encouraging commerce on the website and make money by taking a percentage of every transaction. Though the payments system is being tested on just three applications at the moment, it is expected to be rolled out more widely in the coming weeks. Joe Sullivan, Facebook's lead counsel for product, said: "Facebook is and will continue to be a free service. These payments terms only govern any purchases you may make on the site.
"We drafted new terms in order to simplify all of our payments-related terms by bringing them together in one place and to give us the flexibility to try new features. Currently, payments are available for all users in two ways on the site. One is through the Facebook Gift Shop, where you can purchase credits to buy gifts for your friends. The second is to purchase advertising through the online Facebook Ads system. You also may see credits appear in other ways on the site." Users are increasingly spending real money buying virtual goods and credits on the applications that run on Facebook's platform. Bruce Cundiff, director of payments research and consulting at Javelin Strategy and Research, said the payments platform could position Facebook to become a significant e-commerce player. "Potentially you're looking at Facebook as a shopping portal and a source for music downloads," he told the Financial Times. Recent estimates suggest that Facebook's platform developers – like Zynga – are expected to make more than $500m this year, which is potentially more than Facebook itself. Experts such as Ray Valdes, an analyst with Gartner Research, say that revenue from its payments system could soon represent one-third of Facebook's income. "Social networking sites have suffered with monetising [their services], but this leverages [the fact that] users are there on Facebook," he said. ( www.telegraph.co.uk )