Facebook to sell stake to Microsoft? Oh, and Acebucks

Facebook is reportedly being courted by Microsoft to sell a small portion of itself to the software giant, valuing the network at a whopping $10 billion and upping the stakes for Google and others that will want to stop Facebook from falling into the wrong hands.

Separately, Facebook is also moving toward becoming a full-blown virtual world. Or at least it looks that way when a virtual currency for Facebook, Acebucks (here), gets introduced.

Buddy Media, the company that manages the Acebucks currency, said it got $1.5 million in funding from a group of angels that includes Facebook investor and board member Peter Thiel.

The service lets you buy and sell digital or real items through your Facebook account without having to use real dollars.

Thiel, who has also taken up an active role investing in third-party applications in consultation with Facebook, is no doubt trying to push the nascent ecosystem of third-party Facebook developers into hyper growth.

On the one hand, Google has been rumbling with plans concerning its own social networking platform and virtual world. On the other hand, Microsoft is looking to pay up to $500 million for five percent of the company at Thiel’s asking price — a $10 billion valuation that frankly needs a dynamic ecosystem to help justify. It would continue a close relationship with Microsoft since that company signed a large deal with Facebook to supply the fast-growing company with ads.

Back to Acebucks: You can accumulate Acebucks through signing up, inviting friends, and selling items through the site.

It offers a virtual “mall” where you can buy and send images to your friends. It also lets you auction items off, such as (USD) $50 iTunes gift certificates.

Acebucks plans to include an application programming interface (API) to help other developers incorporate the currency into their applications. It competes with at least one other Facebook currency app, the even-smaller Zuckerbucks.

Many virtual worlds and online games already use virtual currencies and virtual goods to reward users for participating. One of the better-known examples is Second Life, a virtual world that features users as 3-D avatars and has its own virtual currency.

Earlier this month, Utherverse — the owner of adult-themed virtual world Red Light Center — added its own currency (question for the company: is it illegal to buy virtual drugs?). It is growing fast, with nearly half a million users, it claims.

The purchase of kid virtual world Club Penguin by Disney for $700 million in July has reminded many that virtual worlds can make a lot of money through online payments. Club Penguin only took seed funding, and made millions on subscription services and the buying and selling of virtual goods.

We talked to gaming veterans Nabeel Hyatt and Susan Wu about this last month — they’re the co-founder and investor, respectively, of Conduit Labs, a stealthy startup that aims to combine the real world connections of social networks like Facebook with the 3-D interactivity of virtual worlds. Both told us that after the Club Penguin sale, they were each inundated with pitches from others looking to start their own virtual world sites.

Buddy Media’s other angel investors include Mark Pincus, a serial entrepreneur who also runs a profitable Facebook app where you can play poker, as well as Howard Linzon, James Altucher, Roger Ehrenberg and others.

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