(WASHINGTON) -- Facebook, in one of the world's most widely anticipated IPOs, or initial public offerings of stock, filed papers Wednesday afternoon to raise at least $5 billion and begin to sell stock this spring.
The filing was made online with the Securities and Exchange Commission in Washington. If all goes as planned, it will likely take until May for Facebook stock to begin trading on a stock exchange.
[ CLICK HERE TO SEE FACEBOOK'S FILING WITH THE SEC ]
"It is a major sign of maturation" for Facebook to go public, said Lawrence Summers, the former Secretary of the Treasury who was president of Harvard University when Mark Zuckerberg, now 27, started Facebook from his dorm there in 2004. "It means more cash flow, it means even more visibility, it means even more responsibility to shareholders, but also to the broader society.
"It is both a recognition of what has been accomplished, and it points to the fact that Mark Zuckerberg has done a remarkable thing in building a global institution in a very short time," said Summers.
Several major investment banks are involved in the IPO, with Morgan Stanley in the lead role. Goldman Sachs, Bank of America, Merrill Lynch, Barclays Capital and JP Morgan are also involved.
Facebook's filing has been widely dubbed the IPO event of the year. Analysts said that this offering will change the Internet sector, creating what will be one of the world's most valuable Internet companies.
Others warn that Facebook may not be a surefire winner for small investors looking to make some quick money. Certainly, Facebook has been profitable, but it has already made a great deal of money as a private company. It has more than 800 million active users -- up 45 percent in 2011 -- but growth in the United States and other Western countries has already begun to slow.
Why go public now anyway? Since Facebook already has more than 500 investors, it is required to make certain financial information public anyway under SEC regulations. The deadline to file this information expires in April.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg reportedly decided to go public once it became clear that the company had become too big to keep its finances private. By going public, Facebook loses some of its mystery and cool, having to declare profits and losses and answer to shareholders every quarter. But the company will have access to new cash and can use the value of its stock to acquire other companies and to reward its employees.
Many of Facebook's 3,000 employees could now become Silicon Valley millionaires. Zuckerberg himself is already said to be the world's youngest billionaire.
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio