By Joachim Dagenborg and Balazs Koranyi

OSLO (Reuters) - Facebook is under pressure to make money from the increasing number of users who access the social networking site from mobiles, making Norway's Opera a good fit for it, bankers familiar with the technology industry said.

Shares in the mobile browser maker soared by as much as 26 percent on Tuesday. Tech blogs reported recently that it was in the sights of Facebook, which was criticized at the time of its $100 billion initial public offering for failing to have an effective mobile advertising strategy.

Opera's Internet browser optimizes surfing on mobiles, which can be a slow and painful experience especially on more basic phones, and is especially popular in emerging markets.

Bankers said the company had long been up for sale informally but they ruled out rival interest from the likes of Google and Yahoo in the short term.

"The company has been available for a long time. Informally it is for sale," one of the bankers said. "And Facebook wants to buy its way into the emerging markets."

Another source familiar with the matter said it was unclear whether interest from third parties would ultimately result in closer partnerships or an outright takeover of Opera.

"Opera is attracting growing interest as mobile becomes more strategic for Internet companies, but there is no ‘For Sale' sign up over the company," the source said.

Opera currently benefits from partnerships with multiple companies including Google, which would be threatened by a takeover from a powerful rival such as Facebook.

"It's a classic challenge for a company like this. They're like the Switzerland of mobile. Someone would have to derive meaningful value to take them off of that independent path," the sources said.

Facebook shares slid to a new low on Tuesday at just above $30, extending a losing streak since its controversial and glitch-ridden market debut on May 18.

Facebook is approaching saturation point in the developed world and says its next billion users will come from countries such as India and Nigeria.

Because many people in those markets own simple phones and do not have access to app stores, it is important for Facebook to make the experience of accessing the site through a Web browser as painless as possible.

Its chief technology officer, Bret Taylor, said in February that Facebook would lend its weight to a push for better Web standards that would enable more apps to be delivered via a simple Internet browser, instead of going through Apple and Google stores.

"On paper (a Facebook-Opera combination) is a good story. Opera's browser is used in feature phones, not smartphones, mainly in the emerging markets," a second banker said.

Opera, which has about 200 million subscribers to its Mobile and Mini services, has built a significant share in major emerging markets such as India and Brazil, which are strategic growth markets for Facebook.

HEFTY PREMIUM

The Norwegian company would be such a perfect fit for Facebook that the U.S. company would have to pay a hefty premium, analysts said.

DNB, Norway's top bank, said the price would have to be double Friday's closing level, or 68.6 crowns, valuing Opera at $1.35 billion. Danske Bank and ABG Sundal Collier both predicted a price between 50 and 60 crowns a share, or $1 billion to $1.2 billion.

"Opera would be sensible for Facebook on several levels," Arctic Securities said.

"It would enhance the now limited mobile experience of Facebook, improve Facebook's mobile monetization problem, help Facebook retain online game developers leaving the social network over the lack of a mobile platform and further improve Facebook's ability to target ads."

Opera makes various Web browsers that work across an array of platforms including mobile phones, tablets, PCs and TVs.

The software is available on most phones, including Apple's iPhone and Research in Motion's BlackBerry, and works on various operating systems, including Google's Android, giving Opera the reach Facebook is seeking.

The browser can compress data by as much as 90 percent, saving consumers on data charges, and has the technology to better display ads, a significant factor for Facebook which has struggled to convert its rapidly increasing traffic from mobile platforms to revenue.

Opera officials have repeatedly declined to comment.

However, Chief Executive Lars Boilesen last October said he would "love to" further cooperate with Facebook.

"We are already Facebook's platform of distribution in emerging markets like Africa and India. A big part of the Opera Mini traffic is from Facebook. So we are already their channel in these markets," he said in October.

"We would love to cooperate with Facebook, but the same goes for Google and everyone else. There are no limits here, because we are the leading mobile client in these markets," he added.

OBSTACLES

Still, several obstacles remain.

Opera's founder and top shareholder, Jon S. Von Tetzchner, said the firm should focus on organic growth.

"I want Opera to focus on growth and delivering good results; there are big opportunities for Opera," Tetzchner, who holds 10.9 percent of Opera, told Reuters. "We have been promised 500 million users by 2013, and I think that's a good goal and the firm should keep going for it."

He added, "I personally think that an ARPU (average revenue per user) goal of $1 is even modest. I am not pushing for a takeover."

Tetzchner said he was not aware of a bid and had not decided how he would react to one but that it would be, as he described it, "undemocratic" to try to block it if others supported it.

Another obstacle could be Google, which has extensive relationships with Opera.

"A takeover by Facebook will likely send cold water down Google's spine," Arctic Securities said.

Google is Opera's default search partner for Opera Mini and Opera Mobile worldwide outside Russia/CIS, making the firm a major relationship for Google.

(Additional reporting by Victoria Howley and Georgina Prodhan; Editing by David Cowell and Jane Baird)

Related on HuffPost:

Check out the slideshow for some hip, non-corporate alternatives to Facebook.
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  • Pinterest

    Certainly the hottest new social network, Pinterest doesn't have all the functions and features of Facebook quite yet -- basically, you're just posting photos to your different boards, which you can categorize by interest or hobby or whatever. You can also follow your friends' boards and comment on their pins. And that's it. Pinterest is a simple, visual concept that has a huge, vibrant community of active users. It <a href="http://techcrunch.com/2012/02/07/pinterest-monthly-uniques/" target="_hplink">hit 10 million users faster</a> than any other social network and is now the <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/06/pinterest-traffic-growth_n_1408088.html" target="_hplink">third most popular social network</a> in America, trailing only Facebook and Twitter. <br> <br> You can <a href="http://pinterest.com/" target="_hplink">request an invitation to join Pinterest here</a>.

  • Tagged

    Tagged has a remarkably similar arc to Facebook: Also founded in 2004, and also originally tageted at young people, Tagged is now open to everyone and allows you to customize your profile, play games, message friends, post photos, and meet new people. It has more than 300 million users and more than twenty million monthly active users -- not too shabby, and perhaps worth a look if you want a robust Facebook alternative that's not going anywhere. To see what Tagged is all about, check out this video introduction for beginners. You can <a href="http://www.tagged.com/?" target="_hplink">sign up for Tagged here</a>.

  • Path

    Path is one of several new social networks that seeks to improve on Facebook by making the experience more private and personal: Users are limited to 150 friends on the mobile-only service. A user is instructed to only add his or her closest friends, or anyone you'd invite to your birthday party; the average Path user <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/15/business/path-familyleaf-and-pair-small-by-design-social-networks.html" target="_hplink">has 40 connections</a>. Path is sort of like a daily online journal that you open to your friends: You can post photos and videos using your smartphone's camera, update your location, share what songs you're listening to and more. Path has been praised for its intimate feeling and clean design. For more on this social network and its mission statement, check out the introductory YouTube video. (Ignore the Thai -- it's in English). <br> <br> You must have an iPhone or Android phone to participate in Path; a BlackBerry app is apparently on its way. Path has about a million active users, per a <em>recent <em>New York Times</em> article</em>.

  • Pair

    Speaking of intimacy: Pair is a social network in which you can only have one connection, as its name implies. Pair is a sharing service for couples (or really good friends, I suppose), available on Android and iPhone. It takes privacy to the extreme: Pair calls itself a "timeline for just the two of you, where you can post cute video messages and photos that no one else will see." Your significant other may be forcing you to join it any day now. On Pair, you can share photos, videos, location, and to-do lists; you can also play Tic-Tac-Toe with one another and draw sketches in real-time. One of the most precious features of Pair is its "thumbprint" feature, on which you and your partner can virtually press your thumbs together. Like Pair as a whole, you will probably either find this adorable or schmaltzy. Path is available for free <a href="http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/pair/id503663173?mt=8" target="_hplink">in iTunes</a> and <a href="https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.tenthbit.juliet" target="_hplink">the Google Play store</a>.

  • Highlight

    The number of social networks based on your current location, and your proximity to other users of an mobile application, is on the rise. These "social-location-mobile" (SoLoMo) apps dominated the recent South by Southwest festival, and the app that got the most press was Highlight. Highlight is iPhone only, and the mobile app hooks up with your Facebook and notifies you when you are near a friend, or a friend of a friend, or another Highlight user with similar interests. You can view this person's Highlight profile, and if you're intrigued, you can message that person and perhaps make a new friend or connection. Highlight CEO Paul Davison explains the app to Anderson Cooper in the accompanying YouTube video. Highlight is <a href="http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/highlight/id441534409?mt=8" target="_hplink">available for free in iTunes</a>.

  • Circle

    Circle is, like Highlight, an app that tells you who's around you; unlike Highlight, it has a very pleasant design and lots of options for what information you share publicly and who can see you. You sign up for Circle with your Facebook account; the iPhone-only app shows you when Facebook friends are nearby, and also when friends of friends are close. You can choose to toggle on and off public visibility, if you don't want to be visible to friends of friends. Your profile shows your different Facebook networks (your college, high school, hometown, etc.) and you also have a mini-bio with your name, relationship status and interests. All of this can be toggled on and off as well. Circle is available <a href="http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/circle-whos-around-you/id488720081?mt=8" target="_hplink">on iTunes</a>.

  • Kismet

    Another social location app for your iPhone, Kismet shows you who's around and lets you chat with your nearby neighbors; it also allows users to check in on Foursquare and see which other Kismet users are at their location. Kismet boasts a nice map view, which allows you to see a broad view of other Kismet users around you; there's also an invitation feature that allows you to invite your friends and other users to meet up at a certain place and certain time. You can <a href="http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/kismet/id490929215?mt=8" target="_hplink">download Kismet for iPhone here</a>.

  • Ban.jo

    Our final SoLoMo app (and hopefully the last time I will ever have to write "SoLoMo" ever again) is Ban.jo, which differentiates itself by being available for iPhone AND Android AND on the web. Accessibility! Aside from cross-OS availability, Ban.jo is more of the same: See who's currently around you in list or map view, message nearby folks, check in and update LinkedIn, Twitter, Foursquare and Facebook. Ban.jo is also the only one of these apps publicizing the number of users it has: Its press kit claims that Ban.jo has over one million users worldwide in 185 countries. You can download Ban.jo <a href="http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/ban-jo/id417076117" target="_hplink">for the iPhone</a> or <a href="https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.banjo.android" target="_hplink">for Android</a>; you can also <a href="http://app.ban.jo/?__utma=18700074.216795228.1337200636.1337200636.1337200636.1&__utmb=18700074.4.10.1337200636&__utmc=18700074&__utmx=-&__utmz=18700074.1337200636.1.1.utmcsr=google|utmccn=(organic)|utmcmd=organic|utmctr=(not provided)&__utmv=-&__utmk=204321424" target="_hplink">try it out at Ban.jo's website</a>.

  • Nextdoor

    Nextdoor is a social network for neighbors and neighborhoods. You join with your home address and are immediately placed into a home neighborhood; all of your connections, and all the content you see in your feed, comes from those that live near you. You don't have to make your address visible to your neighbors, but you do have to verify that you live there with Nextdoor in order to use the site. After you join, using Nextdoor is like a mix of browsing Craigslist and using your community bulletin board. You can find out what's happening in your 'hood and get recommendations for different local businesses and services; there's also a classifieds section for buying and selling. You can check out Nextdoor's pitch in the accompanying video. You can <a href="http://nextdoor.com/" target="_hplink">sign up for Nextdoor for free here</a>.

  • Roamz

    A mobile app for Android and iPhone, Roamz brings in information from Twitter, Foursquare, Instagram and Facebook to let you know what cool stuff is happening around you -- "where the locals go," it claims. That's the real draw of Roamz. It's a social network where you can post status updates and photos and also get information about the places nearby. Check out a video for the app -- which its creators call "Social Googles for the Real World" -- on the left. You can download Roamz for <a href="http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/roamz/id459343660?mt=8" target="_hplink">free for iPhone</a> or <a href="https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.roamz.app&feature=search_result#?t=W251bGwsMSwxLDEsImNvbS5yb2Ftei5hcHAiXQ.." target="_hplink">for Android</a>.