Apple makes the vast majority of its money from hardware. Amazon is a retail company. It won't even disclose what share
of its $17 billion in revenue comes from hardware (i.e.: Kindle sales).
Meanwhile, Facebook makes practically no money from hardware or retail. Like Google, it makes more than 90 percent of its revenue from advertising. (How many ads to you see on Apple.com? How many ads do you see on Amazon?)
Before Facebook, Apple was the world's greatest genius of squeezing profit per worker. Some of that has to do with the fact that Apple's workers really are creative geniuses who have designed products of great value to the world's customers. The other part is that Apple has mastered "supply chain productivity," which allows it to sell its products at a huge mark-up while spending very little on shipping and assembling parts.
That sort of supply chain management has practically nothing to do with Facebook's value. Facebook's business plan is much simpler. Get as many active users as possible, collect and disaggregate their data, and show them ads that they're likely to respond to. Facebook "has built the most amazing vehicle for the appropriation of surplus value that the world has ever known," as Matt Yglesias puts it.
Seen that way, Facebook's workforce isn't just 3,000 employees, but also 835 million users, who create information that is valuable to advertisers, and therefore valuable to Facebook (see the chart below, from The Economist). The same way our very interaction with a Google search is used to improve the algorithm and sell lucrative ads, our data on Facebook is used to enrich the site ... and sell lucrative ads. This makes Facebook less like a typical company, and more like, yes, a typical country. A country makes money by levying a tax on its citizens. Now, you don't pay a literal tax to see information on Facebook. But when you step back and consider the business model -- I am allowing Facebook to sell my information, disaggregated, in exchange for money -- it's not hard to see this implicit fee as a kind of invisible tax we all pay to use the site.
The productivity revolution in the U.S. economy is one of my favorite topics, but the attention around the IPO of Facebook emphasizes how productivity in the tech industry comes in very different forms. What makes Facebook efficient (from a market-cap-to-worker ratio standpoint) has nothing to do with what makes Apple efficient. Facebook is ultra-productive because, like Google, its business model turns consumers into productive workers.