Happy 10th birthday, Facebook -- and what a roller coaster of a ride it has been! It's hard to believe that it was 10 years ago today that then Harvard student Mark Zuckerberg launched "the facebook," an intimate social network originally designed for a bunch of Harvardians to use on campus. Fast-forward a few years, and the once small social platform has turned into a global phenomenon, used by 57 percent of all adults and 73 percent of all youngsters aged 12 to 17 today. Here are some key moments in Facebook's development.
On February 4, 2004, Harvard student Mark Zuckerberg launches "the facebook," a campus-wide social network. An earlier attempt to create a directory called Facemash, in which (mostly male) students could compare two images of (mostly female) students and decide which was "hotter," was squelched by the university because Zuckerberg had obtained and used private images without authorization.
Soon after followed a lawsuit from the Winkelvoss brothers, who claimed he stole their idea, a dispute which was eventually settled for $1.2 million in shares, in 2008.
Zuckerberg moves operations to Palo Alto, California in 2004, after which he shortly gets investment from paypal founder Peter Thiel. In 2006, Facebook is opened up to anyone over the age of 13 with a valid email address.
According to estimates from D. Steven White, an academic who regularly charts the growth of the top social networks, Facebook grew from an estimated 12 million users in 2006 to some 500 million users in 2010, when social media networks really hit the mainstream. White notes that all social networks show similar growth curves, first taken on by early adopters, then mainstream users, and then finally laggards. While growth has slowed as Facebook matures, it still has a staggering 1 billion users worldwide, with much of the growth now coming from outside the U.S.
Like Button Gets Users' Thumbs Up
In February 2009, Facebook begins rolling out its "Like" button. The wildly popular feature, which it may have itself lifted from early social network FriendFeed, lets users show interest in their friends' postings without having to comment, making it the perfect social feature for a stressed-out age.
Facebooks says it's Like and Share buttons are viewed more than 22 billion times daily across more than 7.5 million websites and are important drivers of Facebook referral traffic. Other networks are keen on the idea as well: Google Plus has introduced its +1 and Twitter has its "Favorite."
The Poke, However...?
If Likes are a lazy way to show approval, the Poke feature is more like the stalker's equivalent of the same, and as such much mocked and unloved. As one journalist put it: "Only the Facebook team really knows what it means to poke someone on Facebook." No one quite knows when it was introduced, but in 2011 it was quietly hidden in a drop-drown menu, so it is no longer prominently displayed.
Facebook Buys Instagram
In April 2012, Facebook purchased photo-sharing site Instagram for a whopping $1 billion. At the time, it seemed like a huge risk to pay that much for a company that, however popular with a young audience -- it currently has 180 million members -- had virtually no revenues. (Just as Facebook once did.) But the network late last year began selectively introducing advertising and analysts predict it will become a major revenue driver for Facebook in the coming year.
Going Public Requires More Focus on Revenues
Facebook undergoes intense scrutiny in the weeks building up to and after its IPO in May 2012. It sold shares to the public at $38 per share, giving it a valuation of $104 billion, the largest technology deal ever seen. Yet for months afterward, Facebook's stock languished, with many analysts saying it had been overpriced based on its fledging advertising revenue model. It didn't help when General Motors announced it would no longer advertise on the social network. Facebook set out to prove the naysayers wrong and please its investors with new products such as sponsored stories, promoted posts, and an ad exchange. Not all were a success: sponsored stories are being phased out this year, for example, because they annoyed users, who are slowly coming to understand that they are the product, not the customer.
Privacy Issues Don't Hinder Facebook
Facebook continues to gain users in spite of repeatedly violating its own stated commitment to protect their privacy. Most recently it eliminated a feature that lets users partially block people from finding them via Facebook. The company said it was removing the setting because very few users were making use of it. It recommended that instead users manually set which groups of people can see their posts. The truth is that Facebook will always have to juggle user privacy with the need to provide advertisers information about users.
Too Many Fake Likes
In August 2013, Facebook announced that there were as many as 83 million illegitimate accounts out there, or 8.7 percent of its 955 million active accounts. This raised concerns among advertisers about the true effectiveness of its targeted advertising model. Facebook began deleting the fake Likes, which according to analytics firm Socialbakers, led to a decrease in fans foremost among celebrity profiles such as Shakira, Lady Gaga, and Justin Bieber. Brands also found themselves affected.
Facebook Mobile Success Pleases Investors
In the final quarter of 2013, Facebook can attribute more than half of its ad revenue to mobile, totaling more than $1 billion. The stock is reportedly back in favor, currently going for around $62 a share and investors continue to be more bullish on its future prospects than they have been for a long time.
Cats, Dogs, Babies, and Kale Salads
Rumor has it that teens no longer find Facebook cool, preferring applications such as Snapchat, which purports to allow them to delete their messages right after sending. In spite of that, the Pew Center of Research concludes that teen users are still high, but that their relationship with Facebook is "complicated and may be evolving." (The research is based on interviews with users).
In the meantime, the adult audience continues to thrive on a steady mix of personal anecdotes, sometimes oversharing, and the ubiquitous adorable cat, dog, and baby videos mixed in with shots of what I'm eating for dinner and other minutiae.
For those who think they are immune to such moments, and in the spirit of sharing, Facebook is celebrating its 10 years by giving users' their own montage of special moments in a personalized video. Yes, that's right, in honor of its birthday, you get to take a "look back" at the defining moments of your past few years, too. We defy you to keep a dry eye!
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Mary Lisbeth D'Amico is a freelance writer based in Jersey City who frequently covers digital marketing, social media, tech startups, and venture capital. She has contributed to a wide range of publications including The Wall Street Journal, Business Week, Red Herring, and Real Deals. Find her on Twitter at @mldamico.
March 19, 2014