Happy birthday to ya: a look back on 12 years of Facebook

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It’s Facebook’s 12th birthday, and we’re celebrating by looking back at the platform’s milestones over the years.

Happy birthday, Facebook (sung in our best Stevie Wonder voice)! Looking back over the years, it’s hard to believe how just far the social media platform has come. What once started out as a geek-chic project that kept founder Mark Zuckerberg busy in his college dorm room, has now turned into a multi-billion dollar phenomenon.

In celebration of its 12th birthday today, we rounded up Facebook’s big moments in chronological order over the years.

2004: Mark Zuckerberg founded Facebook

If you have watched the movie The Social Network, you will know that Zuckerberg founded Facebook’s predecessor “Thefacebook” in February of 2004, to be used to connect the kids of Harvard. (Whether or not it was his own idea is still questionable for some, but either way he definitely got it off the ground.) 

In March of 2004, Facebook expanded to other Ivy League universities outside of Harvard, including Stanford, Columbia, and Yale. In the summer, entrepreneur Sean Parker became Facebook’s founding president.

2005: Facebook expands to high schools

Social networking was a brand new concept at the time, but quickly became very popular with students. So popular in fact, that the company purchased the domain name facebook.com, dropping the “The.” Just a few months later, Facebook expanded to more than 20 universities in the U.K. and other countries around the world. It was further opened to high schools, winning lots of  love from teenagers.

2006: Facebook goes beyond campus

Riding the momentum, Facebook expanded its memberships to employees of big companies like Apple, and then to everyone ages 13 and older, as long as they had a valid email address. 

In September, Facebook added a homepage feature called News Feed.
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2007: Facebook introduces Platform for third-party apps

Facebook officially debuted the Facebook Platform (fancy word to describe its sets of tools, services and products) at its F8 conference in San Francisco. It was here where third-party companies were able to see the framework they could use to build dozens of potential apps, all able to interact with Facebook’s features. 

This strategic move allowed developers to integrate Facebook’s API and reach the network’s more than 20 million users at the time. (The platform had around 100 thousand new users per day.)

At the same time, Facebook became a much more dynamic platform and was able to attract a flurry of new users due to its external app capabilities. By the end of 2007, more than 10,000 apps were launched within the Facebook ecosystem.

2008: Facebook integrates chat features

Facebook Chat helped the platform become a more comprehensive vibrant social network. The chat bar located at the bottom of a page showed who was online so users could send a message to that person.

Aside from a chat window and online friends list, Facebook Chat also gave users access to notifications and chat settings.

2009: Facebook rolls out the Like button

If I hadn’t have written this story, I would never have realized that the beloved Like icon is already seven years old – it feels like only yesterday! Facebook developed this feature for users to acknowledge things that they like, without having to leave a detailed comment.

The strategy clearly paid off, as the Like button has now become one of the most important metrics for social media marketers to measure their content. In response to the Like button’s popularity, Facebook is rolling out six new emoticons this year, including “love,” “haha,” “yay,” “wow,” “sad,” and “angry.”

2010: Facebook gets a makeover

The redesign was rolled out on Facebook’s sixth anniversary. It consisted of a tidier homepage design, as well as a streamlined applications and games dashboard.

Facebook redesign

Facebook’s new look enhanced the user experience, for sure. For example, News Feed filters and friends lists no longer took up the entire left sidebar. And the homepage stream Live Feed were merged with News Feed, with the live updates under a “Most Recent” tab and the highlights under “Top News.”

2011: Facebook develops the Messenger app for iOS and Android

Around six months after Facebook acquired group messaging startup Beluga, the social network developed its own standalone app called Messenger.

This messaging app functions like the web-based version of Facebook messages (remember Facebook Chat we mentioned above?). The company didn’t go on to monetize Messenger until it introduced the Messenger Platform at its F8 in March of 2015.

David Marcus, Facebook’s vice president of messaging products, said at the conference that users could expect additional ecommerce capabilities from Messenger in the next few years.

2012: Facebook goes public and holds its initial IPO. It also buys Instagram.

By this point, Facebook had become an integral part of many people’s daily lives. But the company didn’t go public until 2012 when its initial share price was $38.

Facebook IPO

As a legitimate publicly-traded tech company, Facebook now had huge cash to acquire any startups that posed a threat in the future – and it did just that with Instagram. In 2012, Facebook purchased the image-sharing mobile app platform for $1 billion.

There were many reasons why Facebook spent so much on a company that didn’t have much revenue at the time. Some thought that this was because it wanted to gain more data, while others believed that the acquisition of the hip image-sharing app could help solve Facebook’s “midlife crisis.”

No matter what the reason was, the deal proved to be a profitable investment. After Instagram introduced diverse advertising offerings and opened its API to advertisers, the platform’s revenue is estimated to reach $300 million in 2016, compared to $110 in 2015.

2013: The Internet.org is born

The Internet.org is Facebook’s intitative to provide free mobile access to a selection of web services in developing countries such as India, Indonesia and Pakistan.

This is an ambitious plan to “connect the world” and it has been criticized for only serving content from select partner companies, which is against the principles of net neutrality.

The Internet.org has also laid groundwork for Facebook advertising in emerging markets. In October of 2015, Facebook introduced slideshow for video content, letting brands create 10- to 15-second video ads from still images to reach consumers in less developed countries.

2014: Facebook develops Atlas and acquires both WhatsApp and Oculus

Facebook started Advertising Week 2014 with the debut of the revamped advertising platform, Atlas.

The network promoted Atlas as a “people-based” marketing approach that can solve mobile’s cookie-less problem.

Aside from Atlas, Facebook made two major acquisitions that were aimed at boosting the company’s business going forward. One was the purchase of WhatsApp for $19 billion in February. The other was a $2 billion deal of Oculus Rift in July.

WhatsApp post

WhatsApp and Oculus Rift haven’t yet become big ad revenue drivers like Instagram, but they are very likely to take the lead from their big sister and do so soon.

2015: Video becomes a big business for Facebook

Between 2014 and 2015, many content marketers saw their organic reach significantly drop, because Facebook tweaked its News Feed algorithm to host relevant content.

In the name of improving News Feed’s quality, Facebook offered a variety of video ad formats and encouraged brands to place more video content on the platform. In response, more than 1.5 million small businesses posted videos (organic posts and ads) on Facebook last September.

2016 …

At twelve years old, Facebook is not a child anymore. What can we expect from this growing platform? Maybe more virtual reality (VR) initiatives? After all, the company already shipped its first consumer VR product late last year. Or perhaps some artificial intelligence – we can see Zuckerberg developing his own Iron Man’s Jarvis, can’t you?

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