Looking back at 10 years of Facebook
Can you remember a world without Facebook? Luke O’Neill looks back at 10 years of the social networking behemoth before its birthday on February 4.
Facebook is turning 10. With some nine million Australians logging in to the website every day, the social network has become entwined in our personal lives.
From its beginnings in a college dorm-room to its rise to multi-billion dollar web behemoth, Facebook has shaped how we interact with one another in the online age. It now boasts over a billion daily active users worldwide.
Here are some of its best and worst moments.
‘The Facebook’ is born (2004)
It is called ‘The Facebook’. It is immediately popular. Over a thousand Harvard students sign up in its first 24 hours up. It soon spreads to other campuses and in under a year gains one million users. It launches its trademark ‘Wall’ in September 2004, allowing users to post public messages on friends’ pages. Users take to the feature with verve.
The definite article is dropped from the brand name in 2005, a choice later portrayed in 2010 film The Social Network, in which Napster co-founder Sean Parker (played by Justin Timberlake) tells Jesse Eisenberg’s Mark Zuckerberg to “lose the The”.
Facebook launches an online advertising program to track the purchases of users on over 40 third-party websites. The idea is that users can share what they have bought with friends. It goes horribly awry.
Christmas gifts added to retail site wish lists and even partners’ engagement ring purchases start popping up in news feeds. Users revolt. Zuckerberg soon concedes he is “not proud of the way we’ve handled this situation and I know we can do better.”
Beacon is put to bed in 2009.
Introducing the Like button (2009)
Sating our need for online validation and providing advertisers with lucrative user data, the like button is perhaps Facebook’s greatest feature.
Facebook veteran Andrew Bosworth has explained that engineers first worked on an ‘awesome’ button but Zuckerberg was not a fan of the term. Stars and a plus sign were also considered before the company chose its now-ubiquitous thumb.
It is now a defining feature of Facebook and the wider web. Recent estimates suggest one in five websites use the button.
Social reader (2010)
Facebook experiments with social news, requiring users to opt-in to a social reader app, which automatically shares everything a person reads.
The Guardian and Washington Post jump on board, but users quickly become irritated by clogged up newsfeeds and overshare.
Publications back away from their offerings after reader numbers plummet. Facebook learns a valuable lesson: sharing is selective.
Planet Facebook (2012)
Eight years after its launch, CEO Mark Zuckerberg announces Facebook has reached one billion active users per month.
“Helping a billion people connect is amazing, humbling and by far the thing I am most proud of in my life,” writes Zuckerberg, on his own profile page.
Buying Instagram (2012)
A picture is worth a thousand words and an app to share them is worth $1 billion.
This was Facebook’s thinking on Instagram. The popularity of the photography app rose quickly after its launch on iPhone in 2010. But why did Facebook slash out on a company with no revenue to speak of? It did so because photos are the secret sauce for Facebook’s success.
With Instagram’s sleek app presenting a far better photo-sharing experience than Facebook had yet offered, the purchase was as much about defence as it was about opportunity.
Facebook will yet learn if it bought wisely. Instagram’s recent introduction of a direct messaging function and the positive response to advertisements within its news streams will give cause for hope.
Going public (2012)
A much-hyped $16 billion IPO is beset by trading delays and Nasdaq errors, leading to recriminations and claims of overvaluation.
Shares open at $38 on the morning of the float on May 18, but fall swiftly amid technical and trading hitches, leading underwriters Morgan Stanley to step in to protect the price with open market purchases.
Zuckerberg takes a bath with $8.1 billion struck from his own fortune. It is July 2013 before the company’s share price rises past its IPO price again.
The botched float causes headaches still. Last month, a US District Judge paved the way for investor claims against Facebook, Nasdaq and banks involved in the bedeviled IPO.
Status anxiety (2014)
Researchers from University College London last month revealed that young people are turning away from Facebook, in favour of Twitter, Snapchat and WhatsApp.
Facebook has lost its cool and younger people are flocking to alternative platforms, ones far from the gaze of mums, dads and grandparents.
“What we’ve learned from working with 16-18 year olds in the UK is that Facebook is not just on the slide, it is basically dead and buried. Mostly they feel embarrassed even to be associated with it,” explained Professor Daniel Miller, who worked on the research.
As Facebook looks ahead to its troublesome teens, it will be eager to arrest the flight of younger users.