Facebook at 10: How the Social Network Grew Up, and What it Should Do Next
On Feb. 4, 2004, Harvard University student Mark Zuckerberg launched TheFacebook.com, a way for college students to seek each other out for friendship, or, you know, whatever.
Tue, February 04, 2014
IDG News Service — On Feb. 4, 2004, Harvard University student Mark Zuckerberg launched TheFacebook.com, a way for college students to seek each other out for friendship, or, you know, whatever.
Its design was as basic as its purpose. There were was no News Feed, no Timeline, no photos--save for your profile pic--and no status updates. There wasn't even a Like button until 2009. Facebook wasn't about sharing content back then. Times have changed.
Facebook has a much more sophisticated look on its 10th birthday, not to mention a grander mission: to connect the world to the Internet. Zuckerberg was 19 when he created The Facebook, and he and his company have matured together as he approaches his 30th birthday.
How Facebook succeeded in spite of itself
The road from rudimentary online directory to billion-dollar ad network has been nothing if not bumpy. Facebook has had not one, not two, but several epic errors in judgment in the last decade. Most, if not all, of the company's mistakes have been privacy related.
First there was News Feed, which is now the foundation of the Facebook experience. But when it was introduced in 2006, users thought it was information overkill. Facebook got a new nickname, the ultra-clever "Stalkerbook." The outcry prompted a note from Zuckerberg: "Calm down. Breathe. We hear you."
And remember Beacon, the creepy ad system that followed you around the Internet and published your activity to your wall? In 2007, Facebook partnered with eBay, Fandango, and a slew of other websites to track your activity on the Web and, in some cases, share that activity with your friends without your consent. The ensuing backlash was so severe that Facebook quickly let users opt out or turn off Beacon. A class-action lawsuit forced the network to discontinue Beacon in 2009.
Sponsored Stories, another ad effort that translated your Facebook likes into company endorsements, also prompted a class-action lawsuit and settlement.
But Facebook has cleaned up its act since going public. The company that encourages its employees to "move fast and break things" now moves cautiously when introducing new products and tweaking its design or privacy settings. While News Feed was introduced without so much as a warning, a newspaper-influenced redesign was scaled back and ultimately dropped after flopping with test users last year.
The next 10
Despite its very public failures, Facebook has gotten more right than it's gotten wrong. How else has the network racked up more than 1 billion monthly active users, pulled in $2.6 billion in revenue last quarter, and fended off both its closest competitor, MySpace, and countless social networking startups?