It's been an entire decade since a fresh-faced, wide-eyed Mark Zuckerberg launched Facebook from his Harvard dorm on 4 February 2004. Little did Zuckerberg know that at just 19 years old he had changed the world - and the internet - forever.
Within four years, Facebook would overtake Myspace in the number of unique worldwide visitors. Within six years, Facebook would be the inspiration for a blockbuster film that won three Academy Awards and four Golden Globes. Within eight years, Facebook would hold one of the biggest initial public offerings in Internet history and hit a peak market capitalization of over $104 billion. And within 10 years, Facebook would announce it had 1.228 billion monthly active users across the globe.
Facebook is undoubtedly an enormous success. It's also starkly different than it was during Zuckerberg's brief Harvard days. It's added new features and UI adjustments, lifted registration limitations, launched mobile apps, acquired mobile apps, and it's had major shake ups on the executive level.
So, how can one website, which has experienced so many changes, still be so successful? Scratch that. How can one website last 10 years? In an age where Myspaces comes and go and apps launch and then fold, what does Facebook do different? Well, Pocket-lint has attempted to answer these questions.
Check out our 10 possible reasons below, and let us know in the comments what you think. Also, wish Pocket-lint a Happy Birthday too. We hit 11 years this month. Hooray!
When people think of Facebook they also think of Twitter. They're rivals, right? Well, Facebook and Twitter are two entirely different beasts, but they both have something in common: social networking. Most people use them to socialise and network with friends, family, fans, businesses, and acquaintances. Unfortunately for Twitter, Facebook is just easier to use for most people. And that's probably why it has nearly 1 billion more active users.
To use Twitter effectively, you have to understand @ symbols, hashtags, and other code-like intricacies. These features are part of what make Twitter an ideal tool for seeing what's trending, sharing bits of information, finding news, etc. They're also what makes Twitter so confusing. For people without a programming background or tons of computer and internet knowledge, a tweet can sometimes look as though it was written in a foreign language.
Facebook doesn't do any of that. Although it now recognises and supports @ for tagging and # for trending words, Facebook doesn't rely on them. For instance, on Facebook, you can start writing the name of a person in a status, and Facebook will understand what you're doing and allow you to tag that person. It's easy.
In fact, all of Facebook's features are easy. That's why your parents, aunts, uncles and grandparents can use it. You don't have to be a computer hacker like Zuckerberg to figure it out. And with such ease of use, millions upon millions of people have embraced Facebook and stuck with it for 10 years.
Similar to ease of use, Facebook works because its design is super simple. And such simplicity is likely what helped Facebook overtake Myspace in 2008. Former Facebook President Sean Parker once described MySpace as a "junk heap of bad design", and he meant that on both a product and layout level.
If you can remember Myspace, you will probably recall the hours you spent fiddling away with themes and templates. The process sometimes required a little HTML fiddling, too. The whole thing was cumbersome, time-consuming, and especially hard for most users to grasp. Although, for the more skilled users, there was a built-in competition to see who among your friends had the best layout. Competition however turns off and frightens many.
Facebook didn't go that route. All Facebook profiles looked the same (and were much zippier too). You couldn't change background patterns, box position, link colours, and you most certainly couldn't showcase your top eight friends. Facebook wanted a simple, non-competitive, and cleaner design. Blue, grey, and white were the only colours you'd see, and most boxes on a profile page were affixed. Simple. And stress free.
On a product level, Myspace also didn't work because it didn't evolve. Facebook, on the other hand, did. And that leads us to...
Facebook loves to push out upgrades to its products. Some may argue that these upgrades cause the most uproar among users, but none of them to date have actually caused the social network to hemorrhage users.
Facebook's user interface has changed repeatedly over the years, for instance. It has added a news feed, timeline, cover photo, the list goes on. Facebook clearly wants to evolve, and not just on the web. The company's suite of mobile apps even receive regular upgrades. That's because Facebook is more than willing to develop and test changes, even if users groan and complain about them via a million status updates.
But it's also got users in mind when pushing out product upgrades. Facebook is often quick to address security issues and has even backpedaled on changes that may have breached privacy rights (like when it suspended plans to share users' phone numbers and addresses with app developers in 2011).
Apart from the UI and product tweaks, Facebook has also repeatedly rolled out new features. Some of them - such as Facebook's Messaging platform - have become very popular, while others - such as Facebook Beacon - have fizzled into nothing. But still the company perseveres.
Speaking of features, Facebook has a host of engaging features that really make it stand out.
Let's get down to business: Facebook is addicting. And that's because Facebook has some really engaging features. The website alone offers a news feed, messaging/chat, voice and video calls, the ability to like, follow, subscribe, and more. There's even a Gifts platform, which lets users buy and send physical and virtual gifts to friends. And, of course, there's the App Center.
The App Center is mostly filled with third-party games and apps. Facebook named 23 video games as its top titles of 2013, including a hidden-object adventure game called Criminal Case by Pretty Simple as Game of the Year. The game hit 100 million active users before its first birthday, while other games, such as Zynga's FarmVille, has racked up similarly impressive numbers over the years as well.
Beyond mind-sucking games and fancy website features, Facebook is also very engaging when it comes to mobile features. In fact, the company has nearly 1 billion monthly active mobile users as of December 2013, suggesting that users find Facebook's mobile apps both feature-rich and compelling.
Strong mobile presence
Facebook didn't waste any time moving to mobile. When numbers started suggesting a few years ago that people were using their smartphones and tablets more and more to access Facebook, the social network didn't skip a beat. It not only has the standard Facebook app for most platforms, it also has standalone apps for messaging, poking, uploading photos, reading news, and more.
However, much like Facebook's continual product changes, not all users have embraced Facebook's suite of apps. Some are flops; some are hits. One major hit, for instance, is an app that Facebook didn't develop but rather acquired, and it's called Instagram.
Instagram is an online photo-sharing, video-sharing and social networking service created by Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger and launched in October 2010. Facebook bought Instagram in April 2012 for $1 billion in cash and stock. That price tag resonated across the world, conjuring up theories about tech bubbles and hype.
That said, Instagram is still a huge success two years later. As of September 2013, Facebook confirmed Instagram had a total of more than 150 million monthly active users. That's comparable, although slightly less than, Twitter's userbase. And Twitter is three years older than Instagram.
Instagram has added several core features since its acquisition including things like hashtags, direct messaging, adverts, and the ability to watch and upload 15-second video clips. Each, of which, have given Twitter (and its app Vine) a run for its money. And since Twitter is considered Facebook's No. 1 rival, Instagram is only helping Facebook win the battle.
You can't talk about Facebook's success without talking about its users, and they're worldwide. Approximately 81 per cent of Facebook's daily active users are outside the US and Canada. Not only are they spread out across the globe, but they also range in age and sex.
According to the 2014 Facebook Demographic Report, which iStrategyLabs compiled using data from Facebook’s Social Advertising platform, Facebook had more male users than female in the US (as of January 2014).
But that's not the most interesting tidbit: About 3.3 million American users ages 13 to 17 years old have left Facebook since 2011, including another 3.4 million people who are 18 to 24. However, older users are joining in masses. Facebook added 10.8 million adults in the 25 to 34 demographic, and it added 16.4 million new users in 35 to 54-year-old demographic.
The biggest growth came from adults over the age of 55, where Facebook added 12.4 million new users. Due to these userbase figures, during the company's latest earnings call, David Ebersman, chief financial officer, admitted there had been a decline in daily use among younger teens.
While that may seem like a not-so-successful thing for Facebook, it's important to remember it also means Facebook is able to grow without teens. In other words, it's not dependent on one demographic. And that is always a plus.
Also, Zuckerberg has continually touted Facebook's social features and its ability to connect users. With such a wide-ranging userbase, Facebook definitely delivers on that promise. It can easily connect, lets say, grandparents in the UK with their grandchildren living in the US.
Facebook tries to eliminate anonymity on the web, which in turns makes it appear safe and more inviting to people from around the world.
Former Facebook President Sean Parker once explained how Facebook began with colleges and forced college users to authenticate their email addresses. This limitation actually implemented a one person, one identity token practice that Facebook has roughly stuck with, though it now allows any user with a verified email to join.
Parker also said Facebook is biased to profiles with pictures. For instance, when someone searches for a person, they will see relevant profiles with pictures first. All of these features create an environment where online identity matters. It also prevents trolling, spamming, etc., which are things that can easily turn Facebook into a failure like Myspace.
Another way Facebook enforces identity across the web is through integration with other apps and websites...
In 2008, Faceboook announced an extension of Facebook Platform called Facebook Connect. It made it easier for Facebook users to take their online identity with them across the web, according to Zuckerberg.
It also allowed them to share what they do online with their friends and stay updated on what friends doing, without having to create separate accounts for every website or app. They could simply use their Facebook login wherever Facebook Connect was available.
Apart from all that feel-good online identity stuff, Facebook Connect just sped things up. It suddenly took people two seconds to "join" a new site through Facebook Connect, where as old, standard practices could take 10 minutes. This type of integration was not only widely accepted almost everywhere online, including forums and comment systems for sites, it just made people happier.
A small idea like Facebook Connect is an ideal example of how Facebook just gets it right. It also suggests that Facebook is forward-thinking. Because let's be real: a company with a vision for the future has a better chance of succeeding than one that doesn't (hello, again, Myspace).
When Facebook went public, many people thought it was absurd. Others however realised Facebook was cementing its place in history. Facebook didn't want to become a fad site; it wanted to be around in another century or two. To accomplish such a fantastical dream, Facebook had to make a switch to probability (beyond advertising).
To be honest, Facebook is also more powerful as a public company. Facebook's cash pile ballooned quite a bit after the IPO, giving it the resources to battle giants of the internet like Apple, Google, Amazon, Microsoft, all of which have heaping mounds of cash.
With a sudden cash infusion, Facebook is able to continue its advertising efforts and buying smaller companies for product and engineering purposes. The IPO allowed Facebook to start thinking bigger. Sure, the IPO was also a risky bet. But when the stakes get higher, so doesn't the risk.
If Facebook wants to last another decade, it needs to make some bold moves. Because, in the end, it's these type of tough decisions that have helped Facebook to reach and keep its No. 1 spot among social networks.