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Facebook

Facebook has just celebrated its 10th birthday! Its founder, Mark Zuckerberg, was quoted, by Facebook's current CEO Sheryl Sandberg, as having said that “Facebook was started not just to be a company, but to fulfill a vision of connecting the world”. This article looks at the development of Facebook over the last 10 years and some of the effects it has had on society during that time.

Origins of Facebook

Facebook is a social networking website which was created by Harvard University student Mark Zuckerberg and launched to the public on February 4, 2004. Originally known as Thefacebook, its origins are none too auspicious! It evolved from a previous system called Mashbook, whose main purpose was to give male ­students a forum where they could rate the sexual attractiveness of Harvard girls. Whilst the stated aim of Thefacebook was supposedly a more general one of Harvard students being able to connect more easily with one another, it was initially used for much the same purposes as Mashbook but fortunately did gradually evolve into being a centralized website to provide contact between people in and around the university.

Within hours of going live, over 1,000 students had registered and within the first month, this extended to over half the undergraduate population at Harvard. In March 2004, Thefacebook expanded to Stanford, Columbia, and Yale and was then expanded to include students from other colleges in the Boston area and then the Ivy League as a whole - i.e Brown University, Cornell University, Dartmouth College, Harvard University, Princeton University, the University of Pennsylvania in addition to Columbia and Yale. It then extended to the remaining universities in the USA and then onward to universities in Canada.

Working alongside Mark Zuckerberg in the early days were several other fellow Harvard students, including Eduardo Saverin, who handled the business aspects, Andrew McCollum, a graphic artist, and Dustin Moskovitz, a programmer. In June 2004, Thefacebook moved its base of operations to Palo Alto in California. In 2005 ‘The’ was dropped from its name and the domain name facebook.com began to be used.

On October 1, 2005, Facebook expanded membership to twenty-one universities in the United Kingdom, and between October and December 2005, several universities in other countries such as Mexico, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Australia and New Zealand were also added to the Facebook network. In parallel with this, Facebook also launched a high school version. By December 2005, over 2,000 colleges and 25,000 high schools were in the Facebook network and membership had also been expanded to employees of several companies, including Microsoft and Apple. By September 2006, membership of Facebook was open to anyone aged 13 or over with an email address.

Further expansion took place over the next couple of years. In 2007 the concept of business pages was introduced, giving businesses the opportunity to describe their products and services and attract potential customers. In October 2008, Facebook set up its international headquarters in Dublin, Ireland and in fact for tax reasons all users in Europe, Asia, Australia, Africa and South America now have a contract with Facebook's Irish subsidiary “Facebook Ireland Limited”. In 2010, Facebook opened its fourth office, in Hyderabad India.

In 2011, Facebook moved its headquarters from Palo Alto to the old Sun Microsystems campus in Menlo Park. Interestingly, part of the address is Hacker Way! This is a campus style environment that has recreated a buzzy urban ambience with the aim of creating opportunities for staff to be focused as well as collaborative. According to one of the designers - Randy Howderfrom the company Gensler - “One challenge is to find the right balance between open-plan, collaborative settings, which predominate, and places where people can hide away. Individuals have the time and space to imagine, muse, write, reflect, create, and just be alone with their thoughts. They also have easy access to their teams to meet, critique, refine, brainstorm, iterate, and develop.”

Usage of Facebook

By the end of 2013, Facebook had a staggering 1.23 billion monthly users worldwide. 170 million of these had been added during 2013.

According to recent telephone research by Princeton Survey Research Associates, Facebook is the most commonly used social networking platform of the five that they measured. It also also has high levels of engagement among its users: 63% of Facebook users visit the site at least once a day, with 40% doing so multiple times throughout the day. Facebook itself also recently published figures showing that one out of three people in both the US and the UK were visiting Facebook every day. An increasing amount of this regular traffic is accessing Facebook via mobile phones.

42% of online adults use more than one social networking platforms, and there has been recent growth of services such as Pinterest and Instagram. However, for those people who use only one social networking site, Facebook is usually their chosen network with around 71% of online adults Facebook users.

Functions of Facebook

As we have seen, usage of Facebook is global, extensive, and still growing! What sort of things do people do when they are using Facebook?

The first thing is to set up a timeline (this used to be called a profile) which contains the information about a person that they want to share. This includes biographical information, significant events, likes and dislikes and so on. The timeline also includes a “wall” where a user can post updates on information, events, and feelings - and where “friends” can also post messages, comments, photos, links to items of interest, invitations, etc. There is also an inbuilt messaging/chat system which enables users to communicate on a one-to-one or group basis i.e. not visible to all their friends.

Friends are your contacts on Facebook. Friends can see everything on your timeline and can add things to your wall. Some users only therefore add as friends people that they know well and want to share things with. Other users use Facebook as a way to connect with anyone and everyone and therefore are much else discriminating about whom they add. Most personal users are probably somewhere in between these two extremes. The recent research by Princeton found that the mean average number of friends among adult Facebook users is 338 and the median comes in at 200 friends i.e “half of all Facebook users have more than 200 friends, and half have less than 200.” Once a user has added some friends on Facebook, the network will broaden as more friends are discovered either by already being “friends of friends” or by stumbling across them as if by accident. To assist this process, Facebook has tools such as Friend Finder to search for specific people and will also suggest “People You May Know”. As Facebook continues to grow, it will become increasingly easy to track down both newly introduced contacts and long-lost friends.

Many businesses, organizations, musicians and artists use Facebook's system of groups and pages to reach out to a wider community and gain new customers and fans which is proven to be an easy and cost effective business tool. The Facebook page can link to and from other digital resources such as webpages. There is also an event tool by which details of an event can be created and people invited to it. This means that before the event it is easy to see the details of the event and the people that are planning to be there, and that after the event memories and photos of the event can be posted.

By 2011, Facebook had become the largest online photo host, with over 100 billion photos stored on it. It provides a central easy accessible location for photos and others with access to a timeline are also able to see them. Photos can be shared on the timelines of other friends and people can be “tagged” in a photograph which means that their name appears alongside the photograph.

There are also a myriad of games and apps available on Facebook for you to tailor and use as you choose.

Concerns about Facebook

Used wisely, Facebook can be a valuable and enjoyable tool for both business and pleasure. However, it is not without its critics and concerns.

One of the main concerns is privacy. Privacy settings can be set for timelines and photos which theoretically prevent people not know to the user from accessing those details. However, many users are unaware of the privacy settings, which means that anyone can access their material. This is particularly worrying in the case of younger people. 94% of American ­teenagers between the ages of 13 and 16 are on Facebook. In the UK, one in five ­children between nine and 12 are thought to have a Facebook page, despite the membership rule of being over 13. Also in the “small print” is the little known fact that Facebook actually owns all images on its site so can use them for purposes such as advertising without having to seek consent from those in the image.

Another related issue is that of digital footprint. Once on the internet, always on the internet. In the film The Social Network - which recounts the development of Facebook - Erica Albright confronts Mark Zuckerberg about derogatory comments he has made about her on Facebook saying “The internet's written in ink, Mark. It's not written in pencil.” Employers are increasingly checking out the digital history of potential employees and unpleasant comments or embarrassing photographs may well backfire.

A recent article by Frances Wilson in the UK press “How Facebook Stole Childhood” voices grave concerns about the negative impacts of Facebook on teenagers. These include the physical effects of spending vast amounts of time hunched over computers, the perceived need to create a life worth observing for all your online friends, spiteful cyber-bullying comments about appearance or lifestyle, and the obsessive desire to be ‘Facebook famous’. All of these can cause unhappiness to - and reduce the self-esteem of - already vulnerable teenagers.

What's the future for Facebook as it turns 10?

Facebook is continuing to grow, but this is likely to slow both because it is reaching saturation point and also is it perhaps becoming less “cool” for teenagers as other networks emerge. To counter this Facebook has recently purchased Instagram and has also introduced a rival app to the very popular Snapchat. It also needs to keep pursuing new users wherever possible - perhaps in the developing world. Commercial links could be strengthened to reap more benefit from advertising and perhaps facilitate shopping through Facebook itself. More tailored control for users over timeline content and the ability to remove items permanently and thus clean up their digital footprint would also be an avenue worth pursuing.

So there are things that Facebook can do to continue its phenomenal success. One thing is for certain; that for the foreseeable future, Facebook is here to stay!

Social Media | Internet


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