Facebook has become such an everyday part of our lives that it is easy to forget that this flagship online network is a relatively new phenomenon. In fact, with an official launch date of February 4th 2004, Facebook has only just turned fifteen years old. Yet for some people, especially the younger generation, it is hard to imagine life without it.
So where did Facebook come from? How has it grown to take over the world? And are there any downsides to this amazing interconnectivity?
The early years
Many of us know the story of how Facebook came about thanks to the 2010 film, The Social Network, starring Jessie Eisenberg as Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg. It charts the rise of the platform from Zuckerberg’s Harvard dorm, to other Boston Colleges, and ultimately to anyone aged over 13 with an email address worldwide. The rise was phenomenal, going worldwide in just two and a half years.
By 26th August 2008, Facebook had reached 100 million users, doubling that by the following April and doubling it again by February 2010. 400 million users in just six years may sound impressive, but that was just the start. Facebook reached a billion users just two and a half years later, and currently has 2.32 billion monthly active users and 1.52 billion users who log on every day. That’s almost one in three people on the planet!
The numbers behind Facebook’s success are breath-taking. In its first fifteen years, more than 250 billion photos have been uploaded to Facebook. Every minute, over half a million comments are posted and 136,000 photos are added to the grand total, taking up 22% of total internet time and creating 4 petabytes (4×1015 bytes) of new data every single day.
It is ranked as the fourth largest company in the world, with a value of around $95bn and it claims around a fifth of all mobile advertising revenue, worth around $14bn per year. Hardly surprising then that Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg, has an estimated personal wealth of over $55bn (even though his salary is just $1 per year).
Of course, as anyone who has seen the movie knows, this meteoric rise has not been without controversy. Zuckerberg was originally sued by two of his Harvard alumni, Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss, who claimed he had stolen their idea for a social networking website. Facebook was also sued by Yahoo! twice for patent infringement, and again by potential investors following a Financial Industry Regulatory Authority investigation into its stock market launch.
At its heart, Facebook is free to join, but as anyone who has tried a ‘free weekend’ at a timeshare complex, or the ‘free plays’ at online casinos knows, there is no such thing as a free lunch. Facebook users have paid for their free service in many ways down the years, and not just through the constant bombardment from advertisers. Recently, Facebook has been mired in controversy regarding the misuse of customer data, with Zuckerberg appearing before the US Congress only last year. In the Cambridge Analytica scandal, Facebook data was harvested without consent and used for various purposes, including political campaigning.
Pure staying power
Facebook has done an excellent job of futureproofing itself, with the acquisition of two of the most popular social media platforms, What’sApp and Instagram. It has also set its sights on improving crucial connectivity through the use of drones and satellites. Add in significant investment in VR Facebook technology, with Zuckerberg targeting a billion VR users, and it’s clear that Facebook is working hard to stay ahead of the curve and isn’t going anywhere fast. Who knows what the next fifteen years will bring, but if they are anything like Facebook’s first fifteen, it’s going to be an exciting ride!