Facebook turns 10, but will it survive another 10

He’s the fresh face behind Facebook and worth an estimated €22bn.

As his company celebrates its 10th birthday, he added €10bn to his net worth last year alone and has more wealth than anybody could ever hope to use in a lifetime.

What began as a project in a student’s dorm has become one of the greatest internet success stories.

In the last decade, it has attracted millions of people who use it to communicate with friends, post updates on their life, share photographs, change their relationship status, or to simply click ‘like’.

Last week, the social network heavyweight reported record revenues of €2bn from 750 million daily users.

But the road that led the US company to its position as a multibillion-euro global powerhouse has been far from smooth, and many question whether or not it will survive another 10 years.

Its story began in February 2004 when Harvard psychology student Mark Zuckerberg launched the social networking site from his room. The keen computer programmer had already developed a number of networking websites for fellow students, including Coursematch, which allowed users to view people taking their degree, and Facemash, a website that asked users to judge students by how attractive they were.

But it was Thefacebook.com — as it was originally called — that proved the instant hit, allowing Harvard undergraduates to create basic online profiles and display personal information and photos.

Within a month, more than half of the student population had an account and soon after the social network started its expansion to other colleges and universities across America.

By the end of 2004, Zuckerberg and the early Facebook founders decided to move their headquarters to the sunny climes of California and began developing the site after catching the eye of a number of wealthy investors.

Facebook.com was purchased in August 2005 and the following month US high schools were allowed to sign up. The buzz around the revolutionary website started to reverberate across the globe and its registration limits were scrapped in September 2006, but the lengthy legal battles which have marred its relatively short lifespan were already well under way.

Harvard student Cameron Winklevoss, his twin brother Tyler and friend Divya Narenya, claimed Zuckerberg had taken the idea for Facebook when he was working for them as a programmer for their university social networking site ConnectU.

The trio filed a lawsuit in September 2004 and following nearly four years of legal wrangling Facebook finally settled for a purported $65m (€48m) in 2008.

By this time the company’s estimated value had soared into the billions following investment from Microsoft and other high-profile capitalists and it had set up an international base in Dublin.

The website’s features developed over the years with the introduction of ‘like’ and ‘poke’ buttons in 2009 and its highly popular news feed — which led to the first complaints about its privacy policy.

In June 2009, Facebook overtook Myspace as the leading online social network in the US, but it was still dogged by criticism over privacy issues. It admitted it had violated users’ privacy by getting people to share more information than they agreed to, before settling in court and making its policy more clear.

The meteoric rise of the site was immortalised in the release of The Social Network film in 2010, documenting the legal battle with the Winklevoss twins, who sought more money after the 2008 settlement before finally ending their battle in 2011.

The film also focused on Zuckerberg’s relationship with co-founder Eduardo Saverin, who was allegedly forced out of the firm before taking legal action against Facebook.

Warwick Business School assistant professor of information systems, Markos Zachariadis said Facebook is “now much more than a place to ‘upload pics’”.

“It is the largest social network in the world, but many are questioning whether it will survive another 10 years.

“Another innovation and network may come along to threaten its dominant position in the market, but Facebook is in a good position to expand and grow further, thus creating a strong ‘network effect’ and adding new services to keep users engaged.

“Security and privacy are two of the most important elements for the success of social networking sites in the near future.

“Who has access to our digital footprint and the data that we generate throughout our interaction with social platforms are important issues most networks will need to address based on local laws and international regulations.”

Meteoric rise

A potted history of the social media behemoth:

* Founded in 2004 by Harvard student Mark Zuckerberg and his college room mates.

* The ultra-exclusive site was rolled out to a mainstream audience on September 26, 2006, for those at least 13 years old with a valid email address.

* By June 2009, users were given the chance to register their own personalised domain with Facebook, in the same way Twitter has user-specific handles.

* In January 2012, Facebook announced plans to introduce the timeline facility — prompting suggestions it was moving closer to Twitter.

* Facebook Inc began selling stock to the public and trading on the Nasdaq in May 2012 — it’s currently valued at €130bn.

* Around 9% of users are believed to be fake.

* It joined the Fortune 500 list for the first time on May 2013, placed at position 462.

* In September, Facebook apologised after a dating advertisement featuring the photograph of a Canadian teenager who died after months of bullying was posted on its site.

* Plans announced in October allowing users to open their profiles to strangers angered campaigners, who voiced concerned about cyber-bullying and sexual predators.

* In December, Facebook rolled out plans to allow video adverts to appear in news feeds, already playing the content.

* As of January 2014, it has about 1.2bn monthly users.


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