Facebook is still thriving 20 years later
WASHINGTON: (Web Desk) Twenty years after its launch, social networking site Facebook continues to show unprecedented staying power after burying early competitors like MySpace and Friendster and establishing a distinct foothold in the burgeoning social media landscape.
TheFacebook.com was introduced by a Harvard University undergrad named Mark Zuckerberg for his fellow students. Facebook has more than 2 billion active daily users and has maintained significant relevancy, often taking center stage in many of our cultural and political debates.
Facebook set itself apart from other early social platforms with its initial exclusivity and its emphasis on gamifying social relationships through “likes,” comments, shares, and friend counts, helped along by a news feed updating users on the lives of their friends and acquaintances.
“From a cultural standpoint, there has been a very clear trend towards the gamification of social relations,” said Pablo Boczkowski, a professor at the department of Communication Studies at Northwestern University who studies digital culture. “Facebook tapped into that and intensified that in society through its success. You can check what others in your peer group have and compare yourself to them, in a way you really can’t do in your personal life.”
In 2004, Facebook was a Harvard-only site. Over the next few months and years, the site expanded, first permitting students from other colleges and universities to sign up, then high schoolers and professionals with corporate email addresses. By 2006, many of its original users had aged out of their initial demographics, prompting Facebook to cast a wider membership net.
“We have two years of alums already, and more than one-third of the people using the site are not in college any more,” Zuckerberg told the New York Times in 2006, right before the site opened its doors to anyone over the age of 13. “If we make it so other young people can use the site, it strengthens the experience for everybody.”
Its early grasp and emphasis on young adults set Facebook’s tone as a space for Millennials to keep up with their family, friends, and friends’ friends, to announce major and minor life updates, and to broadcast their opinions on just about anything.
The home pages of facebook.com and myspace.com are arranged for a photograph on a computer screen on September 7, 2006.
The home pages of facebook.com and myspace.com are arranged for a photograph on a computer screen on September 7, 2006. Daniel Acker/Bloomberg/Getty Images
Strong social connection was the linchpin of Facebook, differentiating it from other primordial social media sites.
While MySpace gained popularity by allowing users to create profiles and meet new people, Facebook’s priority was expanding networks through real-life acquaintances.
MySpace, which was the most popular social media site between 2005 and 2008, also focused on music, with artists posting their songs on the platform and users curating playlists and sending songs to their online friends. The platform attempted to establish itself as a music destination.
Lagging far behind Facebook, a new team of investors including singer Justin Timberlake bought the platform in 2011. MySpace later launched a free music player with access to 42 million songs — what the company had said was the internet’s biggest collection of free music.
It was too little, too late. MySpace’s monthly active users had trickled down to an estimated 35 million in mid-2011, according to a Comscore report at the time. In contrast, by September of that year, Facebook was seeing almost 800 million monthly active users.
A server migration error in 2019 all but sounded the death knell for MySpace, though the platform remains active. The malfunction resulted in a loss of 50 million songs, including audio and video files, which had been uploaded by users over the previous 12 years.
Friendster, a social network site launched in 2002, also failed to stick around — ceasing operations in June 2015 after transitioning to a social gaming site years earlier. Facebook had been similar to Friendster in its emphasis on maintaining connections with friends and sharing mutual interests.
But a 2013 study by researchers at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich found a key factor leading to the site’s downfall was its newer members not having strong connections to others, weakening the social fabric and the resilience of the platform, which relied on active engagement among users.
The researchers also blamed Friendster’s design and configuration for its decline. “At some point in 2009, Friendster introduced changes in its user interface, coinciding with some technical problems, and the rise of popularity of Facebook,” they wrote. “This led to the fast decrease of active users in the community, ending on its discontinuation in 2011.”