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Monday, May 9, 2011

Facebook's Success

If you're like most people you check Facebook on a daily basis. It is literally a worldwide phenomenon. As of the beginning of the year there were 500 million members worldwide (350 million of them outside of the united states). When it was founded it went viral faster than any other website has ever spread. Within ten days of opening up at Stanford 85% of the population was actively checking their accounts every day. Within ten months there were 1 million users (and that was when only college students could access the site). Today over half of all users log onto Facebook.com daily. The average user spends nearly 24 hours per month on the site. How did this site become so popular so quickly? How has it captivated our attentions so thoroughly that the world has become obsessed with the site? Perhaps a brief lesson on the history of social networking will help us understand why Facebook succeeded while hundreds of other social networks fell by the wayside.

The first true social network, SixDegrees.com, was founded in 1997.  It allowed people to connect to each other in order to figuratively shrink the world, making the degrees of separation contract between individuals. However, it ended after a short run and was never very successful. After its disintegration social networks were largely limited minority groups or special interest unions. In 1999, Livejournal.com, the world's first weblog site was formed and became the first widely successful social network. That was really it for nearly three years, the only option people had was either to participate in special interest groups or write an online diary. However, in 2002 Friendster.com launched and the world saw a shift in social media. The Internet became a place to meet new people, to connect with old friends, and develop romantic relationships. However, Friendster.com became so popular it couldn't keep its servers running long enough for people to truly commit to the site. Myspace.com was founded in 2003 and quickly overtook its competition. Young people everywhere flocked to Myspace because they could personalize their pages (a feature that at first was discovered through a security glitch in the site). It also contained easy to use browse features so that people from all over the world could make connections with others who shared the same interests.

Then, in 2004, thefacebook.com was launched in Harvard. Within a few days the campus was saturated. A few months after that and over 25 campus around the country were actively involved in the website and after the summer over 100 universities, with an ever increasing number of universities. Myspace and Friendster were becoming things of the past. In 2006 Facebook opened its doors to everyone and became one of the most frequented sites online. With all of the growth that it faced, even in its infancy, Facebook never once went down. Its servers never crashed, its lights never once went off. A large part of this was because they could control how and when a new school would be "turned on". So they could set their servers up for the sudden growth. However, there is one reason that it has outlasted all other social networks.

Facebook is not a place to meet people. It was never designed that way. Myspace, Friendster, and even Sixdegrees.com were places to meet people. It was a place to make connections. Facebook is about maintaining friendships. It helps people to maintain friendships that they have offline. You may not know these people well, but you met them in real life. By adding them as a friend on Facebook you are vesting interest in their lives. They're not some imaginary friends that you can forget about just as easily as you found them. No other site has done this as cleanly and as simply. I'm not sure if any other site will.

Since them Facebook has become a place for developing programmers to release their products. It has become a catalyst for real world revolutions; it has become a reference for future employers. In many ways, it has defined our generation.

What has your experience with social media been like?

Here's a video for you. It's just cool.

1 comment:

  1. When I first started using Myspace, I never thought I would feel like deleting my acount. If it werent for my blogs, I probably would have. I wonder if eventually Ill feel like this about facebook. If they keep making all these strange changes, maybe I will.