Facebook: The Mixed Legacy Of Its First Ten Years

Facebook is celebrating its tenth birthday today, with observers debating the social network’s legacy and future a decade after it launched from Mark Zuckerberg’s Harvard dorm room on 4 February 2004.

Zuckerberg himself has marked the anniversary with a post on his personal Facebook page, declaring that he is delighted with his company’s role in connecting people around the world. And the company has provided LookBack, an application which builds an animated movie from your Facebook posts over the years.

“It’s been an amazing journey so far, and I’m so grateful to be a part of it,” says Zuckerberg. “It’s rare to be able to touch so many people’s lives, and I try to remind myself to make the most of every day and have the biggest impact I can.

Zuckerberg celebration

Zuckerberg is extravagant in his praise of his own creation, of course. musing on the peculiar fact that a group of students, immortalised in the 2010 film The Social Network, should be the ones to create such a network when bigger companies had more resources at their disposal. He says they could have created something like Facebook if they wanted, but that he and his friends “just cared more about connecting the world.”

“That’s why I’m even more excited about the next ten years than the last,” he waxes on. “The first ten years were about bootstrapping this network. Now we have the resources to help people across the world solve even bigger and more important problems.”

“I’m so grateful to be able to help build these tools for you. I feel a deep responsibility to make the most of my time here and serve you the best I can. Thank you for letting me be a part of this journey.”

Zuckerberg says he had no idea when he started what was then known as ‘thefacebook’ that it would become the social behemoth it is today. Facebook has more than 1.2 billion users and is valued at around £84 billion, but there are concerns that its popularity is starting to fade.

Fading popularity?

Younger users are increasingly turning towards instant messaging apps such as WhatsApp and Snapchat (which was reportedly the subject of a $3 billion bid from Facebook last year), with the impression among many that Facebook is a social network for older people.

A recent study by researchers at Princeton University compared Facebook to an infectious disease and suggested that the site will have lost 80 percent of its users by 2017 as people lose interest as more of their friends stop using it.

There has also been a backlash against Facebook for how it uses people’s data, with many looking for greater privacy as more of their personal information is made available to the wider public and to advertisers.

Others are concerned about the social implications of the network, with Victoria Mapplebeck, an academic from Royal Holloway, University of London suggesting that Facebook had created a generation of “self-absorbed spin doctors” who create an “idealised portrait of our digital lives.”

Such sentiments are echoed by Doctor Who actor Matt Smith, who told TechWeekEurope last year: “I think we create these surrogate versions of ourselves on Facebook, the celebrity versions with the best pictures, and the best comments, and the best friends.”

A decade in the sun

However despite the doom and gloom, Facebook has outlasted many of its early rivals and enjoyed a far longer reign as the Internet’s most popular social network than the likes of Bebo or MySpace, while it has made niche services such as Friends Reunited redundant.

It has also been able to take advantage of mobile technology in a way that its competitors have not, making access to Facebook as easy as possible in both the developed and developing world, and the company has made a number of acquisitions designed to ensure people spend as much time as possible on the site in order to maximise advertising revenue.

This has contributed to record financial results in the most recent quarter, as mobile advertising revenues amounting to £1.4 billion, contributing to a net profit of £316 million in the fourth quarter of 2013 – an increase from £39 million during the same period last year.

Facebook is as controversial as it is popular, but it seems unlikely it will fade away in the short term. But in case it does, Facebook is letting you view a highlight reel of your time on the social network, allowing you to see if you truly are a self-absorbed spin doctor.

You’ll like our Facebook quiz!

Steve McCaskill @MickeyCaskill

Steve McCaskill is editor of TechWeekEurope and ChannelBiz. He joined as a reporter in 2011 and covers all areas of IT, with a particular interest in telecommunications, mobile and networking, along with sports technology.

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