Happy Birthday: Facebook Celebrates Its 10th Birthday

Social network redefined digital culture but needs to upgrade privacy, mobile reach.

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Facebook's login page in its infant stages in 2004.

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Facebook launched in a Harvard University dorm room 10 years ago Tuesday, eventually growing to a $135 billion website with 1.23 billion monthly users that redefined tech culture and evolved the way we talk to each other as phone books and landlines fade.

“It's been an incredible journey so far, and I'm so grateful to be a part of it,” Facebook co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg said in a statement. “It's been amazing to see how people have used Facebook to build a real community and help each other in so many ways. In the next decade, we have the opportunity and responsibility to connect everyone and to keep serving the community as best we can.”

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Facebook's success inspired a new wave of tech entrepreneurs hoping to reach success like Zuckerberg, who is now worth approximately $28 billion and is the world's 22nd richest person, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. Facebook’s challenge now is to grow its mobile presence as new competitors including Snapchat and other apps threaten to draw younger users to look for the next cool thing. So far Facebook is adapting well, and now draws 57 percent of its ad revenue from mobile devices, according to its latest earnings report published on Jan. 29.

Facebook was criticized as being out of touch with privacy concerns this past decade, leading some to abandon the site fearing their information would be sold to advertisers and leading the company into a privacy regulation settlement with the Federal Trade Commission in 2011, requiring user consent for changes to its privacy policy. Researchers at Princeton University and University College London also claim that Facebook risks losing younger generations because their elders are now using the site, and that its popularity will decline.

No matter how popular Facebook is as a business, or as a chat and photo sharing service, its greatest contribution has been the evolution of the idea of the social network and the design of better Web services. Instead of a phone book the new generation has Facebook – a site that is too connected and convenient to simply ignore, whether you share all your personal information or not.

Earlier sites evolved the idea of a social network beyond simple online chat messages, including Friendster, founded in 2002, and Myspace, founded in 2003. Myspace still exists as a music discovery website and stands as a warning to Web entrepreneurs on how sites can fall from popularity, but it was the dominant social network between 2005 and 2008. Photo galleries, blogging, building friend networks and creating profiles for bands or entertainers became more popular through Myspace, but simplicity allowed Facebook to gain more users starting in 2008.

Myspace profile pages began with a blank slate that allowed users to post basic HTML code to design a collage of images, which created both opportunity and frustration. Facebook boasted a simpler design with a light blue screen, which it slowly built upon with features including the creation of the "Like" button in 2009. In the beginning it was available only to students of top universities including Harvard and Stanford, which gave it a small user base to manage during its early years with a degree of legitimacy and safety, compared with the larger, more random population on Myspace.     

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Google and Amazon have used their success to branch into other areas of technology, but Zuckerberg has said he does not want Facebook to venture too broadly into other sectors that the company does not have the DNA for, including health or music. American users have been active on Facebook for a decade, but the company continues to seek new users in other nations, and is also working with other companies and nonprofits on Internet.org to connect the estimated 5 billion people around the world who do not have Internet access. There will be more competition from rival social networks and other software designed around people, but Zuckerberg wants Facebook's to be the backbone for new innovation rather than the one-stop provider for every consumer experience, he said during an event hosted by The Atlantic in September.

"One of the things we need in our society is a digital social fabric," Zuckerberg said. "No one company is ever going to be the whole thing, but I think we can help build it and we can set some examples and some design principles that other companies can use to build a lot of the other services."