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The history of Facebook – from fad to a critical component of America’s psyche

Facebook 2022

Will Facebook rule the world?

As of 2011, Facebook had over six hundred million active users.  It is estimated that 42% of the U.S. population had Facebook accounts.  Popular with teenagers, Facebook had risen from a local college social networking site into one of the largest technology companies on the planet.  And it did so in less than 5 years.

What is Facebook?

New Facebook users create personal “profiles” and add (follow) others as “friends”.  Friends then receive update notifications on their “wall” when a friend changes their profile information or posts a “status update” message for viewing.  Facebook users can also exchange private messages, post pictures online, chat in real time, join common interest groups, and play online games and other applications.

New users to Facebook must first register an account (and they must be at least 13 years of age).  After registration is complete and verified, they then provide personal information such as birth date, hometown, address, phone numbers, relationship status, and pictures of themselves which are attached to their “profile”.

Next the registered Facebook user would find people online that they know and send those persons “friend requests”.  A friend request must first be acknowledged by the recipient before the “friend” relationship is formed.  Once a friend relationship is established on the site, friends can then check their Facebook “wall” to see the latest status updates that other friends have posted online.

Facebook users can post photos of themselves and others and can dictate whether those photos can be viewed by everyone or just by people who have established the “friend relationship”.  If a posted photo contains someone else that is a Facebook user, the poster can “tag” the photo to indicate the friend’s presence in the picture.  People who are “tagged” are notified that they have been identified in a photo that was posted on Facebook.

Friends can also “poke” each other which is just a simple, quick way to say “hi”.

One of the most used Facebook features is the real-time chat feature.  Friends that are online can chat in real-time with each other.

Facebook also offers thousands of third-party applications, such as games, for Facebook users to use.

History of Facebook

Facebook officially launched in February 2004.  The Facebook name came from the name of a book that was given to Harvard university students to help the students get to know each other better.  It was founded by Mark Zuckerberg and his fellow computer science students Eduardo Saverin, Dustin Moskovitz, and Chris Hughes.

facemash replication original facebook

Facebook was not the original iteration of the social networking site.  On October 28, 2003, Zuckerberg, a sophomore at Harvard University, created a web site called Facesmash.  According to The Harvard Crimson student newspaper, the site was comparable to Hot or Not, and “used photos compiled from the online facebooks of nine houses, placing two next to each other at a time and asking users to choose the ‘hotter’ person”.  To create Facemash, Zuckerberg hacked into secured areas of the Harvard University private network and copied the college’s private dormitory student ID images.  He then created a web site that displayed the photos in pairs and allowed online users to vote on which person was the most attractive.  Online users could also view rankings of the most attractive students as voted by their peers.

Facemash attracted 450 visitors and 22,000 photo views in the first four hours that the site was online.  The site ran for 4 days and then was shut down by Harvard administration after complaints were submitted by several students.  As a result, Harvard University charged Zuckerberg with breach of security, violating copyrights, and violation of individual privacy.  Zuckerberg faced suspension.  The charges were ultimately dropped.

Following on the heels of success of Facemash, Zuckerberg immediately began writing a follow-up site in January 2004.  A month later, on February 4, 2004, Zuckerberg launched  Six days after the launch, three Harvard seniors, Cameron Winklevoss, Tyler Winklevoss, and Divya Narendra accused Zuckerberg of intentionally misleading them into believing he would help them build a social network called Harvard Connect (later renamed to ConnectU) while he was instead using their ideas to build a competing product.

Was Facebook a Ripoff?

the facebook circa 2004

in 2004, the Winklevoss twins enlisted Zuckerberg as a programmer to create the Harvard Connection website.  Zuckerberg started off enthusiastic but soon began to make excuses for his failure to produce any usable website code.  Several emails from Zuckerberg were made public in subsequent court hearings and demonstrate that Zuckerberg did indeed stall the Winklevoss twins during the time he was supposed to be developing the Harvard Connection.

December 4: “Sorry I was unreachable tonight. I just got about three of your missed calls. I was working on a problem set.”

December 10: “The week has been pretty busy thus far, so I haven’t gotten a chance to do much work on the site or even think about it really, so I think it’s probably best to postpone meeting until we have more to discuss. I’m also really busy tomorrow so I don’t think I’d be able to meet then anyway.”

A week later: “Sorry I have not been reachable for the past few days. I’ve basically been in the lab the whole time working on a cs problem set which I’m still not finished with.”

January 8: Sorry it’s taken a while for me to get back to you. I’m completely swamped with work this week. I have three programming projects and a final paper due by Monday, as well as a couple of problem sets due Friday. I’ll be available to discuss the site again starting Tuesday.

The emails do indeed show that Mark Zuckerberg strung the Winklevoss twins along as he made excuses for why he was not creating the web site as promised. The unanswered question is whether or not Zuckerberg purposely stalled development of the web site in order to ensure success of his The Facebook web site.

One investigative web site claims that the following instant message was sent from Zuckerberg to Eduardo, Zuckerberg’s financial back for The Facebook:

Check this site out: and then go to Someone is already trying to make a dating site. But they made a mistake haha. They asked me to make it for them. So I’m like delaying it so it won’t be ready until after the facebook thing comes out.

Another purported instant message dialog between Zuckerberg and a childhood friend may show the conflict of interest that existed during development of the two competing web sites and Zuckerberg’s question of when he should tell the Winklevoss twins that he was developing his own social networking web site.

Zuckerberg: So you know how I’m making that dating site
Zuckerberg: I wonder how similar that is to the Facebook thing
Zuckerberg: Because they’re probably going to be released around the same time
Zuckerberg: Unless I fuck the dating site people over and quit on them right before I told them I’d have it done.
D’Angelo: haha
Zuckerberg: Like I don’t think people would sign up for the facebook thing if they knew it was for dating
Zuckerberg: and I think people are skeptical about joining dating things too.
Zuckerberg: But the guy doing the dating thing is going to promote it pretty well.
Zuckerberg: I wonder what the ideal solution is.
Zuckerberg: I think the Facebook thing by itself would draw many people, unless it were released at the same time as the dating thing.
Zuckerberg: In which case both things would cancel each other out and nothing would win. Any ideas? Like is there a good way to consolidate the two.
D’Angelo: We could make it into a whole network like a friendster. haha. Stanford has something like that internally
Zuckerberg: Well I was thinking of doing that for the facebook. The only thing that’s different about theirs is that you like request dates with people or connections with the facebook you don’t do that via the system.
D’Angelo: Yeah
Zuckerberg: I also hate the fact that I’m doing it for other people haha. Like I hate working under other people. I feel like the right thing to do is finish the facebook and wait until the last day before I’m supposed to have their thing ready and then be like “look yours isn’t as good as this so if you want to join mine you can…otherwise I can help you with yours later.” Or do you think that’s too dick?
D’Angelo: I think you should just ditch them
Zuckerberg: The thing is they have a programmer who could finish their thing and they have money to pour into advertising and stuff. Oh wait I have money too. My friend who wants to sponsor this is head of the investment society. Apparently insider trading isn’t illegal in Brazil so he’s rich lol.
D’Angelo: lol

When The Facebook launched and Winklevoss’s realized what Zuckerberg had done to them, they were furious.  The Winklevoss twins first complained to Harvard Crimson and the newspaper began an investigation of the accusations.  The Winklevoss twins also complained to the Harvard University administration, but their complaints were ignored by officials.  Years later they filed a lawsuit against Mark Zuckerberg and subsequently settled out of court, allegedly for $65 million.  The entire fiasco was documented in a book and the movie The Social Network.

Facebook grows beyond the dorm room

facebook 2005

Initially Facebook membership was limited to Harvard students only but soon Zuckerberg expanded to other colleges in the Boston area, the Ivy League, and Stanford University on the West Coast.  The staff expanded as demand grew and Eduardo Saverin (business services), Dustin Moskovitz (computer programmer), Andrew McCollum (graphic artist), and Chris Hughes joined Zuckerberg and began working to expand the web site and its reach.

In March 2004, Facebook expanded to Stanford, Columbia, and Yale Universities.  Shortly thereafter Facebook arrived at other Ivy League Schools, Boston University, New York University, MIT, and then slowly moved to all universities in Canada and the United States.

Facebook incorporated in July 2004.  Sean Parker, the successful entrepreneur who had been informally advising Zuckerberg on business tactics, became the company president (much to the dismay of co-founder and business operations leader, Eduardo Saverin).  In June 2004, Facebook moved its base of operations to Palo Alto, California, leaving Eduardo (his business partner) behind at Harvard while he completed his education and intern at a prominent company.  Eduardo would subsequently sue Zuckerberg after his interest in the company was deceptively reduced to near nothing.

In July 2004, Facebook received its first investment from PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel.  The company dropped “the” from its domain name and purchased the domain in 2005 for $200,000 (years later they would purchase, the shorthand version of the domain name, for over $8 million).

Facebook launched a high school version of the web site in September 2005.  It next opened membership to employees of several companies such as Apple Inc. and Microsoft (who purchased a minority stake in the company early on).  On September 26, 2006, Facebook was opened to everyone ages thirteen and older.

Facebook today

facebook introduces the photo feature

In September 2009, Facebook produced positive cash flow for the first time in the company’s history.  In November 2010, Facebook was valued at $41 billion becoming the third largest United States Web company after Google and Amazon.  As of 2011, Facebook had over 600 million users with an estimated 42% of the U.S. population owning a Facebook account.  On March 13, 2010, a milestone was set when more people visited Facebook than Google.

Facebook’s initial public offering came on May 17, 2012, at a share price of US$38 ($45.00 in 2021 dollars). The company was valued at $104 billion ($123 billion in 2021 dollars), the largest valuation to that date. Zuckerberg announced at the start of October 2012 that Facebook had one billion monthly active users.

In October 2021, owner Facebook, Inc. changed its company name to Meta Platforms, Inc., or simply “Meta”, as it shifts its focus to building the “metaverse”.

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Facebook 2022 via with usage type - Editorial use (Fair Use)

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Facebook 2022 via with usage type - Editorial use (Fair Use)


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