It seems that we now live in a world which is completely obsessed with Facebook. Everywhere we go and everything we do seems to have something to do with the social networking site, and it has spawned hundreds of new creations, from feature-length films (The Social Network) and new English words (‘I’ll Facebook you tonight, yeh?’) to even a baby’s name (yes, it’s true).
Why is this? In less than 10 years, Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook, was transformed from a nerdy, fencing-obsessed psychology and computer science student to the world’s youngest billionaire, with a net wealth of somewhere around $14 billion (however this figure is debatable). And all for creating something that you and I could have thought up of in 5 minutes, a way to keep in touch with what your friends are doing online. The phrase ‘easy money’ springs to mind here. Why did Facebook, of all the ways to communicate online, win the social networking game before we even knew what a social network was?
Where it all started
I have been on Facebook since about 2006. I was bullied into signing up to it by some mates whilst at sixth-form at school (equivalent to eleventh or twelfth grade), and because I was young and obsessed with any new trend, I signed up straight away. Before that, social networking hadn’t really taken off and indeed, most people didn’t know what the word meant. There was the odd person who had Bebo but everyone else kept in touch either via the old-fashioned way of talking, texting or via MSN, which everyone seemed to have.
But why Facebook?
When everyone started to hear about Facebook, it took off straight away and both Bebo and MySpace accounts gathered dust as people flocked to the new platform. It seemed like something cool and new, and to ignorant teenagers such as myself at the time, it was a big eye-opener.
The advantages of Facebook were numerous. Its interface was very easy to use (even back then) in comparison to MySpace (which was, and still is to a certain extent, very cluttered), and it seemed like everything was in one place. You had one place to upload your photos, one place to chat with your friends and one place to play games. Why would you need to visit other sites to do this?
Facebook also seemed the place that everyone was at. Everyone who you knew was on it. You can use it to rekindle existing friendships and/or relationships (delete as appropriate) or simply find out more information about a person. At our school, a relationship wasn’t “official” until it was on Facebook and it seemed the starting point for most conversations (‘Did you see X’s Facebook status last night?’). It brought people together, which was Zuckerberg’s original aim, and it did it in a way that was unique and pioneering. It also directly typified the network effect: once everyone else was on it, you felt like you had to be on it, too.
The network to emulate
Facebook’s expansion strategy has continued, which has meant it has pretty much completely devoured all other social networks. It now has 600 million users, 9% of the world population, which is quite a miraculous feat to say the least. Facebook is the most visited website in the world, second only to Google, and has succeeded a near 70% market penetration in North America, with areas such as Europe and the Middle East not far behind.
Other social networking sites have had to radically up their game to stay in competition with Facebook. They have had to exploit gaps in the market or find certain niches to keep their active user numbers up. Look at Habbo, for example, where you can create a little avatar and wander around a “hotel” in order to meet other people.
Facebook has now become a platform which other social networking sites seem to emulate. Well, if you can’t fight them, join them. StudiVZ, sometimes known as the “German Facebook” is a prime example of this so-called “emulation”, and was even sued by Facebook back in 2008 for copying its design and layout.
This too shall pass?
Facebook is a driving force and influences the lives of some 600 million people. However, there may be signs that this force is starting to fade. In December 2009, surveys showed that Facebook was losing its most valuable demographic, the 18-24 year olds. The growth of other popular social networks, such as Twitter, show that Facebook’s days as a major social network may be limited somewhat.
But one thing is certain: Mark Zuckerberg’s creation will mark him down as one of the Net’s most influential people, and he will renowned for creating a platform which changed the way we run our lives and socialize with people. Entertainment Weekly couldn’t have put it more finely:
How on earth did we stalk our exes, remember our co-workers’ birthdays, bug our friends, and play a rousing game of Scrabulous before Facebook?
The answer to this question has yet to be found.