Why Is Facebook Ruling The Roost?

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

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Mark Zuckerberg created Facebook whilst he was still at university.

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.

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Despite the decline in MSN (Windows Live) Messenger, it still boasts over 330 million active users

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.

Many people can relate to Facebook and it is something you (almost) have complete control over. You can control who looks at your page, what photos your friends see and what information about you is shared publicly across the web. Facebook’s privacy policy has been criticized for being too long and bureaucratic (it is longer than those of all other major social networks and even the US Constitution) but this tight content control gives many people peace of mind.

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Facebook's privacy settings have been criticized for being too long and complicated

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.

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A profile page in StudiVZ (not the real Mark Zuckerberg!). Note the similarities to the (old) design of Facebook

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.


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  • Richard

    Habbo didn’t have to find a niche. It’s been about since 2000 and it was hugely popular years before Facebook had even been imagined by Mark Zuckerberg.

  • http://www.hammyhavoc.com Hammy Havoc

    Facebook is lucky if they see me login more than once per week, if that. Twitter is a big deal for me; It’s concise and extremely effective.

    Facebook is probably ruling because of the like button; It is everywhere you go and simple. No categories to choose, no friends to pick, no information to type; A click and it’s in your stream.

    Much love,
    @hammyhavoc

    • JP

      Where I live Facebook dominates, whereas Twitter is used by less than 0.001% of the population.

      I can’t seem to get hooked to Twitter; you keep getting spammed by people you follow, etc.

  • Tim

    I don’t know how anyone can call Facebook’s interface “easy to use” or “simple and uncluttered”. For example, how do you find your friend list? The first thing I tried to do when I went to my home page was click on my Friends link in the sidebar so that I could send a message to a friend. To my utter surprise the Friends link did NOT show me my friends list. Instead it took me to a page where I could find more friends and showed me a list of people who were not my friends at all, but people that Facebook thought I should be friends with. I had to jump through hoops just to find out how to send a message to one of my friends. That was over a year and a half ago when I deleted my account and I know they have not made the site any easier to use since then. I hope they go under soon so I can stop hearing about how great they are.

  • Tim

    By the way, Skype has more users than Facebook.

    • http://www.miguelcamacho.com Miguel Camacho

      What´s your source on that comment?

    • James Cull

      Skype isn’t a social network. It’s a VOIP provider.

      • Tim

        Skype can indeed be counted as a social network. You can search for people on Skype by distance, name, email, etc. You can see their age and sex. Then you can communicate with them. This is how all social networks operate.

  • Tim

    Also, no one seems to bother counting the fact that people make Facebook accounts for their dogs, cats, babies, birds, hamsters, and everything else that they own. If you cut all those out Facebook would not be as huge as everyone makes it out to be, though it is still huge. I just know that at work there are no less than 5 coworkers that have made accounts for their pets. And some people make multiple accounts for themselves just to play stupid games like Farmville. I wonder how many active human users Facebook actually has?

  • http://www.cybergatesolutions.com/ Travis

    Towards the end of the article they said “However, there may be signs that this force is starting to fade.” I don’t see that happening any time soon, twitter has become more popular recently but, Facebook keeps changing so I think they will adept well.

    • http://techinch.com/ Matthew Guay

      There are recent reports that Facebook’s US traffic may be falling. Hard to say. Personally, I prefer Twitter, but for most people, I don’t see Facebook going away any time soon.

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