Almost 2 billion of us – that’s nearly a quarter of the planet – actively use it, but what is the story behind the evolution of the largest social media platform on the planet?
After the 2011 film ‘The Social Network’ publicised and glamorised the dorm-room start-up origins of Facebook, many people will assume that they know the story, and that Facebook’s evolution from point of conception was obvious. But do you really know the ins and outs, the periods of rapid growth and acquisitions made by Facebook over the last 13 years? How is it possible that a platform younger than most teenagers is ostensibly the most powerful digital tool in the world?
Here is a history charting the most important of Facebook’s developments, since Mark Zuckerberg and his friends – who remain less prominent in the press – decided to profile their college contemporaries online.
February 2004: The Facebook Is Born
Whilst studying at Harvard Zuckerberg, who was just 19, established a rudimentary online system named ‘The Facebook’. This site acted as a local profiling tool for students at Harvard Uni, and took its name from the official University (hard copy) equivalents. In just 2 weeks The Facebook contained the details of half of Harvard’s student population.
June 2004: In The Money
Less than 6 months after launch, The Facebook received its first external private investment from the angel investor (a wealthy individual providing capital for start-ups) Peter Theil. Theil is a founder and former CEO of Paypal, and exchanged half a million dollars for 10.2 per cent of The Facebook. Theil’s pragmatic optimism at the time, commenting ‘I thought it was going to be a pretty safe investment’ certainly proved a true and lucrative assessment.
September 2004: The Lawsuit Begins
As famously documented in the award winning film ‘The Social Network’, 2004 saw the beginning of the legal battle between Zuckerberg and the Winklevoss brothers with their friend Divya Narendra. Having founded a social networking site ConnectU, the trio’s accusations aimed at Zuckerberg rested on the claim that ideas and coding had been copied.
30 December 2004: The Numbers Roll In
Facebook reached a registered 1 million members.
August 2005: ‘Facebook’
It was not until mid-2005 that streamlining of Facebook’s name occurred, removed the clunky ‘the’ when the domain facebook.com was published for $200,000
Expanding beyond universities, high school students were now able to join the network; UK universities were able to join the online party just a month later.
October 2005: Images Arrive!
Facebook photos weren’t actually introduced until late 2005.
April 2006: Going Mobile
In a modern and forward-looking move, Facebook launched on mobile devices whilst they were still in their infancy.
September 2006: Wider Reach
As of this date Facebook was no longer the limited privilege of those at educational institutions, but could be joined by anybody with a registered email address.
2007: Business Savvy
Whilst originally planned for use by groups, pages on Facebook were taken up by companies to market their products and services. As early as late 2007, 100,000 of these business pages existed, and the site now thrives off promoting businesses.
April 2008: Messenger
Perhaps one of the most loved and used functions of facebook, messenger, did not appear until 4 years after the site was founded. The dominance of MSN, Myspace and Bebo rapidly declined as Facebook become the superpower of instant messaging.
100 million users visit the site – in the year that followed this jumped to a 350 million users. By July 2010 the site would be at 500 million users.
February 2011: Beating Out The Competition
Facebook continues its rise to worldwide domination by now becoming the largest online photo host.
Facebook officially filed for an initial public offering (IPO) on February 1, 2012, with the aim raising $5 billion in investment capital. 22% of the ownership was to remain with Zuckerberg, and with shares valued at $38 each, the entire company was given a valuation of $104 billion. This was, and is, the largest valuation to date for a new company filing for IPO.
March 2012: More Lawsuits
Facebook was subject to yet another large-scale lawsuit, this time at the accusations of Yahoo! Filing only weeks before Facebook’s IPO date, Yahoo declared that ten of its patents had been infringed by Facebook, covering topics including customising web-users experiences and targeting individuals with particular ads. This lawsuit was settled with an extended partnership between the two, but without Facebook having to provide a payout; thus a victory on the part of the social media giant.
5 years ago Facebook invested a huge $1 billion dollars to acquire Instagram. Just four years later, in 2016, Instagram brought in almost 10% of Facebook’s revenue, a huge $3.2 billion.
February 2014: If You Can’t Beat Them, Buy Them
In its largest acquisition to date (and one of the largest venture-capitalist-backed purchases of a company ever), Facebook acquired WhatsApp for $19 billion dollars. Having missed out on Snapchat, Zuckerberg certainly splashed the cash to acquire this popular messaging app. The transaction included Facebook paying $4 billion cash, $12 in Facebook shares and $3 in restricted stock units granted to WhatsApp’s founders.
Since 2014 Facebook has continued to grow and thrive, achieving a revenue of almost $30 billion in 2016 alone. Whilst other giants such as Snapchat continue to grow and thrive, Facebook isn’t going anywhere, and has a bright future ahead.
Alexandra Jane is the writer and editor of graduate careers advice for Inspiring Interns, a graduate recruitment agency. Check out their website to see which internships and graduate jobs are currently available. Or, if you’re looking to hire an intern, have a look at their innovative Video CVs.