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At 10, Facebook strives not to be your granny's social network

Facebook defines social networking but must fend off the next big thing, teen boredom

February 4, 2014 06:39 AM ET

Computerworld - Facebook, the company that defines social networking, is turning 10 years old and looking into a future where it must evolve or risk becoming the next MySpace -- a company Facebook eclipsed years ago.

The last 10 years have been quite a journey, not just for the people who co-founded Facebook, but also for the more than a billion people around the world who use the social networking site to connect with family, post photos of the things and people they love, and reach out to a wider world than the one in their own home or office.

The site started out as a simple idea in co-founder Mark Zuckerberg's dorm room at Harvard University. Launched on Feb. 4, 2004, the site was set up to help college students check each other out.

A decade later, Facebook has become the most popular social network in the world.

In its early days, Facebook came up behind social pioneer MySpace and quickly surpassed its rival. Facebook was too powerful, too popular, too fast growing for MySpace to keep up.

With a new and engaging user interface, a focus on building a social network of friends, instead of following, say, bands or movies, Facebook quickly went from being a MySpace alternative to being "the" social network. It was a snowball effect. People joined because it was the site their friends, family and co-workers were using. The more who joined, the more others were drawn to follow them into Facebook's pages.

Today, MySpace is barely mentioned in the ranks of the world's top social networks. Facebook, meanwhile, with its 1.2 billion global users, is far ahead of its social competitors -- Twitter and Google+ -- both online powerhouses in their own right.

"Facebook's meteoric rise was part brilliance, part luck and part timing," said Patrick Moorhead, an analyst with Moor Insights & Strategy. "Facebook perfected what MySpace started, cleaned up its messy design and made it simple... The public was ready to share their lives."

Despite its size and success, Facebook has had its challenges, particularly over privacy issues.

In 2010, federal lawmakers sent an open letter to Zuckerberg raising questions about privacy issues surrounding the revelation that some of Facebook's third-party apps, like FarmVille and Texas HoldEm Poker, were sending users' personal information to advertisers and Internet monitoring companies.

The site was also criticized for a bug that allowed spammers to harvest users' names and photos, sharing user information with third-party Web sites and having privacy controls that were too difficult to use.

Unprepared for the rush to mobile

Facebook also was caught unprepared for the massive push to go mobile.



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