Facebook. It’s in our cell phones, it’s mentioned in our television shows, it’s featured in our Hollywood movies, and it’s all over the Web. It’s everywhere! In fact, Facebook could be considered one of the great, if not greatest, social innovations since the creation of the Internet. However, would you believe it if I said that this was Mark Zuckerberg’s plan all along?
“We’re going to change the world,” said Mark Zuckerberg in the early days of Thefacebook. He had just begun to believe that Thefacebook could be more than just another side project. But this is not where the story began. It began in a dorm room at Harvard University.
The Early Days
As told in The Facebook Effect, Mark Zuckerberg was a big fan of erasable white boards. One just so happened to be placed onto a wall near his cramped Harvard dorm room. It received plenty of use during these times when Zuckerberg was around. On it, he would take his ideas and transform them into intelligible concepts. And he never seemed to lack great ideas.
This served Zuckerberg well on his quest to dominate, a word he and his closest friends used often to describe their goal (oddly enough, I do too). He managed to dominate by creating websites that were useful — incredibly useful, in fact. This lead to the creation of a Web application that would prove to be just that for his fellow students at Harvard University. That application was Course Match.
Course Match was a website that allowed students to keep track of what courses their friends were attending, which, in turn, enabled students to connect with each other in the real world. As you could imagine, this was useful: students liked knowing and taking courses with friends in them. Thousands of students signed up, and it quickly became a success. But this was only the beginning; he could do so much better.
Soon after, Zuckerberg created a Hot or Not clone called FaceMash. Essentially, it allowed fellow students to vote for the hottest kids in school. It too was useful (if not immoral): people loved knowing, even from a superficial standpoint, where they stood amongst their peers. It was also an overnight success, with thousands of hits per hour soon after the site went online. The means to establish such a website, however, were not exactly legal. He was quickly called out and forced to shut down the site.
Zuckerberg was called before a disciplinary board to explain the site, as it had brought up issues of sexism, copyright, invasion of privacy, and more. Things were looking grim. Amazingly, though, he escaped without punishment. Even on the verge of suspension, Zuckerberg couldn’t help but celebrate. He apologized and moved on, knowing that he knew that he had created something amazing. It was time for Zuckerberg to aim even higher.
He set out to create something that would forever change the world of social networking. It would start out simple, sure, but he had to create something huge. It was at this moment when Zuckerberg created the beginnings of the social network we all know and use today.
Zuckerberg named this project Thefacebook. At first, it served as a tool to connect Harvard students to each other. A picture, a list of courses, a few tidbits of personal information, and an impressive suite of privacy controls were the primary functions of Thefacebook. Was it useful? Absolutely!
It had, like all of his previous projects, become an overnight success story. From a few close friends to a few thousand Harvard students, Thefacebook grew so quickly that even Zuckerberg was shocked. Its exclusivity might have been a factor (nearly everyone in Harvard wanted to be part of this network of the elite), but it wasn’t long before other colleges heard about Thefacebook — they wanted in too. Little did they know that Zuckerberg had already planned for such the occasion.
This expansion, however, was difficult. It required several days worth of effort to add a single college. Zuckerberg couldn’t accomplish this by himself. With some help, though, the site was able to expand to other Ivy League colleges. It goes without saying, the site became a hit at every college it came to.
It didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that Thefacebook had potential to grow even further. Grow it did.
In the Summer of 2004, the company incorporated as Facebook. It had expanded to college networks, even those outside of the Ivy League schools it was built upon. Eventually it spread to high schools and a select few work networks. But it was done. Everyone wanted to join. A social Web once dominated by MySpace had wanted something better. Zuckerberg was happy to oblige.
Facebook would go down in history as the one network that would change how we interact online. The site demanded that users to reveal their true identity, a difficult realization for some to swallow, especially on an Internet that prides itself in anonymity. But that is, in part, the appeal of Facebook. It encourages users to make real connections with real people.
It was completely different from MySpace. Adding random strangers was common, but on Facebook it wasn’t. Blinging out your profile page was expected, but on Facebook it was near impossible. Everything MySpace was, Facebook wasn’t. And that was important to many people (including myself) at the time.
Facebook now has a user base that could rival some continental superpowers. It attracts the attention of the typical user for over seven hours a month — I don’t want to imagine what the power user’s numbers looks like. And it’s estimated to be worth $33 billion. It is considered the most important website in the world right now, and everyone has their eyes on it.
It has become an integral part of many peoples’ digital lives. Facebook is available on cell phones, smart phones, computers, tablets, televisions, game consoles, and more. It’s practically everywhere that there is an Internet connection. It is a hub on the Web for communicating, networking, and socializing. It’s a powerful position to be in. It’s one that Google would love to be in.
Speaking of Google, the one thing that Google has not been able to do right is social networking. Buzz has shown promise, but it has failed to recover from its privacy blunders, unpolished features, and a lackluster user experience. Orkut has had its moments, if you live in Latin America. Jaiku was a smart acquisition until Twitter came into existence. OpenSocial… well, I don’t even know what that is about. The point here being that Google does not understand social networking.
Facebook does. The site has even managed to garner more pageviews than Google, which is no small accomplishment. There is regular talks about how impressive Facebook’s growth has been. It’s only a matter of time before the two become more serious about their territory.
Facebook, whether your like it or not, is a threat to Google. It could become (if you don’t already consider it to be so) the most important website on the Internet. Zuckerberg’s company gets to peek at everything you and your friends are up to. It has access to more personal information on about its users than anywhere else — because normal Internet users (those who aren’t the most tech-savvy among us) tend to share quite a bit more on Facebook than elsewhere on the Web, at least from what I’ve seen. This is valuable information to advertisers. This is information that Google doesn’t have. This makes a compelling argument for advertisers to side with Facebook. It’s a drama-filled future, for sure.
But you can be sure about one thing: Facebook will be here for the long haul. No one is buying out this company, at least not while Zuckerberg is at the helm. He intends to take Facebook to an IPO and to become an even bigger name around the globe. It really could become the most important company in the world.
I honestly believe Zuckerberg could make this happen. I guess the real question is… do you?