Posts Tagged ‘Social Software’

Happy Birthday, Facebook: 5 Reasons We Love You (PC World)

facebook-logo1Posted on Wed Feb 4, 2009 1:06PM EST

– To commemorate the fifth birthday of Facebook, the ultimate social networking site, here are five reasons it has changed the face of Internet communication forever. 1) Facebook created the definitive social networking experience. In a world where most of our daily communication comes in the form of e-mail, IMs, and other Internet-based methods, Facebook has fused these elements in one package. With more than 150 million active users, Facebook is, quite simply, where it’s at. It has e-mail; it has IM; it has Twitter-infused status updates; it has everything one needs to find and reconnect with old high school buddies, make new friends, and build a cohesive online community. Facebook is used by businesses, non-profit organizations — even presidents. Practically everyone who values connectivity in this high-tech world of disembodied communication has latched onto Facebook as a central hub for engagement. 2) It has a streamlined, smooth interface. Facebook’s overhaul of its popular user interface caused quite a stir when it debuted. Groups gathered, hoping 1 million angry shouts would restore the look. Months later, people have accepted the alteration and no one has really made a cohesive argument for its original state for some time. But what’s most important about Facebook’s interface is that it’s easy to use, and relatively difficult to get lost within. Tabs guide users through the variety of posted items, and an iPhone app makes it easy to log in on the go. Put frankly, it’s beautiful in its simplicity. 3) It gave users an alternative to its crappy cousin, MySpace. MySpace is a mess; it’s like an HTML epileptic fit. Besides its reputation for being the stomping ground of sexual predators and its rather filthy casual sex underpinnings (it’s not nicknamed MeatSpace for nothing), MySpace complicated social networking with its failed ambitions. Everything MySpace has tried to do to separate itself as a different entity — namely MySpace Music — has been met with failure and criticism. Facebook took a different approach and focused on the core of its raison d’etre: social networking. Though Facebook accomplishes much more than that, its basic content stands alone. 4) It’s a hub for education and student communication. Schools and publishing companies flock to Facebook as a way to connect students with other students. Through study groups, help guides, and other forms of student interaction generally relegated to different sites spread all over the Web, Facebook has proven to be a successful and effective catalyst for student success. Sure, Facebook is a huge time-suck, and probably distracts more students from cracking books than motivates them, but when it does push students towards achievement, it wins. 5) Great apps. The death of Scrabulous shocked the Facebook nation. People had grown so accustomed to logging in and playing an alternate version of Hasbro’s Scrabble that when it disappeared, it was sorely missed. Thankfully it returned as Lexulous, and Hasbro has implemented its own fantastic iteration called — wait for it — Scrabble. But it was the moment that Scrabulous died that signified how important and cherished Facebook apps are to users. They’re easy to install, fun to use, and a great way to pass the time. In just five short years, Facebook has become a household name for communication. It has captured the minds and hearts of a generation and turned into a phenomenon unlike what its creators could have expected. So three cheers for Facebook, and to another great five years.

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As Facebook Turns 5, a look back east

As Facebook hits its fifth birthday on Wednesday, it’s nearly impossible to find a recent news story that doesn’t refer to its growth with terms like “lightning-fast,” “exponential,” “skyrocketing,” or some other expression that would be quite at home in a space-age comic book from the 1950s.

That might be true now. And with an executive lineup sourced from Bay Area elite (including a handful of former Google leaders), high-profile conferences and parties, not to mention developer “hackathons” all over the world, it has all the makings of a landmark Silicon Valley craze. But don’t let that fool you: Facebook owes its early growth, and hence the foundations for its wildfire expansion of late, to its roots in a more buttoned-up tradition of the East Coast elite. The site’s conservative, calculated debut and blueblood allure were what sowed the seeds for Valley success.

Facebook’s origins at Harvard University, created over many dorm room all-nighters on the part of founder Mark Zuckerberg and his friends, are tech press canon by now. They have surfaced in dozens of magazine and newspaper articles, the occasional courtroom spat, and now apparently a book penned by Bringing Down The House author Ben Mezrich. What’s not talked about as often is that when Facebook, then called TheFacebook, made its quiet debut early in February 2004, it was just another entrant in a pack.

That was the same academic year that some colleges and universities launched online “facebooks” of their own as supplements to the paper directories that were then a staple in dorm rooms across the country. Plus, entrepreneurially minded students at a number of colleges, including several at Harvard in addition to Zuckerberg, were trying to best their alma maters by doing the same thing.

“When Facebook launched, the first week at Harvard was incredible because the adoption was through the roof,” said Sam Lessin, founder of start-up Drop.io, who was a classmate of Zuckerberg at the time, “and this was in the context of a lot of stuff other people had been doing online, including quote-unquote social-networking sites. The beauty of the product was that it was super simple and super easy to use.”

In keeping with its roots at one of the world’s most selective universities, Facebook’s initial allure was not that everyone had a profile, but that not everyone could have a profile.

When Zuckerberg and his team first launched the site, it was restricted to their fellow students at Harvard University. Then it began to roll out to the rest of the Ivy League and other prestigious universities: Stanford, Yale, and Columbia were the first three, in March 2004. A valid e-mail address from a participating school was required to sign up.

From a technical standpoint, this was smart because it allowed Facebook to manage its growth, avoiding overloaded servers and skyrocketing bandwidth bills. On the PR side, however, exclusivity fueled Facebook’s early buzz. MySpace, at the top of the social-networking heap at the time, was the massive nightclub where you might spot celebrities from afar. Facebook was the quiet cocktail lounge a few blocks away that required a password, but where you could be sure to see all your closest friends.

“There was a cachet to it. Everyone wanted in, and wanted to see what it was and how it worked,” Lessin said. When the site launched at a new school, he added, “you’d have this incredible initial bump of people who had heard about it and seen clippings or articles about it, and were excited to jump on board.”

With the exception of a short-lived file-sharing side project called Wirehog, Facebook’s team kept the site a purely networking-focused tool at the start. Although you’ve been able to “poke” your friends from day 1, the original Facebook had none of its current media- and information-sharing features; initially, you couldn’t even add friends from other participating schools, just your own.

But Facebook grew, both in accessibility and in flashiness. Members could start registering with e-mail addresses from corporations rather than just universities. It launched a photo album application that now hosts more than 10 billion pictures.

The “news feed” feature launched in September 2006, shortly before Facebook announced that it would let anyone join the site, setting off a brief wave of privacy-conscious member panic before becoming one of the site’s defining functions.

Then there was the developer platform, which hit the scene in May 2007 with the first of Facebook’s now-ubiquitous “hackathons.” Even after relocating from Boston to Palo Alto, Calif., and in spite of a billion-dollar buyout offer from Yahoo, Facebook hadn’t enjoyed much real “tech cred.” The platform changed that.

Creating a Facebook application soared to the top of Web companies’ priority lists, and even though Facebook’s traffic had started to take off when open registration launched the previous fall, this was when it really escalated.

With Facebook now five years old and reaching more than 150 million members worldwide, it comes into question whether it has abandoned those austere New England roots and that strategy of calculated growth in favor of Silicon Valley’s get-big-now attitude.

The Facebook Connect product lets third-party sites use Facebook’s log-in credentials for the first time, something that’s put it back at the forefront of the developer community. It’s also caught on in many countries outside the United States, with a big majority of its new registrants now overseas. That brings both technological implications–server power outside the States can be especially expensive–as well as political ones.

And no regular reader of tech blogs can avoid the constant coverage of Facebook’s ongoing search for a solid revenue model, the ultimate Valley narrative of struggle and all-too-frequent failure. But in a post on the company blog late on Tuesday, founder Zuckerberg hailed Facebook’s iterative nature and go-forth attitude, something that has become increasingly prominent since its westward journey into the Valley’s upper echelon.

“Building and moving quickly for five years hasn’t been easy, and we aren’t finished,” Zuckerberg wrote. “The challenge motivates us to keep innovating and pushing technical boundaries to produce better ways to share information.”

What Zuckerberg and his hundreds of employees ought to keep in mind is that even though Facebook’s willingness to change and evolve has been key to its success, so has its awareness that change should be steady and pragmatic. When Facebook moved too fast, as with the launches of the News Feed and the Beacon advertising program, members freaked out.

“They’ve built this incredible, incredible product that’s just incredibly successful and valuable and useful, but really, its roots were just super simple and super local,” Lessin reflected on Facebook’s early days. “Because they were able to do that, and grow in a very controlled way, by the time they really wanted to turn things on, they were able to.”

It’s like they always say: never forget where you came from.

Caroline McCarthy, a CNET News staff writer, is a downtown Manhattanite happily addicted to social-media tools and restaurant blogs. Her pre-CNET resume includes interning at an IT security firm and brewing cappuccinos. E-mail Caroline.