Happy birthday Facebook

Nine years ago Monday, a Harvard sophomore student launched a website called ‘the facebook'. Several legal actions, a $104 billion IPO and over 1 billion active users later, Mark Zuckerberg is founder and CEO of a company that has already forever changed the way people communicate and share information.

What started as a social network for bringing Harvard undergraduate students together is now a website which counts one in six of the world's population as members -- members who log on regularly. It coined the term ‘to friend' and has redefined the use of words including ‘like' and ‘poke.' It has helped build political campaigns, helped people find true love or find old friends and has done it all virally. The company didn't start advertising until 2012.

To understand how quickly the site has become ubiquitous: it took until 2007 for the site to have 50 million users worldwide, and until 2008 -- the year it launched translated versions of the site for Spanish, French and German-speaking countries and hit the 90 million user mark -- to overtake MySpace in terms of popularity.

Today it has 1.06 billion active monthly users including 168.8 million in the US, 64.6 million in Brazil, 62.6 million in India and 243.2 million users across Europe and has slowly evolved into a communications and search portal. As well as hosting a cumulative 50 billion uploaded photos, Facebook now offers voice and video calls, music streaming and social gaming and, most recently and, perhaps most controversially, a social search called Facebook Graph. It has also expanded to mobile and hit yet another landmark in January. It now has over 680 million monthly mobile users, meaning that more than half of its 1.06 billion users are logging in via smartphones and tablets rather than from desktops.

Meanwhile its founder, Mark Zuckenberg, has been lauded as a tech icon, a man with a vision and the means with which to implement it. In January he was voted CEO of the Year by influential tech site TechCrunch, beating out competition from Google, Twitter, Evernote and an invigorated Yahoo.

Of the decision to award Zuckerberg above his peers, TechCrunch journalist Ingrid Lunden said: "Facebook, as conceived of and led by him, has transformed how we as a culture share information about ourselves and the world. As the site has grown, it has also taken that central premise into new dimensions - namely through the social graph and the Graph API that interlinks with so many of the services we like to use online and on mobile devices today."

However, now that it is a public company -- following the biggest IPO in history for a tech company -- it will fall under greater scrutiny, particularly in terms of its business plan. It doesn't matter that people are calling their children ‘Like' and ‘Facebook' in tribute to the site, if this love and attachment can't be turned into sizable dividends for investors.

It has amassed an incredible amount of personal user data, and innovative use of this information will be key to the site's future success. However, users might start logging off if they don't like the ways Facebook is sharing their data -- Instagram's recent terms of use changes being a case in point. Miscommunication surrounding ownership and use of photos hosted to the site led to weeks of negative headlines and a mass exodus of users who were worried their family holiday snaps were going to be re-appropriated and used in an advertising campaign.


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