Facebook is currently the world’s largest social networking site boasting a membership of over a billion members from all around the world. Founded in 2004 by Mark Zuckerburg and his Harvard classmates, Eduardo Saverin, Andrew McCollum, Dustin Moskovitz, and Chris Hughes, Facebook was only originally intended to be a social networking site for Harvard students but it was quickly expanded to include other elite universities, and in 2006, everyone over the age of thirteen.
Between 2006 and 2009, Facebook experienced enormous growth, surpassing MySpace as America’s most popular social networking site in 2008 and becoming America’s second most visited website in 2009 (after Google). In 2011, Facebook partnered with Skype to introduce one to one video calling. In May of 2012, Facebook went public, opening at thirty-eight dollars a share making it worth a hundred and four billion dollars: the largest initial valuation ever. That having been said, Facebook’s IPO is generally considered a failure because it lost almost twenty five percent of it’s value within a month of its initial offering. Irregardless of Facebook’s shortcomings and polarizing position in popular discourse, it’s an extremely popular service that allows people to stay connected with friends and family, share important information, and advertise goods and services.
Although Facebook constantly changes it layout, like many other social networking sites, it relies on three key features: “profiles, public testimonials or comments, and publicly articulated, traversable lists of friends.” When you sign up for Facebook, it will generate you a profile. Profiles are individual pages that represent individual users. On your profile you have to option to list personal information (relationship status, education level), upload photos (Facebook currently has over 50 billion pictures uploaded), and show your connections under your “friends list.” Facebook then allows users to add to their friends profiles by posting comments, links and photos. It should be noted that while individual privacy settings can be adjusted, on Facebook, users must be friends to contribute to each others profiles.
By looking at the seven key concepts that Nancy Baym outlines in her book, “Personal Connections in the Digital Age,” it’s clear why Facebook is so successful. Unlike any other other social networking site that has preceded it, Facebook now has the advantage of size. It’s reach is tremendous as it is now the largest social networking site in North American, South America, Europe, Africa, and Australia. With 1.15 billion people registered on Facebook, almost one sixth of world’s population now has an active Facebook profile. Furthermore, with the mobile app, Facebook can be accessed from almost anywhere. In 2013, it was reported that 874 million people accessed Facebook through the mobile application. Facebook’s size and influence on popular culture are so huge that some people are joining simply so that they don’t miss out on experiences. More and more, event are being planned, conversations are being had, and information is being shared, exclusively on Facebook.
Besides Facebook’s almost gravitation pull, it has extremely rich textual cues. Whether users want to communicate through text, various media, or event the ‘like button’, Facebook gives users the ability to convey meaning and build community in hundreds of different ways. Furthermore, because of it’s structure, Facebook allows for both synchronous and asynchronous communication. With video calling, messages, and an automatically updating newsfeed, you can communicate with your friends in real time as well as leave your notifications and messages for another time. Moreover, because Facebook’s structure allows users to view posts, photos, and conversations from any time, it’s accessibly can be a double edged sword. The downside is that Facebook’s searchability and permanence can be extremely damaging later on. For children that grew up with Facebook, anything they posted when they were younger will always exist be accessible.
Another key feature of Facebook is the ability it gives its users to replicate and share and information. Whether that’s sharing links, pictures, or videos, Facebook gives it’s users the ability to take information and then share it to a potentially massive audience. Digital copying techniques also allow copying to be precise so that users aren’t typically able to differentiate the copy and the original. These features are precisely what allowed the “Kony 2012” campaign to go so viral so quickly.
Facebook’s reach, mobility, temporal structure, storage, and ability to deliver social cues have placed it at the top of the social networking hierarchy where it’s likely to stay for a long time.