Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.
A lot has happened since Mark Zuckerberg and his friends launched a website from their dorm room.
Ten years ago this week, Mark Zuckerberg and his college friends launched a website aimed at connecting their classmates online. Facebook’s fast success would make these friends billionaires and pit them against each other in lawsuits, all the while reaching 1 billion users. Here is a look back at the milestones in Facebook’s first 10 years.
The history of Facebook can’t be told without a mention of Facemash.com, the controversial website Zuckerberg created in October 2003. After hacking the online repositories containing headshots of his Harvard undergrads who lived on campus, Zuckerberg uploaded the stolen images to Facemash, where users chose which of two randomly generated students paired with each other was more attractive. Zuckerberg also infamously blogged while building the site, admitting to being "a little intoxicated" at the time. Harvard shut the site down a few days later and charged Zuckerberg with breaching security, violating copyright, and violating privacy, with the potential for expulsion from the school. The charges were later dropped, however.
Thefacebook.com site launch
On February 4, 2004, Zuckerberg and his then-roommate and Facebook co-founder Dustin Moskovitz launched Thefacebook.com. Moskovitz later told The New Yorker that on the night it was founded, Zuckerberg emailed the domain to a little more than 300 people. "Within twenty-four hours, we had somewhere between twelve hundred and fifteen hundred registrants," Moskovitz claimed.
The famous Winklevoss accusation
Thefacebook.com wasn’t live for six days before Zuckerberg’s classmates Divya Narendra and Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss argued that Zuckerberg had stolen the idea from them after initially agreeing to build a Harvard-focused social site called HarvardConnection.com with them. Here is a September 2004 Crimson article about the charges.
The Winklevoss twins brought the accusations to the office of Larry Summers, Harvard’s president at the time, and were infamously dismissed. When asked at a 2011 event whether the scene portraying the meeting in the film The Social Network was accurate, Summers confirmed both his arrogant dismissal of the issue and his dislike (to say it nicely) of the Winklevoss twins.
Zuckerberg hacks reporters investigating him
The Winklevoss twins' accusation kicked off an investigation from the school's newspaper, The Crimson. According to Business Insider, Zuckerberg met with editors of The Crimson to show the differences in code and functionality between Facebook and ConnectU (formerly known as HarvardConnection). This demonstration was reportedly satisfying enough to convince the editors not to run a story on the accusations.
Later, when the Winklevoss twins levied more accusations of IP theft (which turned out to be fabricated), the Crimson re-launched the investigation. Upon hearing this, Zuckerberg reportedly hacked into the email accounts of two Crimson staff members by looking up their failed login attempts on Thefacebook.com.
At first, Thefacebook.com was only available to those with a Harvard.edu email address. The site made its first steps outside the Cambridge campus in March 2004, extending access to Yale, Columbia, and Stanford.
Sean Parker named president
The famous scene in The Social Network depicting Sean Parker discovering Thefacebook.com on a girl's laptop has some truth to it. According to a Vanity Fair profile, Parker came across the site on the laptop of his roommate’s girlfriend, who was a Stanford student at the time.
Parker was named Facebook’s president in the summer of 2004, and although his tenure ended after an arrest for cocaine possession in 2005, his impact on the company is considered pivotal to its success. The aforementioned 2010 Vanity Fair profile says, "Had he not joined founder Mark Zuckerberg in Palo Alto in the summer of 2004, when the fledgling Facebook was just five months old, the service almost certainly would not be the colossus it is today."
Accel Partners’ $13 million investment
In May 2005, the New York Times ran an article in its "small business" section about a young social site called Thefacebook.com that had gained 2.8 million registered users across 800 college campuses in about 16 months. The $13 million investment that this growth had attracted from investment firm Accel Partners was just a sign of things to come, as the Times quite accurately predicted.
"Five years after the Internet bubble burst, a new generation of Web start-ups is quietly attracting investment capital. Thefacebook.com typifies the breed: a company that is built on substance rather than high expectations."
Dropping the "the"
In August 2005, Thefacebook.com would change its name to Facebook, after the company purchased the domain name Facebook.com for $200,000 from a Boston-based company identified as AboutFace.
Facebook goes international
In October 2005, Facebook expanded to select colleges in the United Kingdom, Mexico, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands, and by the end of 2005 it would reach Australia and New Zealand.
ntroducing Photos and Tagging
In October 2005, Facebook introduced its photo-sharing system, allowing users to upload photos to their profiles without a storage restriction. By December 2005, the tagging function was introduced, allowing users to identify friends in the photos they shared.
The Yahoo! acquisition that never happened
In the summer of 2006, Zuckerberg reportedly agreed to a $1 billion acquisition from Yahoo. Shortly afterward, Yahoo reported disappointing quarterly sales and earnings, and delayed the launch of a new digital advertising project. The result was a 22% overnight drop in stock price. Part of the fallout included reducing the offer for Facebook to $800 million. Zuckerberg rejected the offer and called off the deal in September 2006, even holding steady when Yahoo CEO Terry Semel came back with another $1 billion offer two months later.
Opening Facebook to the world
Part of the reason Zuckerberg had considered selling the site was that, as a service for college students, it existed in a limited market, according to Wired. Although it had exploded among college students, its growth had begun to slow by the end of the summer of 2006, and Zuckerberg had bigger plans for the site.
So, after deciding against a buyout, Facebook opened its site to anyone with a valid email address over the age of 13.
Launching News Feed
Part of the broader rollout included the News Feed, a controversial feature when it was first introduced in September 2006. Prior to the newsfeed, Facebook uses had only their profiles, on which other users could see photos they shared and posts their friends had left on their Wall. The News Feed aggregated all activity within each user’s network and displayed it on the Facebook.com homepage, meaning that posts to other users' profiles were visible to all of their connections in real time. This elicited a negative response, to which Zuckerberg replied in a blog post apologizing for functionality issues and declaring, "stalking isn't cool; but being able to know what's going on in your friends' lives is."
Facebook invites developers to build apps
Facebook Platform was launched in May 2007 and invited third-party developers to build apps that run on Facebook. This led to the growth of social gaming company Zynga, for example, which at one point derived 80% of its revenue from Facebook apps like FarmVille and Texas HoldEm Poker.
Zuckerberg settles the Winklevoss lawsuit
In June 2008, Zuckerberg reached a settlement for the Winklevoss twins’ lawsuit stemming from the intellectual property theft accusations at Harvard in 2004. Through a combination of Facebook stock and a cash acquisition of the site ConnectU, the Winklevoss twins received a total of about $65 million, although they sued for $140 million. The Winklevoss twins would later appeal the settlement, claiming Facebook had misrepresented the value of its stock, but were denied by the judge in May 2011.
Facebook for iPhone
After almost a year of limiting mobile availability to a mobile website, Facebook launched Facebook for iPhone in July 2008. This introduced the ability to take photos and upload them directly from their iPhones and opened the door to the mobile world that Facebook will rely upon for its future.
Facebook reaches 100 million users
In August 2008, Facebook reached 100 million registered users. Zuckerberg announced the milestone with a brief blog post thanking Facebook users for contributing to its growth, while the company posted a video of the moment the site registered its 100 millionth user.
The birth of the “Like” button
In early February 2009, roughly five years after the site was created, Facebook introduced the "Like" button, allowing users to express when they liked their friends' posts or photos without having to post a comment. It was hardly the first iteration of the "like" concept on a social site, but it's since become an integral part of Facebook.
The Accidental Billionaires is released
In July 2009, author Ben Mezrich made the Facebook story famous with his book, The Accidental Billionaires. Although Zuckerberg declined to speak with Mezrich during the book’s production, the author based the story largely on interviews with Eduardo Saverin, one of the company's co-founders, and court documents made available after Saverin and the Winklevoss twins filed lawsuits against Zuckerberg.
Ads invade the newsfeed
Until January 2012, advertisements on Facebook were discreet, displayed on the side columns of the page where users rarely navigated. Facebook changed that with integrated ads in the News Feed, putting sponsored posts and paid-for ads amid the list displaying other Facebook users' activity.
Facebook buys Instagram for $1 billion
In the face of competition at the hands of budding social networks, Facebook bought the popular photo-sharing service Instagram for $1 billion in cash and stock in April 2012. It was the company’s largest acquisition and provided it access to Instagram's 27 million iOS users. The purchase came just one week after Instagram had expanded to Android. Instagram remains an independently branded service operating under Facebook's management.
Facebook goes public
In May 2012, Facebook launched its initial public offering, raising $16 billion and culminating in a $104 billion valuation. It was the largest valuation for a newly listed company in U.S. history, and it outperformed other major tech companies' initial public offerings significantly. Google, for example, raised roughly $1.6 billion in its IPO in 2004.
Facebook reaches 1 billion users
Facebook reached 1 billion users in September 2012, but, for reasons that went unexplained, it didn't announce the milestone until October. That announcement consisted of a brief blog post written by Zuckerberg that thanked Facebook users for the company’s success.
The announcement, however, was the only humble thing about Facebook at the time. It took the site six and a half years to record its first 500 million users, and just 26 months to do it again. By then, users had uploaded more than 219 billion photos to the site and clicked "Like" more than 1.13 trillion times.
Facebook celebrates 10 years with Paper app
One day before its 10th anniversary, Facebook launched Paper, an iOS app focused on promoting unique and engaging content from news and entertainment sites. Whether it goes the way of Facebook Home, the forgettable mobile home screen the company released last April, or becomes another milestone in Facebook’s story remains to be seen.
16 November 2023