In 2015, Facebook celebrated its 10th anniversary by introducing the “On This Day” feature, allowing users to revisit their past posts. Today, we celebrate 20 years of the global phenomenon known as Facebook (now Meta). It has been a platform of incredible innovation from the beginning, and those contributing content to their friends and total strangers share their day-to-day lives, feelings, and photos — some of which may have been advisable not to.

Facebook has evolved from a simple social networking site to a global phenomenon, affecting the lives of millions of people around the globe. The story behind its success is as intriguing as the platform itself. In this article, let’s look into the exciting history of Facebook, exploring its beginnings, wild milestones, crazy controversies, and undeniable impact on the internet and the lives of those who participate online.

History of Facebook

1. Facebook’s genesis

In the early 2000s, a young psychology student at Harvard University named Mark Zuckerberg had an idea.

As a passionate computer programmer, Zuckerberg had already created a few social networking sites for his fellow students. These social sites included Coursematch, a platform for students to see who was taking their degree, and Facemash, a site for rating attractiveness — which caused its fair share of controversy.

In February 2004, Zuckerberg launched what was then known as “The Facebook.” The platform’s name was inspired by the sheets of paper given to freshmen at Harvard, profiling students and staff. Within just 24 hours of its launch, 1,200 Harvard students had signed up. After a month, over half of the undergraduate population had created a profile.

2. Facebook’s rapid expansion

Facebook‘s popularity didn’t stay confined to Harvard for long. The platform quickly extended to other Boston universities and the Ivy League. By the end of 2004, almost every university in the U.S. and Canada had access to Facebook. In August 2005, “The Facebook” officially became Facebook after purchasing the domain for $200,000.

Facebook opened up to high school students in September 2005, expanding its reach even further. By September 2006, it became open to anyone over 13 with a valid email address, marking a significant milestone in Facebook’s history.

3. The era of acquisitions

In April 2012, Facebook made a significant acquisition: Instagram. The photo-sharing app was bought for a staggering $1 billion. This purchase allowed Facebook to tap into Instagram’s younger user base and its innovative photo-sharing features.

In 2014, Facebook made another major acquisition: WhatsApp. The messaging app was purchased for an incredible $19 billion. This move allowed Facebook to enhance its messaging capabilities and gain access to WhatsApp’s vast global user base.

4. The rise of mobile and apps

With the increasing popularity of smartphones, Facebook focused on mobile expansion. The introduction of the Facebook app and optimization for mobile platforms facilitated user engagement on the go. In 2012, Facebook went public with its initial public offering (IPO), marking a significant financial milestone for the company.

5. Algorithm changes and news feed redesign

Facebook underwent several algorithm changes to prioritize content based on user preferences. In 2015, Facebook celebrated its 10th anniversary by introducing the “On This Day” feature, allowing users to revisit their past posts.

The platform faced challenges with the spread of fake news and underwent a series of News Feed redesigns to address these concerns.

6. Cambridge Analytica scandal and privacy concerns

2018 brought one of the most significant challenges to Facebook’s reputation with the Cambridge Analytica scandal. It was revealed that the personal data of millions of users had been improperly accessed for political purposes. This event led to increased scrutiny of Facebook’s data privacy practices and sparked a broader conversation about online privacy.

7. Rebranding to Meta and the Metaverse Vision

In a significant announcement in October 2021, Mark Zuckerberg revealed the company’s rebranding from Facebook to Meta Platforms, reflecting a broader vision beyond social media. The focus shifted to building the metaverse, a virtual shared space where users can interact in real-time. This ambitious vision included investments in virtual and augmented reality technologies.

8. Ongoing innovations and challenges (2022 and Beyond)

Meta Platforms continued its pursuit of innovations, including virtual reality (VR) advancements with products like Oculus. The company faced ongoing challenges related to content moderation, user privacy, and regulatory scrutiny. The metaverse’s evolution and integration with daily life will¬†shape Meta’s trajectory in the coming years.

History of Facebook features and updates

Facebook has continually introduced new features to keep users engaged throughout its history. From the “like” button to the introduction of timelines and news feeds, Facebook has consistently innovated to enhance the user experience.

In 2011, Facebook launched the Facebook Messenger app, allowing users to communicate more effectively.

In 2016, it introduced Facebook Live, allowing users to broadcast live videos to their friends and followers. In 2017, Facebook launched the Facebook Journalism Project to establish stronger ties with the news industry.

2004-2006: The early years

  • February 2004: Facebook is launched by Mark Zuckerberg and his college roommates.
  • September 2006: News Feed is introduced, displaying recent activities of friends.

2009-2010: The “Like Button” and Open Graph

Believe it or not — the like button has not been here forever.

  • February 2009: The “Like” button is introduced.
  • April 2010: Open Graph API is launched, enabling third-party apps to integrate with Facebook.

2011-2012: Introducing Timeline and Open Graph Apps

  • September 2011: Timeline is introduced, showcasing a user’s life events chronologically.
  • September 2011: The introduction of the Ticker for real-time updates.
  • January 2012: Facebook introduces the “Timeline” feature to the public.
  • April 2012: Facebook acquires Instagram.

2013-2014: Graph Search and Video Auto-play

What?! Auto-playing videos??

  • January 2013: Graph Search is launched, allowing users to search for specific content.
  • December 2013: Autoplay videos in the News Feed are introduced.

2015-2016: Reactions and Facebook Live

This era of live streams took off. Twitch.tv at this time was booming!

  • February 2016: Facebook introduces “Reactions” (like, love, haha, wow, sad, angry) in addition to the Like button.
  • April 2016: Facebook Live is launched, allowing users to broadcast live video.

2017-2018: Explore Feed and Cambridge Analytica

Scandals await Facebook as politics get intertwined with social media data.

  • October 2017: Facebook tests the Explore Feed to separate personal and public content.
  • March 2018: The Cambridge Analytica scandal reveals data misuse by a third-party app.

2019-2020: Redesign and Privacy Focus

To some, e-commerce on social media platforms was one of the most innovative features added by Facebook.

  • March 2019: Facebook undergoes a major design overhaul, focusing on Groups and Events.
  • October 2019: Introduction of Facebook News, a dedicated section for news on the platform.
  • April 2020: Facebook rolls out a new desktop design.
  • May 2020: Facebook announces the Shops feature for e-commerce.

2021: Audio Rooms and Oculus Integration

See into the internet with Oculus. Virtual reality begins to push into the workplace.

  • June 2021: Facebook announces Live Audio Rooms for audio conversations.
  • October 2021: Facebook rebrands as Meta, emphasizing the company’s focus on the metaverse.
  • October 2021: Integration of Oculus VR technology with Facebook.

Facebook controversies

Despite its success, Facebook’s journey has not been without controversy. The company has faced significant challenges, from privacy concerns to accusations of spreading fake news, to the news. This very week, in the U.S. Senate judiciary hearings, Mark Zuckerberg had to face the families of cyberbullying. One Senator even went so far as to say that Zuckerberg had “blood on his hands.” But the list of problems started long ago.

The tale of three students

In 2010, a legal case was filed against Facebook by three Harvard students who accused Zuckerberg of stealing their ideas and coding. The case was dismissed due to a technicality in 2007 but was followed by numerous other lawsuits related to privacy and data breaches.

Cambridge analytics

In March 2018, a scandal that would have significant repercussions for Facebook broke. Reports emerged that political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica had harvested data from 87 million Facebook users through an app. This resulted in a significant blow to Facebook’s reputation and a loss of approximately $119 billion in market value.

Mental health

Users on Meta platforms have reported issues related to cyberbullying and harassment, contributing to negative impacts on mental health.

The spread of harmful content, including misinformation and graphic imagery, has also been a concern, potentially triggering distress among users.

Additionally, the addictive nature of social media, characterized by excessive screen time and comparison-driven content, has been linked to mental health challenges for some individuals using Meta platforms.

Facebook claims they are taking these steps:

In response to these controversies, Facebook has taken several steps to improve its platform. This includes introducing new privacy tools, changing its algorithm, and working to combat the spread of false information.

Meta Platforms, formerly known as Facebook, has demonstrated a commitment to addressing mental health concerns among its users through a multifaceted approach.

One key aspect of this initiative involves the implementation of suicide prevention tools. These tools allow users to report content that raises concerns about self-harm or suicide, enabling the platform to prioritize and respond promptly to such reports.

Additionally, Meta has forged partnerships with mental health organizations to leverage expert advice and resources, fostering a supportive online community. Collaborative efforts extend to well-being features, including time management tools, aimed at helping users monitor and limit their time on the platform for a healthier digital experience.

In response to the complex landscape of mental health, Meta Platforms has established content moderation policies to combat harmful content, such as bullying, harassment, and self-harm imagery.

The platform has also introduced supportive communities within Facebook Groups, providing spaces for users to connect and share experiences related to mental health.

Emphasizing positive interactions, Meta has committed to prioritizing content that contributes to users’ well-being and reduces the visibility of misleading or harmful material.

Furthermore, the company conducts ongoing research and data analysis to gain insights into the impact of its platform on users’ mental health. This information guides the development of new features and policies designed to enhance overall well-being.

Meta Platforms remains dedicated to refining its strategies and collaborating with experts to create a positive and supportive online environment. For the latest and most comprehensive information on Meta’s current initiatives related to mental health, users are encouraged to refer to the company’s official announcements and well-being resources.

Facebook/Meta’s global impact and statistics

Despite its challenges, there’s no denying Facebook’s impact globally. With over 2.8 billion monthly active users, Facebook has revolutionized how we connect with others, share information, and even do business.

While Facebook has undoubtedly brought people closer together, its impact on society is a double-edged sword. On one hand, it has democratized information, giving voice to the voiceless and enabling social movements to gain momentum. On the other hand, it has also been accused of spreading misinformation, contributing to political polarization, and eroding privacy.

  • Monthly Active Users (MAU): Over 2.8 billion users globally.
  • Daily Active Users (DAU): Over 1.9 billion users engage with the platform daily.
  • Geographical Distribution: Facebook connects users across North America, Europe, Asia-Pacific, and worldwide.
  • Revenue: Meta Platforms reported over $29 billion in revenue in Q3 2021.
  • Mobile Users: More than 2.7 billion users access Facebook via mobile devices.
  • WhatsApp and Instagram: WhatsApp has over 2 billion monthly active users, while Instagram has over 1.3 billion.
  • Employee Count: Meta Platforms employs tens of thousands of individuals globally.
  • Ad Revenue: Advertising revenue exceeded $28 billion in Q3 2021.
  • Acquisitions: Meta Platforms has strategically acquired companies like Instagram, WhatsApp, and Oculus VR.

The future of Facebook

As Facebook continues to evolve, it’s clear that the social media giant will play a significant role in our digital lives. Whether it’s introducing new features, acquiring new companies, or navigating controversies, the history of Facebook is a testament to its resilience and adaptability,

The potential future of Facebook, now Meta Platforms, is likely to be shaped by several key trends and strategic directions. While it’s challenging to predict specifics, some possibilities include:

Metaverse development

Meta has intensely focused on building the metaverse, an interconnected virtual space where users can interact in real-time. The company aims to create immersive experiences beyond traditional social media, incorporating elements like virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR).

Expanded ecosystem

Meta Platforms may continue to expand its ecosystem beyond social media, integrating products and services related to augmented and virtual reality, artificial intelligence, and e-commerce. The development of new technologies and acquisitions could further diversify Meta’s offerings.

Privacy and regulation

Ongoing debates around user privacy and data security will likely influence the future of Facebook. Increased scrutiny and regulatory changes may impact how Meta Platforms handles user data, and the company might need to adapt its practices in response to evolving privacy standards.

Integration of AI and virtual assistants

Facebook may continue to invest in artificial intelligence to enhance user experience, content moderation, and personalization. The integration of virtual assistants could play a role in providing users with more personalized and context-aware interactions.

Evolution of advertising and revenue models

Meta’s advertising business is a significant revenue source, and the company may explore new advertising models within the metaverse. As the digital landscape evolves, Meta Platforms could adapt its advertising and revenue generation approach.

Global connectivity initiatives

Meta has shown interest in global connectivity initiatives to provide internet access to underserved regions. Projects related to high-altitude balloons, satellites, and other innovative technologies could play a role in Meta’s efforts to connect more people globally.

Social impact

Meta may continue to invest in social impact initiatives, addressing issues like misinformation, online safety, and mental health. Collaborations with experts, organizations, and governments could contribute to developing responsible and ethical digital platforms.

Featured Image Credit: Thought Catalog; Pexels

Deanna Ritchie

Managing Editor at ReadWrite

Deanna is an editor at ReadWrite. Previously she worked as the Editor in Chief for Startup Grind, Editor in Chief for Calendar, editor at Entrepreneur media, and has over 20+ years of experience in content management and content development.