In the Echo Chamber: Facebook's Ten Years and Counting


By Tanya Silverman

Photo courtesy of Marco Pakoeningrat.

Feb 4, 2004 marks the day when the world’s largest social network officially started.

Where it all started–Mark Zuckerberg’s Harvard dormitory–is being referenced extensively throughout the news. ABC News, CBS News, and NBC News are among the numerous media outlets to highlight the influential social media platform’s simple beginnings.

Bloomberg BusinessWeek not only mentions the Harvard dormitory launch fact in the second sentence of its article, but also features its former tenant on the front cover of its weekly edition magazine. An attention-grabbing headline is edited on top of Mark Zuckerberg’s smiley portrait: “FACEBOOK HITS PUBERTY“.

The BusinessWeek staff seems quite proud of their finished glossy product; for online readers who care to learn about the cover’s production process, the staff put together a “Behind this week’s cover” page, displaying a pictographic outline of the step-by-step procedure. Readers can view the nixed Zuckerberg photos and experimental fonts used for “PUBERTY” over the tech icon, plus a copy-considering quote: “’Puberty.’ Not a word seen often on magazine covers. I wonder if there’s a reason for that.”

Whether or not 10 years of a social media platform’s existence merits a noteworthy milestone of adolescent cyber-development, other stories focus less on the pinnacle of “puberty” and more on noting the various historic landmarks for Facebook: incorporating high school students, introducing chat or ‘likes’, surpassing Myspace, launching locations, gaining one billion active users.

Certain reporters dug up the artifacts of Facebook’s past, for instance, the “Poke”, a vague user-to-user feature that Slate writer Forrest Wickman wrote an extensive article analyzing. For all intents and purposes, no one was ever really sure exactly what “poking” signified. Was it hitting on someone? Was it reaching out to people you’d lost contact with? Was it a way to casually say hi to close friends?

Facebook remains very cryptic about the bygone feature to this day: its staff declined to respond to Wickman’s recent request about its meaning, and supposedly, even Mark Zuckerberg still won’t elaborate on “poking”.

Another popular Slate article features primitive “thefacebook” pictures. The author embedded shots of 2005-era profile and group pages, images that appear quite pixilated and text-heavy compared to today’s stimulating link-laden, photo-clad timelines. While the Slate article about old Facebook has gained over 6,000 likes on today’s Facebook, the exact same screenshots its author uses are presented throughout many other ten-year commemoration stories, such as the first two clicks through an interactive Time Magazine guide that lets the user travel through an era’s worth of transforming Facebook interfaces.

Time also published an in-depth article on Feb 4, 2014, titled “Facebook Turns 10: What If It Had Never Been Invented?” The author navigates through his own speculations, interpreting Facebook’s effects on other social media platforms: Myspace would have eventually flopped regardless, Twitter would probably exist anyway, FriendFeed may have flourished, Google Plus wouldn’t be the same, and so on.

People would have a different view of online privacy, he says, it weren’t for the see-all, show-all newsfeed component that alerts us of everyone’s online activities. In addition, he argues that if it weren’t for Facebook, the internet would not feel so universally connected.

Another individual who offered the public some speculative literature was Mark Zuckerberg himself, though he looks more to the future, rather than the past. In a memo he posted on Facebook this Feb 4, he announced how he’s even “more excited about the next ten years than the last.”

For as far as the web and Facebook have thus evolved since his college days, he predicts that in the next decade, much more of the world’s population will enjoy internet access, and that social networks (implicitly Facebook) will help people “answer questions and solve problems,” all while expanding the ability to capture and communicate experiences.

Though Zuckerberg (or whatever ghostwriting Facebook staff members put the statements together) focuses on positive aspects of his name-brand company’s prior and prospective existence, not everyone presents such an encouraging perspective about the future of Facebook.

Jane Wakefield’s BBC article begins with a title and brief of a bleaker demeanor: respectively, “Facebook turns 10 but are its days numbered?” and “The candles on Facebook’s 10th birthday cake will barely have been blown out before someone somewhere starts speculating on whether it will ever make 11.”

Wakefield’s article makes the ten-year mark sound more like Facebook is a decrepit geriatric than a youth entering puberty. She cites a Princeton survey that compares the social network to an “infectious disease” and concludes it will lose 80 percent of its users within 3 years. Teenagers are bored by it, and the fact that their parents use the platform to post embarrassing photos or messages all makes it increasingly unappealing to younger generations. She adds there is little analysis why people keep using it.

At least, for now, to appeal to those who have loyally managed matured accounts, Facebook is keeping people’s attention with their trending LookBack Movies, where users can view their very first, most liked, and randomly shared photographs as sentimental background music accompanies the retrospective digital experience.