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2/3/2014
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Facebook History: 10 Defining Moments

From Facebook's Harvard beginnings to its billion-user mark, we look back at the decisions and milestones that shaped the social network.

In 2004, George W. Bush was reelected to office, Britney Spears was married (twice), and a 19-year-old Harvard University sophomore launched a website from his dorm that would change the way we communicate.

Ten years ago, Mark Zuckerberg called it "Thefacebook." Today, it's just "Facebook" -- a social network that more than 1.23 billion people love, loathe, and love to loathe.

As Facebook celebrates its 10th birthday Tuesday, here's a look back at the decisions and milestones that shaped the social network.

[Get a grip on your Facebook account. Read 10 Most Misunderstood Facebook Privacy Facts.]

1. Zuckerberg releases Facemash

Without Facemash there may be no Facebook.

In October 2003, Zuckerberg and three of his classmates -- Andrew McCollum, Chris Hughes, and Dustin Moskovitz -- launched a website that let visitors compare two student pictures and determine which one was better looking than the other. To populate the website, Zuckerberg hacked the "facebooks" that Harvard maintained to help students identify each other, according to Harvard's student newspaper, The Crimson.

A few days after launching Facemash, Harvard executives shut it down and Zuckerberg faced charges of violating copyrights, breach of security, and violating individual privacy -- issues he would become all too familiar with in years to come.

Shortly thereafter, Zuckerberg began writing code for what would later become known as "thefacebook."

2. Thefacebook launches

On Feb. 4, 2004, thefacebook.com launched. Within 24 hours, the website grew to between 1,200 and 1,500 users, according to Moskovitz. In the first month, more than half of Harvard's undergraduates signed up. Soon after, Zuckerberg and team opened registration to fellow Ivy League schools and Boston-area colleges and universities.

3. Facebook adds photos

Can you imagine Facebook without selfies, babies, or photos of food? In October 2005, the social network gave its users -- then, just college students -- unlimited storage to upload images.

Today, photos remain one of Facebook's most popular features. In September 2013, the social network announced that users have uploaded more than 250 billion photos. More than 350 million are uploaded every day.

4. Facebook lets anyone join

Facebook continued expanding as its network grew to thousands of colleges, universities, and high schools worldwide. Then on September 26, 2006, the social network opened its doors to everyone, even parents and grandparents, a move that would horrify teens and young adults -- and set the tone for a period of unprecedented growth. Facebook closed 2006 with 12 million users, up from 5.5 million the year before.

5. Facebook rejects Yahoo offer

In September 2006, after dismissing a number of suitors, Facebook entertained Yahoo's $1 billion offer for purchase. Peter Thiel, Facebook's first investor and board member, recalled the meeting 22-year-old Zuckerberg held to discuss the offer:

"Both [Facebook board member Jim Bryer] and myself on balance thought we probably should take the money. But Zuckerberg started the meeting like, 'This is kind of a formality, just a quick board meeting, it shouldn't take more than 10 minutes. We're obviously not going to sell here.' "

Thiel said money never motivated Zuckerberg. He recalled him saying: "I don't know what I could do with the money. I'd just start another social networking site. I kind of like the one I already have."

Kristin Burnham currently serves as InformationWeek.com's Senior Editor, covering social media, social business, IT leadership and IT careers. Prior to joining InformationWeek in July 2013, she served in a number of roles at CIO magazine and CIO.com, most recently as senior ... View Full Bio

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Ariella
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Ariella,
User Rank: Ninja
2/3/2014 | 9:34:53 AM
FB history
Of course, it was letting anyone join that made FB into the best known social network that it has become. That doesn't mean it's best (not IMHO) but that it has the most recognition. It tends to be the first thing businesses look at when they go into social media even after Twitter has taken off and Google+ has allowed brand pages. 
Kristin Burnham
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Kristin Burnham,
User Rank: Author
2/3/2014 | 9:36:01 AM
What's next?
Facebook has had its share of ups and downs over the last 10 years. What are your predictions for the company in the years to come?
David F. Carr
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David F. Carr,
User Rank: Author
2/3/2014 | 11:01:27 AM
No crisis moments?
I'm surprised you didn't include some of the changes they've introduced over the years that produced a backlash, from the introduction of the news feed to some of the social ad programs that prompted privacy complaints. I'd say those were "defining moments" in some sense, showing the personality of the company. On the other hand, I can see where they might not rank in the top 10 if you consider them mere speed bumps or miny dustups.
Laurianne
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Laurianne,
User Rank: Author
2/3/2014 | 11:04:43 AM
Re: No crisis moments?
Interesting that the News Feed is still not loved, years after its introduction. The algorithm still doesn't give some people what they want. Readers, look for follow-up coverage on this topic tomorrow, including a look at stumbles.
Kristin Burnham
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Kristin Burnham,
User Rank: Author
2/3/2014 | 12:12:01 PM
Re: No crisis moments?
@David, you can find the item about News Feed on page 2.

I considered adding items related to Facebook privacy missteps, such as the Facebook Beacon and Sponsored Stories lawsuits, but their errors in that category are many. It's hard to pick out one or two that were "defining moments," especially since it's something the company still struggles with today. You'll find a few of those missteps in a story posting tomorrow, so stay tuned for that.

 
WKash
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WKash,
User Rank: Author
2/3/2014 | 2:05:49 PM
Next generation
It's interesting to hear how many teenagers I speak with who've moved on from Facebook...and what that portends as Facebook moves into its own adolescence.
Gary_EL
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Gary_EL,
User Rank: Ninja
2/3/2014 | 2:06:58 PM
Re: What's next?
That it will become less popular with the youngsters, and they will go elsewhere. Which is no problem for me, but it might be a problem for parents, who might not be able to monitor the online doings of their kids as easily as they can with Facebook.
David F. Carr
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David F. Carr,
User Rank: Author
2/3/2014 | 4:33:40 PM
Re: No crisis moments?
Ah, too many errors to count. That makes sense.

And yet you could say recovering from all those missteps shows resilience, which might be one of Facebook's most defining characteristics.
cbabcock
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cbabcock,
User Rank: Strategist
2/3/2014 | 11:32:52 PM
Open Compute is Facebook's defining moment of using the social net
Facebook didn't buy servers or run a data center like other companies. It built the first unit of what it thought was an ultra-modern data center in Prineville, Ore., it's first and realized it wanted major revisions for the servers going into the second of three massive centers scheduled to be built on the site. There would be strength in numbers, if Facebook could get other people interested in what constituted an efficient data center in the cloud. Plus competitors Google, Apple and Amazon were all eyeing the Facebook user base hungrily. None of them was willing to share its designs with anyone else. Realizing it was in a position to pioneer modern cloud data center design, it launched the Open Compute Project in April 2011. It's attracted Goldman Sachs, Fidelity investments and other financial services firms. It holds the long term potential of disrupting the way hardware supply is done. It was Facebook's own defining use of the social network.
Kristin Burnham
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Kristin Burnham,
User Rank: Author
2/4/2014 | 8:57:04 AM
Re: No crisis moments?
Resilience: absolutely. Facebook's Andrew Bosworth touched on this in a post this morning reflecting on Facebook's last 10 years:

"When I joined Facebook we were a bunch of clever but irreverent kids (and one irreverent Jeff Rothschild). We were deeply skeptical of accepted wisdom, perhaps because the wisdom at the time did not look favorably upon our chances of succeeding. Instead we took unconventional approaches to everything from what we built and how we built it to how we financed and operated the company. More often than not we would stumble and frequently we would learn why accepted wisdom was exactly that. But occasionally our naive confidence that we could forge our own path paid off and unlocked something that was completely ours."
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