News Column

Facebook Is 10 Years Old on Tuesday

February 3, 2014

Brandon Bailey and Patrick May, San Jose Mercury News

mark zuckerberg
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg (file photo)

Feb. 03--Ten years ago Tuesday, Mark Zuckerberg and a few friends launched Facebook as a handy tool for college kids to check each other out. Now it's a major hub of the Internet, used by 1.2 billion people around the world to share vital information and jokey photos, too.

And as Facebook enters its second decade, facing new demands from users, competitors and Wall Street investors, Zuckerberg is pushing for even more change.

Already, instead of just a place for posting personal updates, Facebook has become a platform for people to network, for groups to communicate and for businesses to reach current and future customers. Now the Facebook CEO wants users to see more content that's professionally produced and is encouraging them to engage in more public conversations about news, sports and celebrities.

He's also planning a constellation of new mobile apps, each serving a narrower purpose, in part to keep users from abandoning the world's largest social network for more nimble, specialized services like Snapchat and Whatsapp.

"There are all these different ways that people want to share and communicate," Zuckerberg told analysts on a conference call last week. He said the company wants to build "a handful of great new experiences that are separate from what you think of as Facebook today."

Zuckerberg is pushing Facebook to evolve even as some users complain it has changed too much.

"Facebook used to be about making connections," said Lawerence Schweitz, a 47-year-old IT consultant. "But now when you use it you feel more like a consumer who's being targeted at every turn, or bombarded by other peoples' opinions instead of just 'connecting' with them."

Facebook executives say their surveys show user satisfaction has remained stable or increased even as they have introduced ads to users' News Feeds. Zuckerberg credits the company's strategy of showing "higher quality" ads, which users are more likely to click on, rather than showing ads more often.

Members of the social network, meanwhile, are using Facebook in new ways. Instead of simply connecting with friends, for instance, San Jose food service worker Tonya Shipp said, "I use Facebook more and more for job seeking, which I never did before."

While some studies suggest teens are using Facebook less, the independent Pew Research Center reports that 71 percent of U.S. adults are Facebook users, up from 67 percent a year earlier.

Facebook has changed repeatedly since Zuckerberg and his Harvard dorm mates launched "thefacebook.com" on Feb. 4, 2004. Over the years, users initially resisted new features that later became popular -- like the Wall, where individuals could leave public messages; News Feed, which provides updates from friends; and Timeline, which replaced the Wall as each user's main profile page.

"Not every new feature is a hit, but clearly it's working," said Forrester analyst Nate Elliott.

Facebook has now become an essential platform for communicating with a broader community, or the world.

"We share event updates and photos of the town and even notices for missing dogs and power outages," said Rene Spring of Morgan Hill, who celebrates his hometown with a community page that boasts more than 10,000 followers. "Facebook has become almost a utility like PG&E for us."

Big corporations cultivate their Facebook presence; 25 million smaller companies have pages. But as its booming ad business drove Facebook's revenue to $7.8 billion last year, it now faces competitive threats from a host of social media upstarts.

That's one reason Facebook is pushing new kinds of content into News Feed. It recently announced that users may see more of their friends' links to news reports and Web updates about public events, celebrities and the like. It's also encouraging celebrities to post public comments and added Twitter-like features to highlight "trending" topics discussed on Facebook.

Those conversations draw users' attention and produce more data about their interests, which Facebook can use to deliver more targeted ads. That's worked well for Twitter, said eMarketer analyst Debra Aho Williamson. "Facebook wants to tap into that."

Facebook will still be a place to share personal updates with friends, Zuckerberg said. Still, he's testing the appetite for more "public content" by releasing a mobile news app called Paper this week. It's a stream of links to articles, blogs and websites, some posted by friends and others suggested by Facebook.

Meanwhile, after failing to buy rival Snapchat, Facebook is promoting its Messenger chat service as an app that can be downloaded and used separately from Facebook itself. Zuckerberg has formed a new company unit to build other specialized apps.

"The main Facebook service is really becoming pretty bloated," Williamson said. "By offering different apps with different focuses, they could serve the purpose of helping people streamline what they get from Facebook."

They won't be the last changes at Facebook. Zuckerberg has hired artificial intelligence experts to help Facebook find patterns in the billions of items that users post on the network. That could help deliver more relevant posts -- and advertising -- to a user's News Feed.

"Over time," he said, "the real value will be if we can understand the meaning of all of the content that people are sharing. Then we can just provide much more relevant experiences for people across everything that we do."

Contact Brandon Bailey at bbailey@mercurynews.com or Patrick May at pmay@mercurynews.com.

Facebook milestones:

2004: Launched in February, Wall added in September, reaches 1 million college users in December.

2005: Drops "the" from "thefacebook.com" name, later expands to high school students, adds Photos.

2006: First mobile version launched, News Feed introduced.

2009: Introduces "Like" button, reaches 360 million users.

2011: Introduces Timeline, reaches 845 million users; President Barack Obama visits offices.

2012: Buys Instagram, holds first public stock offering, reaches 1 billion users.

2013: Launches Graph Search, Home smartphone app.

Source: Facebook

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(c)2014 the San Jose Mercury News (San Jose, Calif.)

Visit the San Jose Mercury News (San Jose, Calif.) at www.mercurynews.com

Distributed by MCT Information Services

Original headline: Facebook at 10: Zuckerberg pushing for change



Source: (c)2014 the San Jose Mercury News (San Jose, Calif.)


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