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Facebook six years later: from a dorm room experiment to a household name

February 4, 2010 |  1:30 pm
Facebook-z
Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg in December. Credit: Paul Sakuma / Associated Press

On Feb. 4, 2004, a Harvard student named Mark Zuckerberg, along with a few of his fellow classmates, had an idea to create a social network for Harvard students. Dubbed "TheFacebook," the site was a place where students could communicate and share photos with their friends.

Within a month, TheFacebook grew in popularity, prompting its founders to include students from other well-respected universities. It didn't take long for it to become a full-fledged business that Zuckerberg decided to expand to most of the universities in the United States and Canada. It eventually opened the site to any user, rather than just college students, to expand its reach.

From humble beginnings, Facebook (the company dropped the "The" from its name in 2005) has grown to become the world's No. 1 social network with more than 350 million users worldwide.

Facebook has become a major cultural touchstone, and the buzz it captured in the latter part of the last decade shows no sign of abating. According to the company, more than 35 million users update their status each day. All told, 55 million status updates are added on a daily basis by those users.

Among the impressive statistics the company hands out is that users upload 2.5 billion photos to the service each month, in addition to 3.5 billion blog posts, shared website links, and notes uploaded every week.

More members, more problems

As successful as it has been, Facebook has faced its challenges. Privacy has been a constant issue for the social network. In December, Facebook changed its privacy settings to make profile photos and a user's friends visible to the entire social network by default, unless the user changed those settings to maintain anonymity. That practice has caused Facebook to come under fire for what critics say is the company allowing potentially sensitive information to get out to unwanted recipients.

In response to those privacy concerns, the office of the privacy commissioner of Canada has launched its second investigation into Facebook's policies. The U.S. has yet to respond in kind.

Like other social networks, Facebook continues to face the issue of protecting children on the site. Over the last few years, the company has been proactive in stopping sexual offenders from creating profiles. In an effort it started last year, Facebook has been working with New York Atty. Gen. Andrew Cuomo to remove all of the state's sex offenders from the social network. Now his office is calling on other social networks and websites to follow Facebook's lead.

No mean feat

It's a story that's the envy of young entrepreneurs everywhere. A college student with a unique idea was able to strike it big in an environment where the vast majority of ideas fail. Some contend that Zuckerberg has helped inspire a new generation of entrepreneurs that look toward social networking as an opportunity to build a successful business.

If Facebook can survive another six years, it will have outshined its main early competitor, MySpace, whose popularity peaked in the mid-2000s before witnessing a prolonged exodus. With the technological landscape changing so quickly, staying relevant may be Facebook's biggest challenge.

-- Don Reisinger
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