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The dawn of the social media age



In 2004 a Harvard student gifted in software engineering launched a new website that, within just a few short years, would completely change the world. The student was Mark Zuckerberg and 16 years ago he created the first iteration of Facebook.

The story of Facebook is well told, not least through the academy award winning film “The Social Network”. Originally called “TheFacebook”, the site was built to connect Harvard students to each other - and was only available within that university. 

It was inspired by student directories known as “face books” that featured photos and basic information, that existed throughout US colleges. Harvard didn’t have a universal online face book, which perplexed Zuckerberg.

"Everyone's been talking a lot about a universal face book within Harvard. ... I think it's kind of silly that it would take the University a couple of years to get around to it. I can do it better than they can, and I can do it in a week,” he told student paper, The Crimson.

The first launch came on 4th February, and within just 24 hours had attracted an estimated 1,200-1,500 students. 

“When Mark finished the site, he told a couple of friends ... then one of them suggested putting it on the Kirkland House online mailing list, which was ... three hundred people," said Zuckerberg’s roommate Dustin Moskovitz. 

"By the end of the night, we were ... actively watching the registration process. Within twenty-four hours, we had somewhere between twelve hundred and fifteen hundred registrants."

By spring, the site had proved so popular around Harvard, that Zuckerberg and his team - made up of friends and roommates - expanded it to other schools in the Boston area. By the end of 2004, TheFacebook had 1 million users and had found an investor in Peter Thiel who contributed $500,000 to its growth. Zuckerberg subsequently left Harvard to move to California and work full-time on the site.

The growth was unstoppable. It would be just two years before Facebook was open to everyone with a valid email address (and the name was changed to remove the “The”).

By 2012 Facebook had one billion monthly active users and was available in almost every country of the world. As of 2020, the site has around 2.7 billion users and is worth over $350 billion.

Facebook is more than just the personal profile resource that it started out as. The site launched the growth of social media among businesses - to the extent that almost every company now needs a social media presence to promote themselves. It also changed the way we consume news, keep in touch with one another and are influenced in everything from fashion to politics. 

Few things have changed the world in the way that Mark Zuckerberg’s original programming idea back in 2004 did. For better or worse, Facebook gave rise to the social media era and it continues to change our lives to this day.

50 years of engineering

To celebrate Fircroft’s 50th anniversary, we’re highlighting a great feat of engineering from the years 1970-2020 each week. Read last week’s look back at the UK’s first offshore commercial wind power project.

Fircroft has been recruiting engineering professionals for industries from oil & gas to mining & resources to ICT for 50 years. Register your CV with us today so we can help you secure your next job.

Tags: ICT
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