Facebook turns 20—where does it go from here?

Credit: Dima Solomin/Unsplash.

Deep down, Facebook is not entirely unlike many brilliant, high-potential 20-year-olds. Its appeal is clear.

Its performance is generally very strong, if not outstanding. Yet it’s still subject to occasional lapses in judgment and bouts of immaturity.

But warts and all, Facebook is the world’s undisputed social media giant.

With some 3 billion daily users—even more if your count those of its sister companies Instagram, WhatsApp and Threads—Facebook has changed the way people connect and communicate with one another.

Love it or hate it, and like the aspiring 20-year-old, Facebook may just be getting started.

The Daniels Newsroom recently sat down with Ana Babic Rosario, associate professor of marketing, to discuss Facebook’s beginnings, its impact on society and what Facebook might look like in another 20 years.

Tell us about Facebook’s beginning. How did it all start?

Facebook was started by Mark Zuckerberg, who continues to serve as its chairman and CEO, along with four co-founders—Dustin Moskovitz, Chris Hughes, Andrew McCollum and Eduardo Saverin—in 2004 when they were Harvard undergraduate students. It was designed to connect Harvard students online in a way that hadn’t been done before.

It was first called The Facebook before changing to just Facebook. Jumping ahead, in late 2021, the Facebook parent company rebranded to Meta Platforms Technologies, but the Facebook platform retained its name.

How did Facebook expand and monetize in those early years?

Zuckerberg’s original intention was to connect Harvard students. But then he connected students at other Ivy League schools and then other university communities across the country. Facebook soon spread beyond the education environment to other users and around the world.

It started monetizing its success by selling advertising space beginning in November 2007. Facebook, as Meta Platforms, went public in 2012. According to some reports, for the fiscal year of 2022, Meta earned about $320 million per day, which is an astounding amount of money. It is obviously highly successful, but not without faults and challenges.

Is the business model begun in 2007 roughly the same business model Facebook has now?

Initially, Facebook launched social ads, which allowed marketers to target potential customers in a much more targeted, personalized way compared to the traditional online advertising.

Today’s business model uses the same idea but is further refined thanks to algorithms that curate content in a more targeted way to maximize user attention. Nowadays, Facebook is using sponsored posts and curating people’s newsfeeds with the kind of content they’re most likely to engage with.

More than ever before, we are living in what is called the attention economy and Meta cleverly utilizes its technologies to serve up content that is most likely going to be consumed and provoke a reaction, therefore translating those metrics into revenues for its own platform—and its advertisers.

Some people would view this as the big brother aspect of social media. But do Facebook users really care?

There are some generational differences regarding personalization and privacy. I think my Millennial generation and some generations before mine are quite skeptical.

But Gen Z and Gen Alpha, which are today’s students and preschoolers, are growing up with this technology and learning to navigate touch-based devices before they can even speak.

I’ve seen many studies indicating that when it comes to privacy concerns, these newer generations are going to be less concerned despite being tech savvy.

But they still need to be protected. There’s been considerable discussion about this in recent years. Most memorable might be the Congressional whistleblower testimony by Frances Haugen, a former Facebook data scientist, about the damaging impact of Instagram on teenagers and children.

The platform is aware of these concerns and looking at ways it can be improved, but those concerns persist.

Written by Pete Ziverts, University of Denver.