Facebook is huge! Over 2 billion users huge! The social media giant has become a fixture in most lives. In fact, for millions of people, Facebook IS the internet. But if you go back two decades, the social media scene was very different. Facebook never had the first mover advantage. Before Facebook, there were Friendster and MySpace. Rivals as fierce as Centurylink vs Cox. Before them were even more social platforms. But Facebook is the proverbial last man standing.
Why Other Popular Platforms Failed
In 1999 a Brad Fitzpatrick launched a social platform known as LiveJournal. This was way before The Facebook became a thing. Among the many platforms that mushroomed since, these were the most popular:
5. Facebook (and why it succeeded)
Let’s have a look at each platform and see where they stand now.
The 1999 LiveJournal was one of the earliest and most popular social networks. 19-year old Brad Fitzpatrick launched it to stay in touch with his high school friends. It was originally a blogging site. But it came with many social networking features that let users communicate. By 2005 it had well over 5.5 million active users. At the time, it was one of the largest online projects of its type. A company known for blogging software purchased LiveJournal in 2005. Under Six Apart’s ownership, LiveJournal gathered over 14 million users by 2007. It was then sold to SUP Media, a Russian company with big plans to make LiveJournal global name. In 2012, the site had less than 2 million users and exited the scene.
SixDegrees is arguably the first modern social networking platform, launched in 1997. It combined many features that were popular on other social sites. It allowed users to make unique profiles. It listed friends, let you browse friends lists and gathered your contacts in one place. It gained 3.5 million users by 1999 when sold to YouthStream Media Networks. The company shut down SixDegrees by the end of the next year.
Launched in 2002, the rise and fall of Friendster was meteoric. It reached over 2 million users within its first few months. When acquired by MOL Global, it had over 115 million users, mostly in Asia. Despite MOL Global being one of Asia’s largest internet concerns, Friendster declined steadily. Ultimately, the site shut down in 2015. There were many reasons behind this decline. There were many technical issues that made it unpopular as well as some social collisions. Ultimately, users lost their sense of trust with the social platform and it lost popularity.
MySpace was officially launched in 2003. It was one of the most popular social media platforms of the time. It had no membership restrictions, which contributed a lot to its popularity. It also let users customize their pages as well as make them public. MySpace regularly added new features based on user trends and demands. At the time of Facebook’s launch in 2005, MySpace was dominating American social media. It had over 1 million users at the time. By 2005, this number had reached 25 million. MySpace was then sold to News Corp. In 2006, MySpace had over 100 million users. It had more daily hits than Google! But this was the peak of MySpace’s rise, with technological problems and annoying advertisements driving away users.
Facebook (and why it succeeded)
When it was officially launched in 2004, The Facebook was only for students of Harvard University. By 2008, it had beat MySpace for the top spot in unique global visitors. A year later, it also had the most number of unique US visitors. Today it has over 2 billion unique users. How exactly did Facebook succeed where others failed?
The first thing in Facebook’s favor was the timing of its launch. At the time, high-speed broadband added a new dimension to the internet. The internet became more accessible to households and families. This meant there was now a more diverse population of active internet users, which had not been the case before. There was also another aspect of Facebook’s timing. Previous social media platforms had already been popular. This meant Facebook did not have to spend time in convincing people. The benefits of social networks were already understood. At the same time, Facebook had a sizable list of examples of what to avoid.
Another Facebook’s success
Another thing that contributed to Facebook’s success was primarily controlled growth. The company resisted the urge to aggressively expand. It was at first only restricted to Harvard, and gradually grew its user base. Slowly, Facebook trickled down to other institutions and corporations. It wasn’t until 2006 that membership became unrestricted.
Controlled growth also focused on developing a stronger infrastructure than previous platforms. Facebook needed to build a system that was safe, secure and free from the technical problems other platforms faced. Facebook attracted many competent developers, who helped build it into what it is today. It also helped Facebook shape itself according to the needs of its users, to keep them coming back. Facebook didn’t stop there. It actually acquired its popular competition like Whatsapp and Instagram. Today, it seems Facebook is too big to fail. After Google, it generates the most ad revenue. It offers advertisers cost-effective access to segmented markets. Unlike the Frontier vs Spectrum debate, the Facebook vs MySpace debate is long over.