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Facebook at 10: From college joke to a billion friends

Today, Facebook towers over the social-networking world with over a billion users. It didn't start that way. But, it's final legacy may not have much at all to do with social networking.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor

Love it or hate it you can't get away from Facebook. If you're not one of over a billion Facebook users, chances are your aunt Marge, your high-school buddy Bobby, and many of your friends and relatives are already there.

Want to join Facebook? With over a billion users you're sure to find friends and family there.

Sure, some people predict that Facebook will burst like a bubble, as MySpace did before it. Others decry the way Facebook plays games with your privacy. And, devoted users grumble about Facebook's constant interface tweaking. None of that really matters. Today, Facebook dominates our online lives like no other Website except Google's search engine. And, with so many of your friends and family there, it's likely to be the site you spend the most time on every day of your life. 

It wasn't always that way.

Facebook actually started as Facemash in October 2003 by Mark Zuckerberg. This site simply scraped images from the Harvard University dorms' online people directories called "facebooks," and asked visitors to vote on which person in every randomly selected pair of photos was hottest. Little more than a lame college Web trick, it was to prove to be the start of a multi-billion dollar business.

Take a look through Facebook's past (Gallery)

Zuckerberg was inspired this small joke of a site to build a social network, thefacebook.com, which he launched on February 4, 2004. Well, that was his story.

Days after he launched the site he was accused by the Winklevoss twins and Divya Narendra of stealing their idea for a social network. Years and millions of dollars of legal fees later the twins accepted $65-million for their part in Facebook's creation.

This first site was only open to Harvard students, but its membership took off explosively. Within its first month, more than half of Harvard's undergraduates had joined up. Zuckerberg quickly expanded it to the other major colleges, He quickly realized that he had a real business and on September 26, 2006 he opened Facebook to everyone who 13 and older with an e-mail address.


Boom! By November 2007, Facebook recorded $153-million in revenue, and Facebook hadn't even introduced the Like button yet. The now universally known Like button would only come in February 2009. Funny isn't it? I find it hard to imagine Facebook without a like button now.

It hasn't been all smooth sailing for Facebook in recent years. The company's 2012 IPO was, to be polite, bungled. While shareholders were incensed, Facebook user community kept growing and growing.

I could delve into the minutiae of how this happens and Facebook's endless UI twists and turns, but really the most important thing Facebook has done in the last few years is all but invisible to its users: the Open Compute Project.

This is a project that is revolutionizing data center design by open-sourcing everything in the data center from the server motherboard up to the server chassis to the rack all the way up to the overall air flow specifications and design of the data center building itself. Almost everyone who's anyone in the data center space, and even companies that simply supply software for it, such as Microsoft, are embracing Open Compute.

End-users will never see this, but even if Facebook really does fall into decline, the changes that Open Compute has brought to the data center will change computing for decades to come. You see, by making data centers far cheaper and more efficient, Open Compute will change how we use not just data center applications, but the cloud and indeed the entire Internet for perhaps a lifetime to come.

And, to think it all started with a sophomoric stunt in college. That's pretty amazing Facebook. I look forward to seeing what you'll come up with in your next decade.

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