When Facebook first launched its News Feed 10 years ago, users went bananas. They absolutely hated the change.
It was the most “inglorious launch moment in history,” says Chris Cox, one of the early Facebookers who worked on the first iteration of the format. It would also end up changing the way that we use the internet.
Before the News Feed, you wouldn’t see a collection of updates and stories when you logged onto Facebook. You’d only get personal notifications like how many people had poked you and if anyone had written on your Wall. Every browsing session was like a click-powered treasure hunt: You could search for specific people to look at their profiles and then just wander through the site from there. Most people won’t remember what that was like: At the time of the change, the social network only had 10 million users, compared to its roughly 1.71 billion monthly active users now.
The four Facebookers who worked on the feature — Cox, Andrew “Boz” Bosworth, Ruchi Sanghvi, and Kang-Xiang — said on a live-stream with CEO Mark Zuckerberg today that they expected the update to be wildly popular. They were wildly incorrect. (At least at first.)
Their champagne popping felt premature when unhappy users and reporters protested outside the office the next day and Groups protesting the change swelled to millions of users. Ironically, the coordination of the galvanization proved to Facebook execs that the New Feeds was actually working. People were spending much more time on Facebook and could connect with other people in ways they never could before.
With a ten year lens on that disastrous launch, it’s clearer than ever how much the News Feed changed much more than just Facebook. It was the first real social feed. Today, most social networks use some form of live-updating central hub of content. The concept of a filtered stream of social content feels so basic now, but at the time it looked revolutionary.
And the feed has given Facebook an unprecedented amounts of power over people’s digital lives. Having the News Feed is what has made Facebook one of the biggest distributors of information in the world. Despite Zuckerberg’s displeasure at having Facebook called a “media company,” it serves news to more US adults than any other social network. That makes its ever-changing algorithm extraordinarily powerful: The average Facebook user has 2,000 different stories that they could potentially see every day, but they will only end up seeing about 200 of them.
“We’re constantly trying to get a better understanding of what our community finds valuable and what it doesn’t,” Zuckerberg writes in his own anniversary post.
Here’s a look at how Facebook has evolved over the years:
First there was 'The Facebook.' The social network started at Harvard and slowly opened up to other colleges.
Mark Zuckerberg originally described himself as not only the founder of Facebook, but also as the 'Master and Commander' and 'Enemy of the State.'
Back in 2005, before the News Feed launched, Facebook was essentially just a collection of disconnected profiles.
At the same time, Facebook introduced the Mini-Feed. But the entire concept of a News Feed resulted in some very public outrage. Some users even went so far to call one of Facebook's product managers the devil.
In 2009, Facebook's home page got a face-lift. Posts started to stream through the News Feed in real time (previously it took stories 30 minutes to appear).
That same year, Facebook also introduced its algorithm for determining the order in which status updates should be displayed.
It also rolled out a new, more visual profile in 2010. It added a row of recently tagged images below your name and basic profile information.
Facebook launched the News Ticker in 2011 so users could keep up with their friends while browsing through other parts of Facebook.
The Facebook Timeline feels like it's been around since the beginning. But it actually launched in 2011 to act as a virtual timeline of your entire life.
Facebook split its instant-messaging into a different app called Messenger in 2014. It's now got more than 800 million monthly users.
Facebook also owns a bunch of other popular apps, most notably Instagram, which the company bought for $1 billion in 2012. With more than 400 million monthly users, that seems like a steal nowadays.
The company started flooding the News Feed with sponsored stories in January 2012. (Previously, it had only used display ads.)
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