Over the past 15 years, there has been no greater or more important metric at Facebook than user growth.
Adding users — “connecting the world” in Facebook-speak — has been the company’s mission from the get-go, and the desire to add more people to the social network has in many ways been Facebook’s North Star. At times, especially recently, that mission has come at a cost. The cost of user privacy. The cost of potential regulation. Maybe even the cost of human life.
But 15 years after CEO Mark Zuckerberg founded Facebook from his Harvard dormitory, it’s hard to argue that this mission — on its face — hasn’t been a success. In that time, Facebook has collected more users than there are followers of Christianity. More than 2.3 billion people use the service every single month. In some parts of the world, Facebook has become synonymous with the internet.
But Facebook’s growth story looks like it’s about to change. The social network’s massive user base is its greatest competitive advantage, but it has also become a potential problem. Some believe that Facebook has gotten too big — that its sheer size is now, finally, a reason to break Facebook up.
It’s also clear that Facebook’s growth is nearing a plateau, at least in established markets like the United States and Canada. Europe, too, is slowing down. Meanwhile, Facebook has basically ceded the Chinese market to local competitors that are willing to play by the Chinese government’s rules, and many of the people Facebook has yet to reach live in unreachable areas, where internet and connectivity are a major barrier. (Facebook’s trying to solve that, too.)
Growth is slowing down enough that soon Facebook will stop sharing how big its core social network is. Instead, it’s just going to lump Facebook’s user base together with the company’s other apps, a way to mask the inevitable user growth slowdown.
For the first time, Facebook is facing a new reality: A company that has been defined by user growth — both through its own mission and its relationships with partners and investors — may suddenly need a new identity.
What is Facebook’s story when Facebook stops growing? We may soon find out.
Here’s a select timeline of Facebook’s major milestones:
- February 4, 2004: Thefacebook.com launches
- December 2004: By the end of the year, it had one million monthly users
- September 2005: Facebook opens to high school users
- June 2006: Yahoo tries to buy Facebook for $1 billion; Zuckerberg says no thanks
- September 2006: Facebook launches News Feed and users revolt
- May 2007: Facebook opens its platform to developers
- October 2007: Microsoft invests $240 million into Facebook at $15 billion valuation
- November 2007: Facebook launches Beacon, its first big effort around targeted ads and web tracking
- August 2008: Facebook hits 100 million users
- March 2008: Sheryl Sandberg joins Facebook
- February 2009: Facebook launches the “Like” button
- October 2010: The Social Network hits theaters
- January 2011: Facebook takes $450 million from Goldman Sachs at $50 billion valuation
- April 2012: Facebook acquires Instagram for $1 billion
- May 2012: Facebook IPOs
- October 2012: Facebook hits one billion users
- April 2013: Facebook launches Facebook Home (the “Facebook phone”); it’s a huge flop
- December 2013: Facebook tries to buy Snapchat and Evan Spiegel says no thanks
- February 2014: Facebook buys WhatsApp for $19 billion
- March 2014: Facebook buys Oculus
- August 2014: Facebook forces users to download Messenger
- 2015: Facebook finds out Cambridge Analytica bought user data, violating Facebook’s rules. Cambridge Analytica promises Facebook the data was deleted; they lied
- May 2015: Instant Articles launches (publishers beware)
- August 2015: Facebook Live comes into existence
- 2016: Russians use Facebook to try and influence the 2016 election and no one notices
- March 2016: Zuck jogs through Beijing
- May 2016: Gizmodo reports that Facebook is suppressing conservative news through its Trending Topics feature
- October 2016: Facebook launches Marketplace
- November 2016: Zuckerberg says fake news influencing the election was a “crazy idea”
- 2017: Zuckerberg tours across America
- February 2017: Zuckerberg writes a 6,000-word manifesto about Facebook’s future
- April 2017: Facebook admits that malicious actors tried to manipulate election, but doesn’t name Russia…..Read more>>