10 Ways Facebook Has Changed Since 2004
originally published in MediaPost's Social Media Insider
Facebook has earned a few degrees since it launched as Thefacebook in 2004. A Facebook media kit from the spring of 2004 recently surfaced, and it offers a glimpse as to how much has changed since then. Here are 10 quotes from the media kit that illustrate what has changed with Facebook, media, and online advertising.
1) “Thefacebook.com is an expanding online directory…”
This is so quaint. Remember the directory-centric era of the 1990s? As innovative as Thefacebook was, it was selling itself as a form of online media that was a relic by 2004. Months after this media kit was published, Google went public and accelerated the demise of browsing through directories.
2) “Additionally, thefacebook.com automatically adds to each user profile links to school news articles that refer to the user, the last user away-message in the AIM system and the last user access location…”
Facebook was a potential lightning rod for privacy lawsuits right from its birth. Did users realize this in 2004? Did they care? Even if it was only used by college students at the time, these students couldn’t have wanted to share all of this information with advertisers.
3) “Advanced search engine”
LOL. If Thefacebook had an advanced search engine in 2004, what the heck happened to it?
4) “Additionally, each user can add a friendship list to their profile, pending second-source verification of friendship status.”
Given Thefacebook’s birth in a dorm room full of Harvard computer scientists, it’s funny to see words like “second-source verification” slip in and overcomplicate simple ideas. Yet it’s also important to remember that in 2004, most people -- especially those older than 25 -- had little idea what a friend request was. This was before “friend” was a verb.
5) “The mission of thefacebook.com is to expand to include most of the schools in the United States.”
The company’s publicly stated mission had nothing to do with world domination. It wasn’t even sure it would get to every college and university.
6) “With an estimated purchasing power that exceeds $85 billion, college students have money in their pockets for your services and products.”
As simplistic as it sounds, this is one of several cases where I wonder if Facebook lost something as it grew up. Here, the media kit included the kind of straightforward language that advertisers expect. It made Thefacebook seem safer for advertisers, rather than some entirely new paradigm.
7) “Unique Users,” “Traffic,” “Pageviews”
Facebook was selling eyeballs in 2004, as was nearly everyone. Now Facebook is known for engagement and building relationships. None of that was possible on Thefacebook eight years ago.
8) “You can target users using traditional horizontal/vertical banners, links and other more contextual ad placements.”
Facebook hates this today. The media kit was created before the current era of native ad formats. Now it’s a badge of honor to sell proprietary units and offerings, and Facebook was one of the most adamant promoters of going native. Yet Facebook hasn’t fully evolved from its eyeball-oriented past. By cramming seven small ad units on the righthand rail of a page, Facebook today is a master at devaluing its own inventory.
9) “House/Dormitory,” “Sexual Orientation,” “Number of Intra/Inter-School Friends”
These are some of Thefacebook’s ad targeting options -- just three of 16 listed. At the time, targeting by one’s number of friends made sense, as online popularity could be assumed to be a proxy for influence; that notion has since been refuted. Facebook has evolved considerably. For instance, earlier this year, Facebook made a change to let advertisers target broad categories such as small-business owners, U.S. Hispanics, people who recently moved, and expecting parents. This is one significant way where Facebook has improved ad offerings to give advertisers more of what they need.
Actually, this word isn’t in the media kit at all. In 2004, Facebook wasn’t a platform, it wasn’t a social utility, and it surely wasn’t mobile. Selling mobile advertising is hard enough today, though it’s increasingly profitable and scalable. Back then, it wasn’t part of the plan.
It didn’t need to be. Thefacebook was a site for college kids to engage in second-source verification, and advertisers could run banner ads targeting the most popular heterosexual or homosexual kids in certain dorms. Facebook maintains some of Thefacebook’s roots, but with about a billion users, it’s something quite different. What isn’t clear is exactly what Facebook is. Some younguns these days take forever to figure out what they’ll be when they grow up.