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Behind Facebook's success

August 03, 2010 01:56 am | Updated August 04, 2010 02:37 am IST

From a start-up six years ago to the world's largest social networking site, Facebook has come to define contemporary social communication in the digital world. The exceptional popularity of this social networking site (SNS) in tricky cyber terrain is evident from the fact that the number of its active users has crossed 500 million. The imagination boggles: if Facebook were a country, it would be the third most populous in the world, behind China and India. Two other social network sites — MySpace (300 million) and Twitter (124 million) — would occupy the fifth and eighth slots, pointing to the magnitude of the revolution in cyberspace. The key to understanding the success of Facebook is that it rode on what social media theorist Clay Shirky characterises as the ability of the Internet to transform the manner in which information is created, shared, and distributed. The ease with which users can air their views and moods is an empowering attribute that prompts a global clientele to sign up. The SNS revolution started in 1997, and Facebook was not among the pioneers. Between 1997 and 2004, when Mark Zuckerberg launched the facebook.com as a site to share with his fellow Harvard students, many such sites came into being. Most of them vanished without a trace.

So why Facebook? Over the past six years, it went from being a closed user-group to one that gradually opened up: to high school networks, corporate networks, and finally anyone on Earth with an Internet connection. This expanding canvas for inter-personal communication has important lessons. At its most basic level, it reflects the success of an idea that forced society to sit up and take notice. Facebook's effectiveness is in its user-friendly approach behind which lies the application of cutting edge Internet technologies to serve a basic urge: the quest for information. It also ties in with contemporary knowledge society, marked by the ability of individuals quickly to create, package, and share content around the world. Mr. Zuckerberg's success is also closely linked to an innovation by which the site opened itself to other developers, thereby building a network of applications that piggyback on, and bring in users to, the site. Facebook's success has its caveats, such as privacy concerns, which it is obliged to address regularly. All said, these are still early days for social media. The path to success for rising social networking sites lies in their technology-led ability to connect people round the world seamlessly and capability to navigate the uncharted waters of business in cyberspace and actually garner revenues.

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