Facebook Was Born 10 Years Ago Today. Here’s What It Looked Like.

Future Tense
The Citizen's Guide to the Future
Feb. 3 2014 9:12 PM

Facebook Was Born 10 Years Ago. Here’s What It Looked Like.

On Feb. 4, 2004, in his Harvard dorm room, Mark Zuckerberg launched thefacebook.com, a website where college students could post information about themselves, trade messages, and become virtual “friends” with one another. It was entering an already-crowded field of social networks. Friendster was the world’s most popular at the time, but it was about to be overtaken by a one-year-old upstart called MySpace. Google had launched Orkut just weeks earlier.  

Will Oremus Will Oremus

Will Oremus is Slate's senior technology writer.

Facebook was different because it was only for college students, featured a clean layout devoid of spam, and had no immediate plans to make money. It was an instant hit. “I assume I’ll eventually make something profitable,” Zuckerberg shrugged in a June 2004 interview with the Harvard student newspaper. (It took him a while, but Facebook turned its first profit in 2009, and last year it reported a profit of some $1.5 billion on nearly $8 billion in revenues.)

By December the site had 1 million users, and it hadn’t even added its photo-upload feature yet.  Here’s what thefacebook.com looked like in 2005, a year after it launched:

Facebook profile page from 2005
A Facebook profile page from 2005.

Image courtesy of Facebook

Facebook Groups page from 2005
A Facebook Groups page from 2005.

Image courtesy of Facebook

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Over the years it piled on the features. Some, like News Feed and the like button, changed the Internet forever. Others, like Facebook Gifts, not so much. For its 10th birthday, Facebook has put together a timeline of significant events in its own history. It reflects a bit of a selective memory—you won’t find Gifts, Beacon, or the site’s short-lived experiment with democracy on this timeline. But then, that’s part of what made Facebook so appealing in the first place: the ability to edit your own image to your liking.

Facebook Timeline: first 10 years
Facebook made a Timeline of its first 10 years as a company.

Image courtesy of Facebook

The timeline is one of several features that Facebook released Monday night, on the eve of its anniversary. On Tuedsay it will unveil a product called “A Look Back” that lets users make a personal movie or slideshow of their favorite moments in their lives since they joined Facebook. The company also launched a slick new iPhone app, Paper, in the App Store on Monday.

Here’s Zuckerberg’s statement on the eve of his brainchild’s 10th birthday:

It's been an incredible journey so far, and I'm so grateful to be a part of it. It's been amazing to see how people have used Facebook to build a real community and help each other in so many ways. In the next decade, we have the opportunity and responsibility to connect everyone and to keep serving the community as best we can.

Previously in Slate

Future Tense is a partnership of SlateNew America, and Arizona State University.

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