Facebook: Over the hill, or enjoying middle age?

Facebook sign

Facebook is 10 years old.

Hard to believe in two ways - it seems to have been around forever, and yet to be something brand new and of the moment. And perhaps that is the secret of its success - the ability to weave its way into our lives while constantly adapting to changing circumstances.

I've spent a little time trying to find out about its early history in the UK, mainly by appealing to my Facebook friends to show they were among the earliest British members of the social network.

Facebook - which started in Mark Zuckerberg's Harvard bedroom and spread across the US university's campus like wildfire - was aimed solely at students at first, and only those at the most exclusive colleges. The same was true when it arrived in the UK in 2005 - only those with Oxford, Cambridge and LSE email addresses could join.

Among those who respond to my Facebook query is Jennifer Hawton who joined in June 2005 while she was reading natural sciences at Cambridge. She remembers sitting in her room thinking "I'm naturally nosy, I like to know about people", and signing up.

Nine years on and working in London, she still uses it reasonably frequently, keeping in touch with old friends from university.

An even earlier joiner was Curon Wyn Davies, who was studying at Jesus College, Cambridge. His timeline tells me he joined on 31 May 2005. He has dug up a real gem, the British Facebook song. With lyrics like "poke me night or day", "looking for some random play", it feels like a relic of a bygone age, when Facebook was essentially a dating app for students.

Others who joined in 2005 and 2006 remember it being a real student phenomenon - "you had to have an 'ac.uk' address to join" - which may have given it an added cachet, especially for those still in school. Roaming the timeline of one of my younger BBC colleagues, who must have just left school in 2006, I found this: "Now addicted to Facebook, MySpace and MSN. Work has no chance."

Mark Zuckerberg, 2011 Mark Zuckerberg

But soon MySpace and MSN, along with Bebo and Friends Reunited, were dwindling away as Facebook spread beyond universities to, well, everyone. Parents began joining to keep in touch with their offspring.

One Facebook friend tells me she joined in May 2006 - "Lost my son who'd gone on a two day bender, so I joined Facebook to put out an APB and track him down. It worked: 'Oh Mum you're so embarrassing'."

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Ever since I joined Facebook it has been going out of fashion”

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By the spring of 2007 even someone as old as me was joining (for professional purposes, you understand). I made a piece for BBC Radio 4's Today Programme on whether social networking was for the more mature person - and listened as one of the more mature presenters introduced it to listeners as "Facepack".

About the same time another middle-aged man, Chris Ward, joined up. Later, his daughter followed him onto Facebook. He says, "At one stage we had to moderate her usage as she was using it ALL the time - but now goes nowhere near it. Snapchat and Instagram are everything - which seems to support the recent reports on losing teen audience…"

Well, maybe. But ever since I joined Facebook it has been going out of fashion. Early in 2008, it seemed "everyone" was moving to this new thing called Twitter. Then an infestation of advertising was going to send everyone to places where they would not be bombarded with messages.

And every time Facebook changed its look, and its byzantine privacy settings, there were howls of outrage and threats to abandon it for something better.

As for me, I've had an on-off relationship with Facebook over the years - first bewitched by the excitement of this new means of communication, then bored by the constant flow of inane updates and annoyed by the shouty requests to try this game or that new feature.

I now spend most of my time with another social network which gives me a better feel for what's happening minute by minute. But I return to Facebook reasonably frequently to see what old friends and family are up to, and to share my life with a smaller circle than on that other network.

Facebook is entering middle-age like many of its users - but that can be a comfortable and very prosperous time of life.

Rory Cellan-Jones, Technology correspondent Article written by Rory Cellan-Jones Rory Cellan-Jones Technology correspondent

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  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    I preferred it when facebook was simple; simple profile, email, photos, event invites, status updates. It is handy for keeping in touch with family and friends.

    Now there is so much noise from advertising and spam from games/apps its dull. With corporates building facebook pages it has turned more into a pure marketing machine which just isn't cool.

    What wants to socialise with brands?

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    I've got a love/hate relationship with Facebook. But it is now old (like me). Been on it since at uni in 2005 because that's how you found out about parties and stuff. Now it's used by the oldies in my family to share photos and I like some of the games on there. But it's more annoying than trendy and #12 sums it up perfectly.

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    "Is Facebook over the hill or comfortably middle aged?"

    It's keeps having mid-life crisises judging by the way they keep changing things with out warning!

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    I've avoided using Farcebook for 10years , and will be doing for the next 10 as I've missed out on nothing at all.

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    Facebook kept me company during a really bad time in my life. I think I may have gone mad if not for it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    Facebook is now relatively like Jeremy Clarksons jeans design/style/brand.

    The young just will not go there, & who could blame them

    The young will seek/find the new, the older, more conservative, will stay where they are, no reason to search a cooler site, FB meets their needs, for now

    Young may keep FB for family etc, but they will use other sites, its not cool to hang out with Jeremys

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    Facebook was always going to be short term. It will probably disappear just as fast as it appeared. Friends Reunited went through a similar process.
    The smart thing for the owners to do is jump ship before this happens.

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    I disabled my Facebook years ago but it won't let me delete my profile.

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.


    It's a year to the day since Mrs. JHW and I last had fish and chips.

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    Facebook is just a better version of email, with pictures. It's great for trying to organize a group of people to be at a certain place at a certain time, for example a football team, you can also post your team photo etc. I've never understood why people put every mundane facet of their lives on there and play stupid games though.

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    As a developer of several apps on Facebook I laughed out loud at the valuation of Facebook when it joined dotcom bubble Mk II

    Read "Totally Wired" by Andrew Smith for a good understanding of how corrupt bankers, not IT firms, created the first dotcom bubble.

    The problem with Facebook is the business model is totally thieving and dishonest. Facebook are going down. Google and Amazon are going up.

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    Facebook will eventually be supplanted by something else...staying at the top forever is virtually impossible. The question is whether their decline will be because of a superior alternative or their own poor business decisions (privacy, corporate influence etc)

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    A generation abandoned TV and it's constant use of hopless celebrity failures and took up facebook where they can become hopeless celebrity failures. Hopless celebrity failures may be on the move yet again.

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    I only use Facebook. Helps me keep in touch with friends when I am at home. Have also made some friends abroad which helps me find out more about other countries. Never use Twitter or other similar things.

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    I both love and loathe facebook.

    It is my only feasible way of keeping up to date with family and friends around the world, as well as vital to my business interests. And a good way of hunting down a funny picture if one needs cheering.

    However it is also a good companion to low self-esteem and life comparison. And you tend to accumulate 'friends' you dislike but cannot delete for politics.

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    It is perfectly possible to live a successful and fulfilling life without EVER sullying oneself with Facebook.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    I find myself using Facebook less and less nowadays.

    Mainly because I hate being bombarded with tedious advertising. But also because it encourages narcissism.


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