Rory Cellan-Jones

Facebook is Five

  • Rory Cellan-Jones
  • 4 Feb 09, 10:22 GMT

Happy Birthday, Facebook. You've made it to five, and you're still standing on your own two feet.

Mark ZuckerbergThat is a pretty good achievement for a little website started in a bedroom by a student. Mark Zuckerberg has defied those who advised him to sell up when the going was good rather than forging ahead on his own.

And for those, like me, who've tired of Facebook and moved on to another social network (I won't mention it because I know it's beginning to bore some of you), it is worth looking at the latest figures to remind ourselves of the extent to which Mr Zuckerberg's creation now dominates its young industry.

Eighteen months ago, when the London media became somewhat obsessed with Facebook, it was growing rapidly but was still way behind MySpace in terms of its total audience. Even 12 months ago, according to Nielsen Online, Facebook had a global audience of 38 million compared to MySpace's 78 million - although in the UK it had already grabbed the number one spot. But by the end of 2008, Mr Zuckerberg's network had nearly trebled, with 110 million people using it worldwide, while MySpace had barely moved at all, up to 83 million.

In the UK the figures are even more startling. Facebook has more than 17 million users, three times as many as MySpace, and people spend more time on it than on any other site. Networks with professional rather than social aims, such as LinkedIn, are also growing rapidly, but are minnows in the wake of the Facebook whale.

So who are all these people in the poking crowd? Well, it seems that at least in the UK just about anyone between 15 and 25 feels obliged to have a Facebook profile.

I've been talking to some students in Bristol, who seem almost addicted to the network. Joe Gilder, now the communications officer at Bristol University students' union, admitted he was amazed that he'd got through his degree, so much time had he spent just mucking around on Facebook.

"I used to spend at least three hours a day on it which I called revising," he told me. "For me it's the most important thing around. I know exactly what's going on everywhere through my Facebook profile." His verdict - and that of others I spoke to - was that it was almost impossible to live the student life without Facebook.

But how is Mr Z getting on with turning all this obsessive devotion into money? He certainly hasn't taken the easy way out. The MySpace founders got out rather rapidly, selling up to the Murdoch empire. Friends Reunited was bought by ITV. And most impressively of all, Bebo tied the knot with AOL for $850 million a year ago.

All of those deals now look pretty smart. AOL has denied recent reports that it's now looking to shed Bebo at a loss, but you can't help thinking that anyone who bought a social network before the global downturn really began to bite is now feeling like someone who took out a 100% mortgage on a London house in 2007. While those who sold the houses - and banked their winnings - are feeling, well, somewhat smug.

Birthday cakeSocial networking is one trend that shows no sign of going away. But it is proving surprisingly hard to "monetise", with users deeply suspicous of any attempt to insert marketing messages between them and their friends. Still, according to the Harvard Crimson's report, just five days after Mark Zuckerberg launched "", he "did not create the website with the intention of generating revenue".

So, as he lights the candles on the birthday cake, maybe it's enough for him just to have created something that has changed the way millions of people communicate.


  • Comment number 1.

    A rather more circumspect view...

    The job of a journalist is to take a step back and ask some searching questions and to dig under the surface.

    Not lick the bottom of tech companies while being dazzled by the sun shining out of there.

    Lazy, tired, PR bred churnalism.

    B- Could do better.

  • Comment number 2.

    Facebook = sad. Get a life, people.

  • Comment number 3.

    I know this may shake everyone to their core but what if he doesn't want to make a lot of money? And this is all relative of course because what 'little' income Facebook generates is not insubstantial by any means.

    Maybe Facebook will be one of those companies that makes enough money to tick over and changes the world anyway.

  • Comment number 4.

    "Facebook = sad. Get a life, people"

    Have you ever tried social networking? For a lot of people, it's a great way to enjoy having a life.

    I'm not one of those people who spends all day poking others (or doing other unspeakable things) on Facebook, and I don't consider it a substitute for meeting people and talking face-to-face. But it is a great way to keep in touch with people who you might otherwise not make the effort with (especially those who live abroad or a long way away), to share with friends what you're up to, and to meet like-minded people with similar interests.

    Yes, for a small proportion of people it can take over their lives, but for most people, it is a great addition.

  • Comment number 5.

    Facebook would make a lot more money if it allowed businesses to register and promote thier products and services.

  • Comment number 6.

    camholder is right.

    I believe that Mark really loves his job and is probably living a comfortable lifestyle with a small slice of what they are making from advertising as well as offering good renumeration to his colleagues.

    It must be extremely satifying to know that you can simply continue striving to improve your service rather than feel pressured to make money for shareholders and lose focus of your original goal.

    There is no need for facebook to be any more commercial than it already is and i'm sure that it's 150 million users appreciate that.

  • Comment number 7.

    It is not 'sad', it is the easiest way of keeping on contact with people, organising events and sharing photos.

    It is popular simply because it is popular, that you join facebook because everyone else has joined facebook.
    To say you got 'bored' and moved on misses the point, facebook is no longer regarded as some kind of internet novelty by many, but essential. To me, it has basically replaced email.
    Why would I leave for some new start-up that only the geek ranks know about, when the ordinaary masses are here?

    just a thought.

  • Comment number 8.

    I was sceptical of facebook initially, but I now use it daily as a way of finding out what is going on (events) and networking (groups). Through it I have made wonderful friends in real life.
    Facebook works because it does what is does very well, without overloading users with advertising and long may that continue.

  • Comment number 9.


    I have just read the article you linked to, which begins with the line "I despise facebook". I politely suggest that you look up "circumspect" in a dictionary.

    In addition, the article fails to give credit for the quote "Show me a good loser and I'll show you a loser" to Vince Lombardi, which any idiot with access to Google could have discovered in less than 10 seconds.

    The guardian article is an example of truly pitiful journalism; give me the BBC any day.

  • Comment number 10.

    Can you clarify the usage figures? MySpace says it has over 250 million users which is quite a long way from the 83 million listed in the article. Does the 83 million only refer to active users and if so, what is the definition of an active user?

  • Comment number 11.

    Afternoon all,

    After some Facebook advice. I do not use Facebook very much but i did purchase a game application on Facebook, does anyone know how i can sell this application game? It is a moneymaking game too but i just dont have the know how and experience to preceed with it, also does anyone know how i can get the site/game valued? The link is [Unsuitable/Broken URL removed by Moderator]

    Thanks for your help everyone.

  • Comment number 12.


    Facebook does have private companies registered who pay to have their profiles on there. Wispa, Creme Egg, Compare the Market (meerkat), but to name a few all have a corporate presence on Facebook and, I'm sure, all pay mr Zuckerburg for the priviledge.

  • Comment number 13.

    I'm amazed that this blog doesn't mention the fact that Facebook doesn't seem to work any more. At least I've not been able to view my Facebook page for several weeks now. Surely it's not just me?

    Or am I so deeply unpopular that other Facebook users have conspired somehow to block me from the site?

  • Comment number 14.

    urgh, couldn't resist getting the implied twitter plug in, even on an article on a vaguely related matter. i'm suprised the bbc is even reporting (and not using twitter links) on a social network that isnt twitter.

    did i mention twitter enough yet to be worthy of a post, bbc?

  • Comment number 15.

    'At least I've not been able to view my Facebook page for several weeks now. Surely it's not just me?' # 13

    How can I break this to you?
    I've been checking my Facebook account daily during that time, it works fine for me. All my Friends have been posting too, so it probably is just you.

    Checked your password etc is correct?
    Facebook's Help page is here:

  • Comment number 16.

    @13: sadly I think it may be a problem at your end. I use facebook daily.

    Last night I chatted to a friend in Canada. However one does it (facebook, myspace, msn, e-mail) the ability to do that is one of the wonders and benefits of all this modern technology.

  • Comment number 17.


    Accusing others is really a sign of having no life. Or maturity.

  • Comment number 18.

    There are several types of Facebook users.

    1. The people who want to be cool ( loners, people outside their teens or early twenties, heck even moms and dads let alone grandparents are now on facebook).

    2. The average user who only spends 10 minutes a week checking on what their friends are up to .

    3. The wierdos or saddos who seem to spend several hours a day on facebook updating their profile for every little thing '12pm ive gone for dinner, 12:50 pm im thinking of having a shower, 13:00 PM im wondering what to wear tonight '.

    Facebook used to be cool then all the saddoes , oldies, wierdos found it.

  • Comment number 19.


    (3) is that other social network that the BBC Online team have the hots for, (and seemingly Chris Moyles does too, devoting the best part of half an hour today to it).

    The last 4 entries on the Tech Blogs all mention twits. Talk about overkill.

  • Comment number 20.

    3. The wierdos or saddos who seem to spend several hours a day on facebook updating their profile for every little thing '12pm ive gone for dinner, 12:50 pm im thinking of having a shower, 13:00 PM im wondering what to wear tonight '. Comment 18

    Aren't you thinking of that other one that begins with 'T'? : - )
    e.g "Pants, bottom and double a***. Fox finally furnished me with flight details. Going to have to get up at 4.00am tomorrow." ~ Stephen Fry's latest T***t.

    As with all these networks some get addicted, some use it when necessary as a communications tool. To each their own.
    I find FB useful for organising trips, meet-ups and keeping in touch with those living away. But it's just one of many such comm's tools.

  • Comment number 21.

    I would like to say a Happy Birthday to Facebook..

    ~Dennis Junior~

  • Comment number 22.


    This article backed by data from Facebook actually indicates that the fastest growing demographic on Facebook is not young people but rather the more mature audience (peoples parents).

    As we all know once your parents start to use something it means that it is time to move on!

  • Comment number 23.


    Thanks for the link. All very strange. No problem with my password: I couldn't even get as far as being able to enter it. Typing into my browser just drew a complete blank.

    But strangely enough, the link to the help page you gave brought up a page that worked, and I was able to get back to my profile by logging in from that page. It all works now.

    Very strange. The first time it's worked for several weeks.

  • Comment number 24.

    Rory? Is something the matter? No physical mention of Twitter on your latest blog? This is outrageous.

    Well, just to fill this upsetting void, I think I shall give it a go.

    Twitter. The popular, social microblogging service. Don't forget it, folks. (We're certainly not going to let the search engines forget about it.)


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