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The Facebook Effect

by David Kirkpatrick
clock12-minute read
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The Facebook Effect
How Facebook became the social media giant it is today. The Facebook Effect (2010) unpacks the success secrets that enabled Facebook to change the future of social media. By exploring Mark Zuckerberg’s history, mission statement, and business model, David Kirkpatrick explains why Facebook is more successful than other social media platforms and why it has had such a profound impact on our communication practices.
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The Facebook Effect
"The Facebook Effect" Summary
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Summary by Alyssa Burnette. Audiobook narrated by Blake Farha
How many times a day are you on Facebook? If you’re like most people, you probably use the social media site so often that you can’t even answer that question. It feels as though we open Facebook about a million times a day for one reason or another! We use it to tag a friend in a funny meme. We use it to scroll the news in the morning. We use it to stay connected to family and friends or to post updates about our lives. Facebook is so much a part of our lives that our Facebook feed often feels like an extension of our very selves. But have you ever wondered why the app became so popular? Have you ever wondered why Facebook is more successful than other social media platforms? Have you ever been a little bit scared by its power? Over the course of this summary, we’ll explore all of these questions and more.
Chapter 1: Facebook’s Origin Story
Before there was Facebook, there was Zucknet. Zucknet wasn’t available to the public, however — it was an in-house messaging system Zuckerberg designed as a pre-teen. Zucknet was invented before instant messaging services like AOL Messenger were around and it connected his family’s computers and his dad’s dental practice. In an interview with, Zuckerberg explained the system by saying, “Growing up, one of the neat things was that [my dad’s] dental office was actually connected to our home. The dentists and hygienists needed to share data on the patients. So I built a system where he could communicate with folks across rooms, and also communicate with me and my sisters upstairs— and I called it ZuckNet.” At the time of its invention, he was only 12.
Now, although we can see that Zuckerberg started early, the key take-away from this story is not that you have to be a pre-teen whiz kid. Rather, this story is meant to highlight the fact that Zuckerberg’s passion — connecting people through technology — has been evident from the start. And if you have a passion for anything in life, yours will be pretty evident too. So, what’s your passion? And where do you want it to lead you? These are goodquestions to get you started but it’s important to remember as you ask yourself these questions that it’s okay if the answer isn’t clear right away. Sometimes our greatest ideas and biggest successes don’t pop into our heads fully formed; sometimes they take a lot of time and effort and brainstorming.
In fact, that’s exactly how it happened for Zuckerberg. This fact sometimes gets dwarfed by Facebook’s success but Zuckerberg has always been clear that Facebook was never the dream company he wanted to start. Facebook was a hobby that he worked on with his friend Dustin Moskovitz during their sophomore year at college. During the previously mentioned interview with Vox, Zuckerberg acknowledged, “I remember that Dustin Moskovitz and I explicitly talked about, one day, we might start a company — and this was after we’d started Facebook ... [Facebook] was obviously not the company that we were going to create.” This remained their perception even when they went out to Silicon Valley for a summer. Zuckerberg told interviewers that he and Moskovitz went to Silicon Valley just to check it out, with nothing more than the intention of gleaning some wisdom from the tech gurus who populated Silicon Valley. They no more intended to move there than they intended for Facebook to be their passion project. But we all know how their story ended up! And it just goes to show you that your passion can lead you in surprising directions if you’re simply willing to follow it.
Zuckerberg’s story also shows that you can derive inspiration from surprising places. For example, at the time of Facebook’s invention, there were already two prominent social networks that people used: MySpace and Friendster. There was no question that these sites would be considered the competition if you wanted to launch a new social platform. So, what do you do when you have some strong competition? In Zuckerberg’s case, you do two things: look for what they’re doing right and look for what they’re doing wrong. As a general rule, there will almost always be a gap that your competition has left unfilled and that’s where you can come in. You can also draw inspiration from looking at your competition’s success.
At first glance, that might sound like you’re stealing ideas from someone else, which is always unethical and always a bad idea. But that’s notat all what we’re advocating here. Rather, the author advises that you simply learn from what others are doing well. For example, if you really wanted to create a new type of social network, it wouldn’t be wrong to look at examples like Facebook and Instagram and take stock of the features that their users enjoy. Do people want a fun, fast, and user-friendly way to instant message their friends on the site? Okay, great; that’s something you can incorporate into your new platform! But you can make it original by putting your own spin on it, whether that involves a cool design, new features, or something else that’s totally unique. Because no matter what industry you want to break into, a variation of your idea is already out there. But if you follow your passion and create something new, there’s no harm in taking top tips from your successful competition; you can simply blend desirable features into a totally new idea to create something all your own.
Being led by passion will also help you when you’re encountering setbacks (which you inevitably will), Success and failure go hand in hand, so don’t be surprised and don’t give up when your idea hits a few speed bumps along the way. Zuckerberg learned this firsthand when he created Facebook’s predecessor: a site called Facemash. Instead of being globally available, Facemash’s target audience was limited to Zuckerberg’s fellow students at Harvard. And it wasn’t a social network in exactly the same style as Facebook; instead, it was a tool for students to share and rate photos of each other. Unfortunately, however, it left out one crucial ingredient: consent. Because the site was meant to be affiliated with Harvard and it used photos of students without their permission, the university (unsurprisingly) thought it was a bad idea and the disciplinary board shut it down in a hurry. So, even though Zuckerberg’s first experiment failed, it also taught him a valuable lesson about what to do differently if he wanted to succeed. And that lesson informed the future success of Facebook!
Chapter 2: What Makes Facebook So Appealing?
In the previous chapter, we considered the reasons why Zuckerberg’s first attempt at Facebook failed. But now it’s time to take a look at the factors that made it a success. So, what sets Facebook apart from other social mediaplatforms? Why is Facebook the cool place to be instead of something like AOL instant messenger? The author observes that timing and design are two of the key factors that made Facebook an international sensation. When Facebook first became available to the public, internet speeds were increasing for the first time, making it easier for average people to gain quick and convenient access to the internet. This meant that social media platforms could be fun instead of frustrating. Thanks to the increase in internet speed, people could upload pictures, post status updates, and browse the internet at a decent speed. This, of course, made all the difference. Because if it took 15 minutes for a single picture to download, no one would want to spend time online; we would all say social networking is too much of a hassle to bother with. But the advent of faster broadband meant that people were rapidly developing an interest in social networking.
Facebook’s interface also had a lot to do with its appeal. Compared to other social networking sites like MySpace, Facebook was more user-friendly because of the features it offered. For example, today, we might think nothing of changing our profile picture or uploading thirty photos and tagging all our friends. But in 2005, the ability to do either of those things was totally unheard of! People quickly fell in love with the photo-sharing aspect of Facebook and they loved that they could use this platform to connect with friends. But the early Facebook of 2005 looked very, very different from the site we know and love today! Although you could upload photos and tag friends at that time, interactive features were still quite limited. The “like” button wouldn’t be rolled out until 2009! So, for another four years, Facebook remained a little bit voyeuristic; you could look at the pictures posted by everyone you know but you couldn’t do much else! This might sound pretty weird to us in 2020, but in the early 2000s, the ability to connect online was still new and exciting. People were grateful for these revolutionary new updates in technology and they jumped at the chance to stay connected with their friends and relatives across the miles.
Chapter 3: Facebook Has Changed The Way we Communicate
A few years ago, there was a Geico commercial which featured three elderly ladies trying to figure out how Facebook worked. Having heard about the Facebook “wall” and the ability to “like” and “share” photos, one woman had nailed several photos to the literal wall of her home. Her friends sat on the sofa surveying her collection and audibly saying, “Like,” as they perused the photos. But tension arises when one friend attempts to set the others straight. “That’s not how this works!” one older lady exclaims. “That’s not how any of this works!” Confused and embarrassed, her friend replies, “I un-friend you!” This example is great because it gives us a good chuckle; it’s so far removed from the reality of social media that it makes us laugh. But this commercial also illustrates the profound impact Facebook has on our communication skills.
Thanks to the advent of the internet, we now communicate in totally different ways! One of the primary differences can be seen in the type of content we share online and how this differs from the etiquette of “real-life” communication. For example, if you ran into an acquaintance in the grocery store, would you automatically whip out a photo of your child and scream, “Look at my baby!” Of course not! Why? Because that would be weird and inappropriate within the context of your communication. Likewise, if you saw your great aunt, would you shove a picture of your food in her face and exclaim, “Look what I had for lunch today!” Hopefully, that’s also a resounding NO! And yet we do both of these things online. In fact, we commonly post about things that we wouldn’t share in real life. We share photos of our lunch or of our children being potty-trained. We post life updates and tag each other in memes, knowing that multitudes of other people can see it.
This is another weird difference because it shows that social media has changed the social circles in which we interact. If you were connecting with people in real life, you might be inclined to stick to the simple circle of your friends, family, and possibly a couple of co-workers. But on Facebook, your dog walker, your doctor, or your babysitter might have an intimate window into your life! Similarly, you probably wouldn’t walk through the streets of your town yelling your political views for everyone to hear. Youprobably wouldn’t pick a fight with random strangers because you heard them say something that offends you. But on Facebook, this behavior is both extremely common and acceptable! Because everything is public, many people feel justified in sharing their (un-asked-for!) opinions or in arguing with strangers. We also frequently make connections with people we’ve never met and consider them to be new friends.
When we think about it in this context, the world of social media sounds truly wacky indeed! And as we consider Facebook’s impact on our lives, it’s important to ask yourself whether your relationship with social media has made your life better or worse. How do you conduct yourself online? Are you keeping yourself and your family safe? Is there a difference between your online persona and the “real you?” Should there be a difference? All of these questions are important and each person must answer them for themselves. But no matter what conclusion you come to, one thing is irrefutable: Facebook is here to stay and it has totally rocked our world!
Chapter 4: Final Summary
For many people who have grown up in the digital age, Facebook is a very common part of our lives. In fact, some people have never known a world without social media! And because social media has had such a profound impact on our world, our relationships, and our communication, the author believes it’s important to study the effect of social media platforms. By learning more about the origins of Facebook, what made it popular, and how it has impacted our lives, we are better equipped to understand our relationship with technology and social media.

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