Tuesday, August 14, 2007

The Rise of Facebook

The fast rising social networking website Facebook will break into Britain’s top 20 most popular online destinations for the first time this week. It joins fellow networking sites Myspace and Bebo in statistics to be released by Internet information provider Comscore. However advertisers are taking longer to follow suit. Average rates for online banners on social networking websites in the UK are almost 50 per cent lower than on internet portals such as Yahoo or MSN.

Nevertheless, Facebook's growth is impressive. The site was 28th in Comscore’s June figures and was one of the top three gainers in the overall figures with a 25 per cent rise from 4.8 million visitors in May to 6.0 million in June. Facebook allows users to join networks based around schools, companies and regions. Facebook offers an interactive network of photos, user profiles, email and chatrooms.

Facebook’s growth is matched worldwide and is now the sixth most visited site in the US with over 22 million registered users 60 percent of whom log in every day. Facebook’s astonishing popularity is based partly on its privacy measures. Only designated friends or people in users’ networks can see their full profile pages, in contrast to the chaotic freedom on MySpace.

Facebook’s CEO is whizzkid Mark Zuckerberg who turned 23 on 14 May. Zuckerberg was a Harvard student in 2004 when he founded “The Facebook” as a networking site with the help of three fellow students Andrew McCallum, Dustin Moscovitz and Chris Hughes. The site rapidly grew among the college elite and within a month half of Harvard’s students had signed up. By two months it had expanded to the other Ivy League colleges.

The big break came in 2005 when Zuckerberg signed a deal which secured $12.7 million in venture capital from Jim Breyer’s Accel Partners. Facebook was overhauled, dropped the “the” from their name and moved to a new domain name when they finally got the rights to facebook.com. The network was expanded to include high schools and spread to colleges in Canada and the UK.

In 2006 Facebook was linked with Viacom and turned down a $750 million offer which sparked rumours the company could be worth up to $2 billion. In the same year the company dropped its entry restrictions and made itself available to all internet users with an email address. While this move sparked criticism from its existing user base, it created an explosion of new users.

The company added free classified listing for the first time in May this year. Facebook’s rationale was that the new feature would offer another reason for users to return to its site regularly, instead of going elsewhere to conduct their Internet business. It allows users to create classified listings in four categories: housing; jobs; for sale, where users can list things like concert tickets and used bikes; and “other,” a catch-all for miscellaneous requests. Charlene Li, an analyst at Forrester Research said the advantage of having classifieds linked to a social network is that you know something about the seller

Zuckerberg and Facebook are now undergoing increased scrutiny with sometimes embarrassing results. The company was left with egg on its facebook on the weekend when its source code that powers the user interface was inadvertently exposed. The leaked code was promptly posted on a new blog called Facebook Secrets for the entire internet to see.

A Facebook spokeswoman said in a statement e-mailed to Computerworld that "a small fraction of the code that displays Facebook Web pages was exposed to a small number of users" because of a misconfigured Web server that was fixed "immediately." Pete Lindstrom, a senior security analyst at Burton Group was less sanguine. "[Facebook will] need to take some very quick short-term measures to mitigate the risk to users,” he said. “You can bet that right this minute there are hundreds of potential attackers pouring through the leaked code and probing their systems."

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