Focus on: Facebook comes of age

Craig O'Callaghan takes a look at what the future holds for the social media giant

On 4 February, Facebook - everyone's favourite social network/source of procrastination - turned ten years old. Over that decade, the social network site has grown from a student-run website based at Harvard University to a global behemoth with 1.2 billion monthly users around the world and a current value of around $135 billion (£80.9 billion).

While this astonishing rate of growth might seem like a good excuse for one hell of a birthday party, Facebook's co-founder Mark Zuckerberg would rather focus on ensuring the trend continues over the next ten years, a difficult feat because, realistically, there aren't many people left to sign up.

Given this, Facebook's plan for the coming years is to grow in breadth instead, offering users a range of apps for different purposes. Having started as a website, Zuckerberg now sees Facebook as a "mobile first" platform, to the extent that he now reportedly ends any meeting if an employee begins their presentation by talking about computers rather than smartphones.

As a result of this focus, sales from advertisements on mobile phones and tablets exceeded revenue from PCs for the first time in Facebook's recent fourth-quarter earnings.

However, not every step in this direction has been a success for the company. Poke, a Snapchat-esque app that was introduced a few years ago, failed to catch on and is no longer prominently advertised, while a recent attempt to acquire Snapchat itself for $3 billion was rebuffed.

Despite setbacks such as these, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that there is a strong consumer appetite for Facebook mobile apps. Two Facebook apps, Messenger and Paper, are currently in the top 20 free apps on the iTunes store, ahead of Facebook itself. In addition to these Facebook also has Instagram, having bought the image-sharing social network for $1 billion in April 2012.

As Facebook seeks to add more apps to its arsenal, the key will be coming up with new ideas that stick. A recent three-day "hackathon" reportedly produced around 40 ideas the company may decide to pursue in the future, but there is a big difference between a good idea and a successful idea.

One advantage Facebook does have comes from the recent acquisition of Israeli iOS analytics firm Onavo for over $100 million. As a result of this deal, Facebook will be able to use data from Onavo to track the app usage of a sample size of over a million people, enabling them to potentially forecast what the next "big thing" will be and ensure they develop a version of their own. With this information, a future of several popular Facebook-branded apps is a very real possibility.

How do you think Facebook will change over the next ten years?

"As alternative social networks such as Twitter are limited in scope, it seems highly unlikely Facebook will stop being used, especially since it's so well established. However, it will have to evolve and keep providing apps like Instagram in order to remain popular." Lucinda Ross, University of Edinburgh

"Facebook seems to have become less essential over the last few years; it's increasingly common for friends to temporarily delete their accounts while they have exams to prepare for. It will never disappear entirely, but I can see it becoming more photo- and message-orientated in the future." Eddy Palmer, University of Bristol

"Looking at pictures of how Facebook was designed when it first started, the site is virtually unrecognisable now, so it seems likely the change will be even more radical over the next ten years. One major difference will be that new features are likely to be designed more with advertisers in mind than users. Unlike ten years ago, Facebook now needs to be making money!" Kenny Fielding, University of Nottingham

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