Ben Marder admits to something of a “love-hate” relationship with Facebook.
The social media site which grew from an idea in a student dorm into a globe-conquering colossus, is undeniably a fantastic tool, he says.
It is also, as Dr Marder has found and anyone who has spent evenings sprawled on the sofa staring at a screen waiting for a “like” or a new status update will testify, incredibly, incredibly addictive.
The social media expert from Edinburgh University confesses to being one of those addicts.
And as Facebook celebrates its tenth birthday by continuing to reel in millions of new users, it’s one habit which just can’t be kicked.
“Its success over the last ten years doesn’t surprise me – it’s simple to use and grounded in bringing your friends from the off-line world into the online sphere,” he says. “I use it continuously and in the past this has caused me some problems in my social life.
“I once got my ears pierced – it was a standard silver piercing – and one of my friends took a photo straight away and put it on Facebook.
“I then had my mum calling me even before I left the piercing shop and that caused me some anxiety – I wasn’t at all ready to explain it to her.
“If it wasn’t for that instant tag, she wouldn’t have found out!”
Dr Marder, whose work for the marketing group at Edinburgh University business school focuses on how human behaviour has adapted in response to changes and developments within the site, says Facebook’s ease of use, speed and immediacy of connection – all the things which fuelled his own earring-ache – are also the secrets of its success.
“There’s always been a need for social networking – Facebook has just managed to go further than most,” he says.
“I think its unique selling point is that it brings all of the important information to the forefront of the site and in a way that’s very easy to use.
“With the timeline feature, for example, everything is right there in front of you.
“Expression is no longer just done by the individual – the ‘self’ which is being promoted is also co-created by your Facebook friends.
“You might be promoting yourself as a very professional person but then a friend might post a picture of you cuddling a cat.
“Your social identity changes, and it’s not you who has done that but a friend.
“Facebook puts it all there for you straight away and there are privacy issues with that. But it’s also why we are drawn to it.”
The Facebook story famously began in February 2004 when Harvard psychology student Mark Zuckerberg, left, launched the social networking service from his room.
The computer programmer had already created a number of similar websites, including Coursematch, which allowed users to view people taking their degree, and Facemash, a website that asked users to judge students on their attractiveness.
But it was Thefacebook.com – as it was then called – which brought its creator a new level of popularity, thanks to a unique interface allowing users to create basic online profiles and display personal information and photos.
Within a month, more than half of the student population at Harvard had an account and Facebook began expanding to other US colleges and universities.
By the end of 2004, Zuckerberg and his team decided to move their headquarters to California, where they began developing and fine-tuning the site after catching the eye of a number of wealthy investors.
Over the coming years, developers underpinned Facebook’s surging international popularity by introducing innovations such as the iconic “like” and “poke” functions, as well as newsfeed, which now includes video.
Only last week, the US giant received an early birthday present as it reported record revenues of 2.5 billion dollars (£1.5bn) from 750 million daily users – a rise of one billion dollars (£0.6bn) on the same period last year.
But the site doesn’t lack naysayers, with critics queuing up to predict its demise amid the rapid growth of social media rivals including Twitter, LinkedIn, Tumblr and Pinterest.
Dr Marder, right, argues the ease with which Facebook allows users to share private information and content has created other challenges for the site’s developers as they seek to maintain its global popularity.
“You have people who say Facebook is dead,” he says.
“The reason they say that is because a lot of teens are not using it now – there’s been an exodus of teenage users.
“Facebook is not seen as cool and the reason for that is lots of parents are also now on it looking at them and what they are doing.
“So teen users are moving to other sites. In fact, I think they might have lost teenage users forever – I think they need to be attracting users in their early twenties, which they could do by offering easy migration of contacts between a site such as Instagram, which they own, and Facebook.”
But the site’s fans elsewhere in the Capital suggest the social media juggernaut has plenty of life in it yet.
Although no longer in their 20s, Vidya Sarjoo, 36, and Graham Savage, 32, who run Cuckoo’s, one of the Capital’s most successful bakeries, say they use Facebook “religiously” and insist it has been crucial to the rapid expansion of their three-year-old business.
Logging on every day to post pictures of cupcakes, special offers, charity appeals and videos, Vidya estimates around 15 per cent of her firm’s business is brought in thanks to the thousands of followers she and her ten-strong team have managed to accumulate.
“We’re a start-up business and budget-conscious – Facebook has enabled us to reach a much wider audience on a very small budget,” she says.
“We now have followers in London, New York and across the world. We’ve even had orders from the Philippines.
“The pictures we’ve been posting have been going viral – the amount of followers we had tripled in a week at one point.
“We have these quirky ideas and Facebook allows us to put them out there and then friends recommend them to other friends.”
Are Vidya and her team thinking of leaving the world’s most popular social media site any time soon? “No chance,” she says quickly.
“We are very keen on it. It’s crucial to us and, without it, we would not be where we are today.”
For Vidya, Ben and 1.2bn others, Facebook is here to stay – until of course, a student in a dorm somewhere begins tapping away to create the next phenomenon.
Founded in 2004 by Harvard student Mark Zuckerberg and his college roommates.
The ultra-exclusive site was rolled out to a mainstream audience on September 26, 2006, for those at least 13 years old with a valid e-mail address.
According to latest figures, around nine per cent of users are reckoned to be fake.
On average, users spend 20 minutes per day on Facebook.
Around 350 million photos are uploaded to the site every day.
Coca-Cola is the most liked company on Facebook with more than 79 million fans.
Facebook reported its profit for 2013 jumped to $1.5 billion from just $53 million in 2012, and revenues increased to $7.87bn from $5.1 bn. Most of the revenue is from online advertising.
In December, Facebook rolled out plans for video adverts to appear in news feeds, but sound will only activate if they are clicked on.
As of January 2014, the company has about 1.2 billion monthly users.
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