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Facebook At 10: Amid Doubters, Company Eyes Next Growth Phase

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Facebook At 10: Amid Doubters, Company Eyes Next Growth Phase

The Industry

Facebook At 10: Amid Doubters, Company Eyes Next Growth Phase

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Facebook wowed investors last week with its high mobile ad revenue and growing number of users. This week, the company is celebrating something else: its 10th birthday.

That's right, Facebook turns 10 today. It's grown from a sensation for college students, to a site with more than 1.2 billion users worldwide.

NPR's Emily Siner reports on how it might keep those users coming back for the next decade.

EMILY SINER, BYLINE: Ten years ago, when Mark Zuckerberg launched Facebook at Harvard, Noah Buyon was only nine years old. It took him a few years to find out about Facebook, but when his older brothers got accounts, he wanted one, too.

NOAH BUYON: It became kind of the cool thing to have. I couldn't hold out anymore, and I got it, and I've been saddled with it ever since.

SINER: Saddled with it, because Facebook has taken a lot of time out of his life, maybe even too much time. Now that Noah's a freshman at Georgetown University, he's been on Facebook for a third of his life.

BUYON: I'm at my point in my use of it that it's instinctual to just create a new tab on my browser and check my Facebook, usually for no more than 10, 15 seconds, but it's just so engrained in my daily routine. It's just one of the most potent distractions you can have.

SINER: But he says it's also very socially rewarding. It helps him keep in touch with friends in Japan and Australia, and with his parents back home.

In other words, it's useful. And Emily Bell, a digital media expert at Columbia University, says that's good news for Facebook, because if users don't find it useful, it's pretty easy to move on to a different site.

EMILY BELL: As we saw with Myspace, when a group of people just decide that something is better or quicker or easier, there's very low cost now to the transaction of moving between one network and another.

SINER: Facebook faces a lot of competition now from small social media companies that want a slice of the pie. And in October, the company admitted that the daily usage was declining among its youngest users: kids in their early teens.

That information led to speculation on Facebook's demise. Some say there are just too many parents on Facebook. It's not cool anymore. Teens are flocking to Snapchat and WhatsApp instead.

But here's Emily Bell.

BELL: What I wonder about, though, is whether, you know, we're now in a phase where it would be - it's going to take quite a lot to kill Facebook, just the more useful it becomes and the harder it becomes to stay away from it.

SINER: Facebook's size and reach are unprecedented for a social network. The Pew Research Center reports that 57 percent of all adults and nearly three out of four teens are on Facebook. That's a big network to just leave.

Bell says Facebook also understands the power of sharing photos and videos. That became more evident when Facebook bought the photo-sharing app Instagram. Things like that make the site very sticky.

BELL: Where you put your roots down and how easy it is to transport that network with you or, you know, transport your photographs, etcetera, is quite an important part of what keeps you using something.

SINER: And let's not forget: Facebook just reached $150 billion in market value. So it doesn't really need to be cool anymore to survive.

BUYON: At least, that's what CEO Mark Zuckerberg told The Atlantic in September.

MARK ZUCKERBERG: I mean, yeah, we're almost 10 years old, right. So - and we're definitely not, like, a niche thing at this point, right? I mean, there, so...


ZUCKERBERG: So, I mean, those angles on coolness are kind done for us. So - but I've never kind of focused on that. What I focused on is: Are we providing something fundamental that people can rely on and use and that's valuable every day?

SINER: For now, Facebook still has a loyal customer in 19-year-old Noah Buyon. When I asked if he could see himself deactivating his account, his response was resounding.

BUYON: No, never. And I say that so adamantly because I couldn't imagine a situation where I'd want to give up that kind of access to all of these people across the world that I care about.

SINER: Ten years from now, when Facebook turns 20, he says he'll still be checking his newsfeed.

Emily Siner, NPR News, Washington.

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