Ten years ago Tuesday, Mark Zuckerberg launched "The Facebook" from his Harvard dorm. Since then, the site has gone on to redefine our lives online. Yet more than a billion members later, it's hard to imagine whether, if the world's largest social network disappeared tomorrow, the lives of most people would change much, if at all.
Because nearly every service on Facebook is available elsewhere, the theoretical disappearance of Facebook might feel less substantial than losing the last Barnes & Noble in town … you know, the one that killed the local indie bookstore. Losing the last bookstore can change a town's entire vibe. Losing Facebook, however, means losing the #1 place we complain about Facebook. (And there's always Twitter.) Nevertheless, the social network made a major impact during its first decade of existence. Here's 10 (of course) ways Facebook has changed our lives.
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1. Facebook took the toil out of stalking. Prior to Facebook, ex-friends and lovers had to work hard in order to reinsert themselves into the lives of their unsuspecting prey. The "phone books" of our forefathers were no match for changed names or cross-country moves. All it takes is a wistful thought on Facebook to lead effortlessly to a friend request and a reopened past—even if the recipient prefers it vacuum-sealed.
2. Facebook made botched IPOs cool. Featuring a bungled rollout matched only by HealthCare.gov, Facebook's $104 billion IPO is the third biggest in IPO history, and arguably the most notorious. It's also the role model for Twitter, Snapchat and every other tech startup with public-trading aspirations.
Never mind Facebook's $38 share price, which tanked for months after the company's Nasdaq debut on May 18, 2012. Forget the ongoing federal investigations and lawsuits accusing the IPO team of secretly axing the earnings forecast. Would-be dotcom billionaires admire Facebook's refusal to sell out, preferring to go public (despite a weak mobile plan).
The social network's once accursed stock hitting an all-time high of $61 in January has done wonders for bad memories, as does the $3 billion it plunked in Zuckerberg's pocket, boosting the hoodie-wearing CEO's estimated worth to $29.7 billion.
What's not to emulate?
3. Facebook made us OK with the NSA. Private companies don't usually break down doors and drag people off to camps. Governments have and still do, and they do it based on meticulously maintained, detailed records.
Nevertheless, companies that literally bank on our personal info (by selling it to advertisers) also inure Americans to their continuing loss of privacy. As Edward Snowden, Europe and history know, that rarely turns out well. And yet, here's, Facebook, with its early privacy abuses, anti-privacy default settings and a CEO who until recently described anonymity as a "lack of integrity."
The world's largest social network is arguably also the biggest influence in our laissez-faire attitude towards surveillance in the United States: What's the big deal? We've already willingly sacrificed our privacy to Facebook.
4. Facebook kerfuffled our love lives, From obsessing over every aspect of your BF or GF's Facebook profile and what it means for your relationship, to posting passive-aggressive status updates when your interpretation turns negative, all this easily-accessed info would throw off anyone's pitch. If we scrutinized our lover's friends as potential romantic rivals the way many do on Facebook, restraining orders would be the closest thing we'd get to a valentine — and plenty of 'em!
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5. Facebook welcomed us to the new age of underemployment. Facebook isn't the only high-income, under-employing company in the U.S. these days, but it's one we patronize daily and it's one of the most ubiquitous.
Take General Motors. With its $55 billion market cap, its 212,000 employees, the company pumps billions of dollars into the U.S. economy every year. It supports whole cities.
Then there's Facebook, which has a $100 billion market cap — nearly double that of GM — yet employs fewer than 6,000 people. Shareholders might argue that Facebook doesn't need more workers, but shareholders would be wrong … at least according to panicked users who try to reach Facebook's customer service department. Facebook — a $100 billion company —doesn't even have a customer-service phone number.
6. Facebook built the virtual town square of the 21st century. Did Facebook turn your grandma, cousin or mom into the town crier, blasting views and posting inane news? "Obama this! Dog abuse that! You won't believe how many Upworthy links are junkin' up your Newsfeed!" Or maybe that's you …
This new kind of community where people share views with family members, as well as close friends they only know from Facebook, is as real as any offline. People not on Facebook are cut off from society. Anyway, for all the obnoxious posts that offend delicate sensibilities or get someone "Facebook fired," there's plenty that's positive. Post about your beloved dog or cat crossing the Rainbow Bridge, and see how fast your "community" comes running.
7. Facebook saved us from the Internet. Cyberspace offers endless resources for email, instant messaging, sharing our personal news, photos or locations and catching up on curated news. But why go out when the ever-expanding Facebook hegemony offers all of that, as well as your friends, in one convenient location. Like AOL of olden days, Facebook is your Internet portal — but with a better business plan. Plus, mobile!
(Read more: Zuckerberg may be the richest 20-something ever)
8. Facebook changed the way we grieve. As a new company originally limited to college students only slightly younger than its founders, Facebook didn't launch with a plan around what to do when customers die. Once membership hit critical mass, and users inevitably did too, survivors were confronted with abandoned profiles and eerie Facebook reminders of their (now-deceased) friend. Eventually, loved ones were allowed to"memorialize" profiles, but many take comfort in posting messages there, regularly addressing the deceased on these living, virtual shrines.
9. Facebook aided in disaster relief. When an earthquake decimated Haiti's capital in 2012, a spontaneous rescue center arose on Facebook, with users posting Haiti-related updates at a rate of 1,500 per minute. Facebook now serves as a valuable platform for rescue agencies following disasters. Last week, SnowedOutAtlanta, a Facebook group that has attracted more than 46,000 members in 24 hours, reportedly connected wannabe Samaritans with more than 400 snowbound travelers trapped on Atlanta's highways.
10. Facebook stole hours and hours of our lives that we're never, ever getting back.
—By Helen A.S. Popkin, NBC News