The Year In Facebook: The 10 Biggest Stories Of 2009

Just a few days after the start of the new year, we thought we’d take the opportunity to highlight the biggest Facebook stories of 2009. Whether it was the company surpassing 350 million users, fighting aggressive ad networks and developers on the Facebook platform, hosting the Obama inauguration, or one of the numerous other stories, Facebook had a busy year. Now valued at over $11 billion, Facebook is poised to have an amazing 2010, but before starting off this year’s news, we wanted to highlight the largest stories of last year.

Facebook Partners With CNN On To Stream Obama Inauguration

Facebook started off the year with a bang. A CNN partnership with Facebook brought the inauguration to anybody with internet access. While we don’t know the total number of users that viewed the inauguration via the CNN live stream, there were some impressive results. Over 600,000 status updates were posted through the Live Facebook feed, and there was an average of 4,000 status updates per minute during the inaugural broadcast, peaking as high as 8,500 status updates per minute during the inaugural speech.

Ad Network Scams Force Facebook To Increase Policy Enforcement

One of the biggest stories of the year was the ongoing tension between Facebook, third-party ad networks, developers, and users that were duped by misleading advertisements. After seeing one settlement resulting from deceptive ads, we decided to investigate aggressive advertisements on Facebook a bit deeper. At the end of May we began documenting the misleading Facebook IQ quiz ads. Over the following 7 months there were numerous actions by Facebook to battle some of the third-party ad networks, often following the encouragement by blogs (including ours) for further investigation. Within weeks of our initial article and a follow-up article, Facebook effectively shut down two of the largest offenders.

After seeing the move toward greater transparency and enforcement by Facebook, a number of ad networks began offering new ad standards (Cubics) and even new ad tags (AdParlor). Unfortunately not all ad networks began to clean up right away. The ensuing controversy surrounding third-party advertisements on the Facebook platform generated user confusion (and blogger confusion). The result was initially Facebook attempting to diffuse false rumors, followed by a significant modification of the Facebook advertising terms which removed user data from third-party networks, and required explicit user authorization.

By October, Facebook started shifting their overall strategy to prevent the misleading ads. For the first time, Facebook began shutting down applications based on the ad networks that developers were using. Given that the enforcements took place before the weekend, many developers and ad networks were put on edge. The issues partially blew over, and ad networks and developers conformed to Facebook’s increasingly strict terms.

Unfortunately things were never completely resolved and by November, things came to a head as blogger Mike Arrington essentially debated then CEO of Offerpal in a public forum, ultimately bringing the issue of misleading advertisements to a broader audience. Facebook responded by shutting down ad networks, however it was too late to prevent a class action suit against Facebook and a number of third-party ad networks.

Following the negative publicity, Facebook decided to take a final step by letting advertisers and developers know those ad networks they approve of and those they don’t. In December, at the Facebook Developer Garage in Palo Alto, Mark Zuckerberg explained to developers and members of the press that they would be increasing their policy enforcement team to monitor ads and various platform violations by developers. For now we’ll have to wait and see how things evolve, but it’s clear that the end point is a clean Facebook Platform which is free of misleading advertisements.

Other articles from 2009 related to Facebook’s battle with ad networks

Facebook Becomes Twitterfied

The single biggest story this year was how Facebook made dramatic changes to their site in order to compete with Twitter. After a failed acquisition attempt, Facebook chose to implement the majority of Twitter’s features directly into their site. While it doesn’t appear that Twitter is going to die, Facebook’s modifications may have been partially responsible for Twitter’s decreasing growth. A couple weeks ago I wrote about Facebook’s Twitterfication being almost complete. Part of the argument in our original “Blueprint for the Facebook Twitter Killer” was that given more public status updates, users would eventually understand the value of being more open.

That is exactly the position which Facebook took when they rolled out the new Facebook privacy settings weeks ago. With updates via text message, a dramatically increased volume of public status updates, the ability to include other users in status updates, and a status API, Facebook is pretty close to duplicating all of Twitter’s most important features. While unidirectional follow capabilities aren’t a core Facebook feature, I’d expect that to be added in the near future.

For now we’ll have to wait and see how the battle with Twitter plays out, but with numerous changes to the Facebook Platform coming in the near future, I’d expect plenty of new developer tools to incorporate much of the functionality provided by Twitter. One example would be a public status search API. For the time being, users can enjoy a Facebook filled with features that are a direct result of Twitter.

Other articles from 2009 related to Facebook’s Twitterfication

Facebook Pages Become The Center Of Branded Experiences

At the beginning of 2009, Facebook unveiled a redesigned version of Facebook Pages, and with it came a new way for brands to interact with their fans. The most significant upgrade was that Facebook Page content would now be published to the stream. While many brands have since found that it’s difficult to get their content to show up in the filtered news feed, it presented a massive opportunity at the time as the homepage stream was initially completely unfiltered.

Also of interest was that Pages now became the center of branded experiences on Facebook. Application tabs made it possible for brands to create completely interactive experiences on the site. That meant all application developer agencies began building out apps within Facebook Pages rather than separate entities for the most part. The changes also gave rise to two markets: generic Facebook pages and cost per fan advertising. While both markets are not supported by Facebook, the rise of an underground market for generic pages forced Facebook to take action.

After we covered Orabrush’s acquisition of the “Kisses” Facebook Page, Facebook began shutting down the publisher features for large generic Pages. Ultimately large generic Facebook Pages continue to be policed by Facebook today, and an underground “pay per fan” advertising market continues to exist. Over the course of the year, Facebook slowly upgraded the Pages product (turned on status comments, etc) and began making a lot of the content within Facebook Pages “public information”. Facebook also upgraded their advertising product to include a “Become a Fan” call to action. Facebook’s Pages product will continue to evolve throughout 2010 with the impending launch of the Open Graph API.

Other 2009 articles related to the Facebook Pages product:

Facebook Continues With Phenomenal Growth

Despite ongoing modifications to the site, Facebook has continued to post phenomenal growth statistics. In January we covered how the site had surpassed 150 million users. By December, the number of users was over 350 million. Facebook also celebrated a new milestone on Christmas day, surpassing Google to become the most visited site in the United States. While it only lasted for one day, Facebook is reaching metrics never previously reached by any other social platform.

Other 2009 stories related to Facebook’s rapid growth:

Facebook Continues To Serve As A Platform For Political Expression

Another major story of Facebook is how it’s being used as a tool to spread democracy and freedom of speech around the world. Whether or not ruling parties of countries around the world want Facebook, it’s being used as a tool to speak out against oppressive regimes, all with varying results. Facebook is being used for a wide range of forms of political expression. In January, applications were developed to let users voice their opinions about the Gaza war. Whichever side users were on, there was an application to express their support of both Palestinians and Israelis.

Often times countries will go to extreme lengths to prevent users from communicating on Facebook. China, Iran, Vietnam, and other countries have blocked Facebook in the past. Many continue to block the site today. Despite blocking the sites, protestors have still found ways on to the site. In Iran, the opposition candidate grew a large fan base on Facebook as part of his political campaign. While he ultimately lost the election, many claimed that the election was rigged, and protests erupted in the country (and continue today).

In Urumqi, a city in western China, users tried to support Uyghur protestors via Facebook, while actual protestors tried to use Twitter and Facebook to communicate with one another. We actually spoke with the supposed “mastermind” behind the protests, to find out her thoughts on the events. While there were numerous sides to the Urumqi story (as commenters pointed out), the fact that Facebook played an important role, highlighted how the site continues to serve as a platform for political expression.

Facebook has also helped provide a voice for politicians, not just protestors. While the Obama Inauguration was a massive event, Facebook was also a critical component of getting Obama elected in the first place. The Obama campaign was the first to highlight how important having a significant Facebook presence was in order to win an election. In January, we wrote about a few strategies for political campaigns that had been used for political campaigns in the mid east, but just about every politician is now realizing how important Facebook is for winning an election.

Some politicians have also embraced it a bit too much. Uruguay’s interior minister, for example, came under fire after posting photos of herself in a shower at the beach. While it created stir in Uruguay, it also highlighted how the rules are changing for politicians. Whichever political Facebook story you find to be of most interest, there’s no denying that Facebook continues to serve as a platform for spreading the freedom of speech.

Other articles from 2009 related to Facebook as a platform for political expression:

Facebook Launches New Privacy Settings

One of the biggest stories for Facebook in 2009 came at the end of the year when they released the new privacy settings, first announced in July. The aim was to give users more control over their content, however it was also used as a tool to dramatically increase the volume of public stream content. While it’s easy to argue that the move was part of Facebook’s ongoing Twitterfication, it was also a dramatic shift for users, as Facebook had removed a number of settings including the news feed settings. The result was that not every user was happy, and within a short period of time formal complaints were filed with the FTC.

So far it appears as though it’s one more change users will slowly absorb, but with the constant changes one has to wonder if users will eventually get tired of the ongoing modifications. It’s also questionable as to whether or not users agree with Facebook’s position that because the world is becoming more open, users should opt to share more information about themselves. With a large percentage of internet users logging on to Facebook daily, it doesn’t seem as though there’s a viable competitor, which means users don’t have much leverage over Facebook. Whether or not you are a fan of Facebook’s new privacy settings, we recently upgraded our Facebook privacy guide which also includes a video just in case you are still confused about the new privacy settings.

Other articles from 2009 related to Facebook’s new privacy settings:

Facebook Connect Experiences A Huge Year

Last month Facebook celebrated the one year anniversary of Connect. Facebook celebrated with the announcement that Connect now has over 60 million monthly users, which would probably rank Facebook Connect ahead of Twitter. Over the year, Facebook announced one major company after another which had implemented Facebook Connect. In addition to making Platform improvements, which we highlighted earlier, Facebook rolled out features to make it easier for site owners to implement Facebook Connect.

In February, Facebook released the commenting widget which made it possible for Facebook users to immediately comment on any site which chose to implement the feature. In June, Facebook launched the Live Stream widget to enable websites with instant live interaction environments. Then in July, Facebook helped website owners convert new visitors into fans with the launch of the Fan Box widget.

The biggest story behind Facebook Connect was the numerous partners that launched support for Facebook Connect. Whether it was YouTube, Yahoo!, Yelp, Hulu, or the Huffington Post, Facebook can thank numerous large media companies for helping boost the number of Connect users beyond 60 million a month. While the number of companies implementing Facebook Connect increases daily, we’re still waiting on Google to implement the service, which will be the final step to mark Facebook as the authentication hub of the web.

The Open Graph API, which was first announced by Facebook at the October developer garage in Palo Alto, will help solidify Facebook as the open identity provider of the web.

Other 2009 articles related to the growth of Facebook Connect:

Facebook Tests New Monetization Methods And Expands Existing Channels

In 2009, Facebook shifted their attention toward monetization, as the company surpassed $500 million in revenue (and most likely much more). By September, the company publicly stated that they were officially cash flow positive as they surpassed the 300 million user milestone. Becoming cash flow positive was a result of numerous things. Most important was the wild success of Facebook Ads. In order to attract new advertisers, Facebook launched an ad credits program in March. The program enabled third-parties to provide Facebook advertising credits as an incentive to take various actions on their websites (registration, make a purchase, etc).

In addition to new incentive programs, Facebook’s advertising platform experienced multiple upgrades in 2009. In addition to the Facebook Pages and Events targeting features we discussed earlier, Facebook added multi-country support for advertisements and added a number of new ad targeting filters. Then in July, we began hearing about a new Facebook Ads API which was then publicly released in November, when the first third-party Facebook ad manager was released. A number of other third-party ad managers were released in the following days and weeks (77Agency and ONE Media Manager).

While Facebook can thank their extremely popular self-serve advertising platform for most of their growth, Facebook spent a lot of time testing new monetization models. In February, Facebook began testing advertisements within Facebook applications. While we haven’t heard much else related to these tests, we’d expect more news about developer monetization solutions to be discussed this year. Facebook also began testing their highly anticipated Credits program for developers.

The testing of credits included the testing of alternative payment models for Credits, user-to-user credits, and in-application Credit integration. Also of interest to Facebook Developers was the slow opening of the Facebook gift shop. First starting with non-profits, the gift shop was rapidly opened up to other developers. At this point it’s not clear how open the Facebook gift shop will become, but it is clear that other Facebook developers would love the opportunity to integrate with the Facebook gift shop.

As we begin 2010, we can expect Facebook to ramp up their monetization offerings and for the first time, publicly launch Credits for all application developers. It will most definitely be an exciting year for Facebook on the monetization front!

Other 2009 articles related to Facebook’s new monetization methods and expanded advertising offerings:

Social Games Dominate The Facebook Platform

One of the biggest stories of 2009 was the rapid ascent of social games on the Facebook Platform. Solidifying the position of social games in the online gaming ecosystem, was Electronic Arts’ acquisition of Playfish. Playfish wasn’t the only company to be acquired either. A number of smaller application developers were acquired (Playdom purchased Green Patch and Trippert), and then in August, TwoFish was acquired by Live Gamer. The numerous acquisitions highlighted how social gaming has essentially become the new term for “casual games”, which are all rapidly becoming social.

The largest social gaming company, Zynga, has had a massive year. After launching FarmVille in June, the application has grown to become the largest application on the Facebook Platform by a large margin. With over 73 million monthly active users, there are simply no competitors to FarmVille (although there are other applications that have copied FarmVille and that FarmVille copied). Months later, Zynga officially announced that they had surpassed the 100 million monthly unique users milestone. In short, Zynga has become the most dominant force in the social gaming industry.

Outside of social game developers, Facebook is also actively working with other companies to make console gaming more social. This year Facebook announced a partnership with XBox to bring Facebook Connect to XBox Live. Also announced at the same time was the launch of Facebook Connect for the Nintendo DSi. Before the year was over, Facebook Connect integration with the Playstation 3 had become official. In short, gaming is becoming more social and Facebook is the primary company contributing to the socialization of games via the Facebook Connect service.

Other 2009 articles related to the social gaming Facebook boom:

The 10 Most Ridiculous Facebook Stories Of 2009

Also be sure to check out the AllFacebook video below of the 10 most ridiculous Facebook stories of 2009:

Other Major Facebook Stories In 2009

Facebook Releases New Developer Tools And Overhauls The Platform

Michael Jackson Memorialized On Facebook

The Private Market For Facebook Shares Grows

The 2009 Facebook Username Land Rush

Accidental Billionaires Novel Released, Turned Into Movie

2009 image via ColorCubic