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In 8 Years, Facebook Changed All We Do Online

In the storm that is Facebook’s IPO, we pause to take note of the way the social network has transformed the way we live now.

In 8 Years, Facebook Changed All We Do Online

Is Facebook worth the $100 billion or so its pending IPO suggests it is? Who the good gracious knows. But one thing we can all be certain about is how the social network has radically changed people’s behavior and expectations online in the eight short years since it was a nary more than a twinkle in the eye of its baby-faced founder(s). Those changes have had the monumental impact of facilitating the formation of entirely new industries and dramatically shifting the way brands market themselves online.

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There are things we do online today, that we take so much for granted that we forget that some of them didn’t exist even as recently as two years ago. And others were so radical they inspired outright rebellions when they were first introduced. And yet all of these things are not only commonplace today, they are the presumed paradigms. To operate any differently would seem downright odd.

If past is prologue, we’re confident Facebook will continue to innovate in the years to come, thereby continuing to transform how individuals and businesses interact online and creating a whole new set of economic opportunities. Whether that translates into enough revenue to merit a $38 share price, we’ll leave up to the number-crunchers on Wall Street. For now, however, we want to pause in this brief respite before the Nasdaq frenzy slated for tomorrow to pay homage to a few of Facebook’s game-changing innovations.

The Death Of Email

I was in London last winter, and while walking through a train station, I overheard two people talking about coordinating with a third person. “I’ll reach out to him on Facebook,” one of them said. When I was in Afghanistan last year, at the rec center of every single military base I was on, anywhere from half to two-thirds of troops were on Facebook. When you only have access to computers for half an hour at a time, Facebook becomes the most efficient way to let friends and family know what you’re up to and catch up with their news. When I found out that an old boyfriend had had a kid but hadn’t emailed me the happy news, I was momentarily upset until a mutual friend told me, “I think he just posted it to Facebook.” The social network has become one of the primary ways that people communicate today. Certainly it hasn’t supplanted email altogether, but, globally, it has become the go-to channel for a slew of use cases that used to be managed by email or phone–or simply not communicated at all. So much so that it’s spawned an entirely new industry of social networks-for-business, like Yammer, Chatter, Podio, and Edmodo.

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Single Sign-On

Personalized Ads

Raise your hand if you’ve had this experience recently: You’re watching TV (probably online), and the ads come on. You notice that they’re for things you have no interest in, and you actually get a little ticked off. After all, all these sites are now supposed to know so much about you. If that’s the case, you grumble, then why are you being shown an ad for a minivan, or a Disney vacation, or any number of products and services you’d never in a million years think of using? Thank the social network for that. It now gives advertisers unprecedented specificity in who they want to reach. That’s why, for example, Airbnb will pop up in my right rail when Oracle OpenWorld is in town, asking if maybe I’d like to rent a room to a conventioneer. To which I respond: “You know, that’s a pretty good idea….” Suddenly the ads are interesting again.

Facebook Pages As Company Websites

Searching Gives Way to Discovering

Back in the late ’90s, with the arrival of sites like Amazon and Google, commentators bemoaned the loss of serendipity. The web was now a place where you had to know what you were looking for in order to find anything. No longer would shoppers, and others, have the delightful experience of browsing, as they did in real-world stores, or libraries, and tripping across something splendid but thoroughly unexpected. The social network is helping shift the balance back toward discovery. It’s increasingly the place, for example, where people discover the news, via links friends share. And it’s also making discovery possible on other sites, by giving those sites tools that let their visitors filter content by Facebook friends, whether it’s Yahoo, for example, that integrated with Facebook to let you see what your friends are reading on its news sites, or design store Fab, which allows you to browse a feed of items that your friends are buying and favoriting. The result is that the web is increasingly a place for serendipity, facilitated by Facebook and your friends.

Related: You Know What’s Cool? A Billion Dollars. Welcome To The Facebook IPO Players Club

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[Image: Flickr user jolieodell, Home Image: Anssi Koskinen]

E.B. Boyd is FastCompany.com’s Silicon Valley reporter. Twitter | Google+ | Email

About the author

E.B. Boyd (@ebboyd) has holed up in conference rooms with pioneers in Silicon Valley and hunkered down in bunkers with soldiers in Afghanistan.

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