When Mark Zuckerberg started a social networking site in his college dormitory, little did he know that Facebook would help millions of people to connect, interact, and share ideas.
The young man is now among the top techpreneurs in the world and is worth billions of dollars.
As Facebook becomes a public entity, Zuckerberg, now 28 years old, is worth more than $18.7 billion, with 533.8 million shares.
To many young Kenyan techpreneurs, the rise of Facebook and the associated trends are worth noting. So, how is the road ahead for both the users and the company?
Facebook dominates the social scene on the web. Over the years, the social network has been innovative, thus pulling in millions of users.
Competitors are yet to catch up with the Facebook phenomenon. Some sites like Myspace have shrivelled in the face of the stiff rivalry.
Google has in the past cast its might on the social scene with products like Orkut and Google Buzz.
The Orkut social networking site was launched in January 2004, just a month before the launch of Facebook, but Orkut and Google Buzz failed to impress users.
Google re-ignited its efforts with the Google+ social site, which has 90 million users. Facebook has 901 million active users globally.
Even in places like Africa, where Internet access is low, the social website has 40 million users, with approximately 1.3 million coming from Kenya.
On a daily basis, more than 300 million photographs are uploaded and 488 million active users access the site on mobile devices.
Innovation and hacker culture
In order to reign supreme, Facebook has to remain innovative and impressive even as it is transformed from a startup to a public company.
In terms of technological steps, it has a system where it rolls-out products and fine tunes them with time to the taste of users and company interests.
Last year, the company rolled out the Tag suggestions feature, which uses facial recognition technology to make photo tagging easy.
Early this year, the company released to its global audience the Timeline feature that aids users in profiling their pages.
Facebook has also launched an applications store, the App Centre. Unlike other app stores, its centre is designed for applications across the board — whether they are on iOS, Android, or the mobile web.
The new app store from Facebook is platform-agnostic. The latest in line is the “Pay to promote post” tool whose goal is to allow users to flag their information.
If all goes well, this might be one of the additional features on Facebook. Different methods are being tested with indications of some offering free flagging of a post and others targeting users willing to pay a fee.
There are other innovative features like chat, video, and the company’s mobile development framework.
According to Zuckerberg, Facebook has a unique culture and management approach known among the employees as the “hacker way”.
The hacker way is an approach to building computer products and involves continuous improvement and iteration.
Product development and engineering technology at Facebook is defined by a hacker culture — an environment that rewards creative problem solving and rapid decision-making.
Employees work in small teams and move fast to develop new products, constantly iterating and improving.
Product developers and technical teams prioritise code-based solutions over theoretical arguments, practicality over perfection, and also prioritise creating of things quickly, testing, and then refining.
The hacker culture at Facebook is blended with bootcamps for engineers and frequent hackathons or all-night long coding marathons.
Beyond the IPO
The road ahead for Facebook after going public will be guided by revenue generation, transparency, and resilience after the adjustment.
Although the management might continue with its style of running the company, there are investors whose say will be felt in company circles.
Facebook has in the past faced privacy issues stemming from the way it handles user information in its revenue generation.
Other than the privacy issues, users might have to brace themselves for more advertisements on their pages and mobile devices as the company spreads its net in that field.
For the company, there are some adjustments in strategy that are critical.
A substantial number of users on Facebook are shifting from the web to mobile, and this implies that the company has to revamp its mobile strategy.
Monetising mobile would help boost revenue in future following such a trend. The company’s mobile strategy will be important in its performance on the stock market.
The author is an ICT analyst and telecommunications engineer