It’s a tradition to spend some time at the end of a calendar year and reflect a bit on what happened in the last 12 months. And indeed Facebook did just that with a year-end blog post about how people made use of its service in 2013. However, we felt their post didn't tell the whole story, so here are a few of the less glamorous highlights.
Facebook began the year by redefining the rules by which its billion-plus users are connected. Announced on January 15th, Graph Search effectively quantified users' likes and activities, free-associating profiles with their respective Likes and posts in order to make individuals easier to find and connect with each other. However, the Graph Search rollout was slow, and wasn’t fully available to all English users until early August. Also, it wasn’t entirely complete—several features like including comments or posts in Graph Searches wouldn’t show up until the end of September. Naturally, this led to privacy concerns, as long forgotten and potentially embarrassing comments or photos were now fair game once more.
January also saw the launch of the Facebook Card, a somewhat-universal gift card that would allow users to send others gift balances to be used at select retailers. At first limited to a few launch partners like Target, Olive Garden, and Jamba Juice, the Facebook Card eventually led to an overhaul of Facebook’s gift system: The social network would ditch physical gifts over the summer in lieu of expanding Facebook Card support. The company would also foray into providing a method for users to make charitable donations before the year ended. In mid-December, it launched a "Donate Now" button for nonprofits to include on their profiles. In return, the social network would collect the credit card information donors provided for its own purposes.
Though none would grab headlines the way the purchase of Instagram did one year prior, a handful of acquisitions made by Facebook in 2013 would indicate the company’s priorities for 2013 and beyond. Its purchase of popular advertising suite Atlas would bring the ad campaign and analytic software used by companies who advertise on Facebook right under its own roof, hoping to make even more money from advertising. Also purchased: mobile app backend service Parse, which may have proved instrumental in increasing the social network’s rapidly growing mobile developer footprint.
The look and feel of Facebook has changed many times, and user backlash to these changes has become a bit of a tired old trope at this point. In March, CEO Mark Zuckerburg announced yet another redesign for the News Feed, but this time things played out a bit differently. Nine months later, Mike Issac of AllThingsD reported that "engagement with the new design has stalled," and it sent the company’s designers back to the drawing board. It’s a first for Zuckerburg, and, as Isaac writes, the caution on display is indicative of the company’s new, potentially precarious relationship with the content providers that are grossly benefitting from the News Feed.
Perhaps the most puzzling move made by the social giant and its second major misfire this year, it’s hard to properly describe what Facebook Home is supposed to be. Described as less than a mobile OS, but more than an app, Home was an Android skin of sorts that could be downloaded to turn your phone into a social hub, with Facebook front and center. Announced in April, it took the blogosphere exactly one month to pronounce it a flop after the first phone to come with Home baked in was quickly discontinued. The last time Home exhibited any signs of life was in October, when support for Pinterest, Tumblr, Instagram, and Flickr was announced.
Arguably the tech story of the year,Mark Zuckerburg responded to the NSA surveillance scandal by saying he’d never heard of it, assuring the public that Facebook has never released anything approaching bulk data to the government. Other implicated tech companies like Google and Microsoft echoed Zuckerburg’s sentiment, some even more strongly. Further reporting from the Washington Post gave credence to the claims of Zuckerburg et al., but the Internet was irrevocably changed—privacy was now on everyone’s mind. A little over two months later, Facebook would release a Global Government Requests Report, which would list the amount of requests the company received from individual governments, the number of profiles implicated, and the percentage of requests that resulted in data being produced. Further details were not included, although the company would continue to call for further transparency in a petition to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.
It's happening and we’re sure you’re thrilled about it. Will this be the route to new revenue streams for the now-public company? Will it help Facebook unseat cable TV as the number-one time-wasting innovation in human history? Or will it be the final straw that drives Facebook's begrudging first-world usership to finally ditch the big blue network? We're betting the latter.