5 Products Acquired by Facebook that Immensely Shaped Social Media as we Know it Today


Facebook, as we know it today, is a very large public company. It is also the undisputed king of social media. But it has not always been this way. It has not always had the over 1.7 billion users it has today. All that has been achieved step by step over its 13 year history (it becomes a real teen early next month, on February 4th).

Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg finally provided a concrete reason why his company paid more to acquire Oculus in a recent court grilling and, unbeknownst to many, this shouldn’t be as surprising as most took it.

Part of Facebook’s explosive growth to a major internet company has been as a result of acquiring other companies, products and teams it has deemed necessary to its upward trajectory. These are some of them:

1. FriendFeed

FriendFeed was a popular realtime web aggregator that brought together all the popular web services (including social ones) under one roof making it easier to access them, catch up with what’s happening and cross-post. I remember tying my Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, Photobucket, Last.fm and more accounts so that one update would be shared across all my feeds without so much effort.

Photo: Disruptive Library Technology Jester

If you are racking your brain wondering what FriendFeed is (I can see you reaching for the Google search bar), don’t worry. It no longer exists. Facebook bought FriendFeed for an undisclosed sum back in 2009 (where were you that August?).

This year marks a decade since I first joined Facebook. You may or may not know this but some of the features that appear so Facebook-specific today were actually borrowed from FriendFeed. Comments, likes, a real-time home feed… the list is long.

2. Gowalla

Photo: ericbaker.wordpress.com

Today, nearly all social media apps and services you are signed up to allow some form of checking in, broadcasting to the world or your circle of friends or followers where you are at a given time and maybe what you are doing. However, it has not always been this way. Foursquare became popular because it provided an easy way to do this. I could always tell the world (as if it cared) when I was attending Sunday mass at my home church, when I was in school, when I was visiting a fancy place etc.

If Foursquare allowed us to do all that then it must have had a notable competitor, right? That would be Gowalla.

Sadly, the location-based social media service shuttered 6 years ago, after Facebook acquired it and its top talent. Those check-ins you now make on Facebook every time you want to let the world know that you are having pizza? Their development got a huge headstart thanks to Gowalla.

3. Snaptu

You don’t know what a struggle is if you never had a Nokia 1680 classic phone that often struggled to load the very lite Opera mini app and would almost melt when you started syncing your Ovi email account using its EDGE internet connection. All that would suddenly change and be replaced by an iPhone-like interface the moment you launched one application: Snaptu.

Snaptu was the coolest and best thing to ever happen to my long string of Nokia feature phones. Thanks to it, many of us were iPhone users on nameless Nokia phones. Ambition, they say, is priceless. Snaptu brought our ambitions to levels never imagined before. As such, it was quite sad when in mid-2011, Facebook finalized its acquisition of the Israel-based mobile app and subsequently removed all the “mini-apps” it housed like Twitter, LinkedIn, Cricinfo, TechCrunch, Mashable, the Guardian, Flickr, Sudoku, Picasa, Weather etc in favour of its own Facebook “mini-app”.

Today, Snaptu lives on as the official Facebook app for dumb phones. Facebook for Everyphone, as the new app became known as, went on to net over 100 million users over the next two years and helped drive up the number of people increasingly becoming active on the social network then. Yes, long before Facebook backtracked and started developing “lite” apps for its users in areas with spotty connections and entry-level devices with limited internal storage space after its main app became a bloated mess, it was already keen on making sure everyone remained connected. In fact, Facebook Lite is based on Snaptu’s tech. How about that?

4. Instagram

The most popular Facebook feature was its Photos product. Millions of photos were being uploaded to the social network on a daily and as such it was only natural that Zuckerberg and team had their head antennae up when a new entrant to the social photo-sharing space, Instagram, took the world by storm and threatened Facebook’s entire existence. Something had to be done and the end result was the $1 billion buyout of Instagram in 2012.

Today, the tight integration between Instagram and Facebook provides a seamless social media connection for users of both platforms and easily makes them look like they were meant for each other. Instagram’s ability to hit it off immediately with younger users who stay off Facebook, a platform already filled up by their parents and teachers, and provide the company a ready-made competitor to another rising star, Snapchat (Snap?) cannot go unnoticed. Without Instagram, would Facebook stand a real chance of matching up to Snap’s recent overtures?

5. WhatsApp

When Facebook acquired WhatsApp for $19 billion a year after its high-profile Instagram buyout, many worried that Facebook’s infamous privacy issues would roll over to the messaging star app that had taken the developing world by storm and was now slowly making inroads in the developed world.

While WhatsApp has stayed true to the course and its founder’s promise never to lump user conversations with ads, it has recently appeared to be going back on that promise in its bid to monetize after finally going fully free. An integration with Facebook for recommendations and ads doesn’t sound bad but remembering that just news of its acquisition by the social media giant sent users to sign up for rival Telegram, WhatsApp is walking on dangerous ground.

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Emmanuel writes on mobile hardware, software and platforms.