Facebook Celebrates 10th Birthday
If you said this to someone 10 years ago, they’d look at you like you were speaking Klingon. Nowadays, you just sound like an active user of social media.
This is how much Facebook has changed how we talk. In the decade since its birth in February 2004, the social network has introduced numerous terms and phrases to the language of modern life.
Most are common words that Facebook refitted with new meanings. Some have stuck, while others have been forgotten. A few have even been recognized by dictionaries as official pieces of the 21st century lexicon.
Here are nine of the most memorable.
Until Facebook came along, nobody used the word “friend” as a verb. Now it’s not uncommon to ask a new acquaintance to spell their name so you can friend them on Facebook.
Everyone likes to feel popular. That’s why some Facebookers, especially in the site’s early days, hoarded friends like poker chips (never mind that most of these “friends” were rarely seen co-workers, distant relatives or vaguely remembered classmates from junior high). Nobody really has 583 “friends.”
Facebook’s “friend” also was the precursor to Twitter’s “follower,” which makes a user’s social contacts sound like members of a cult.
Facebook giveth, and Facebook taketh away. Are you tired of your uncle’s political rants? Unfriend him!
By adding an “unfriend” option, Facebook created new shorthand for aborting a friendship or an acquaintance. It’s a lot easier to say, “I unfriended Bob” than “I’m not going to be friends with Bob anymore because he annoys me with his daily musings about his toenails.”
Unfriending someone is considered a more drastic step than simply tweaking your Facebook settings to block or minimize their posts.
The term was officially welcomed to the digital-age vernacular by the New Oxford English Dictionary, which named “unfriend” its Word of the Year for 2009.
Years ago, “status” was a measure of someone’s social or professional standing. Then Facebook began asking users to post updates on their thoughts or activities, and “updating your status” suddenly meant more than just moving to a better neighborhood.
To prompt updates, Facebook first asked users, “What are you doing right now?” When that produced too many mundane reports — “Sally is eating toast!” — Facebook changed the update question in 2009 to the broader, “What’s on your mind?”
Few things have sparked more debate on Facebook than the “Like” button, which debuted in 2009 and soon spread to partner sites. Suddenly, with a quick click you could endorse your friends’ updates, jokes and cute-kid pictures.
Cynics, lamenting what they saw as Facebook’s forced cheerfulness, unsuccessfully asked for a “Dislike” button.
Instagram, Pinterest and other social networks also adopted the Like model for favoring posts, although they used a heart symbol instead of a Like thumb. (You Like me right now! You Like me!)
All this made “Like” a noun as well as a verb, as users began collecting Likes as a measure of engagement and popularity. As in, “I can’t believe my cute picture of Fluffy in her Easter bonnet got only three Likes.”
The weird Poke feature was sort of a thing in Facebook’s early days. Nobody knew what it was for, exactly — even Mark Zuckerberg once said of the Poke, “We thought it would be cool to have a feature without any specific purpose.”
Some saw it as a flirty invitation to an online chat or real-world hookup. But the obvious sexual innuendo made it awkward to use in conversation. “I poked Aunt Betty” just sounds all kind of wrong.
Amazingly, the Poke function is still active on Facebook. But nobody uses it anymore unless they’re being ironic.
Share (and overshare)
Sharing used to be something we did in school when there weren’t enough textbooks to go around. Then came Facebook, and everyone — not just the generous — became sharers. Or over-sharers. Soon it wasn’t enough to just experience a memorable moment in our daily lives: We had to share it with everyone, RIGHT NOW!
Share buttons popped up all over the Web. Share this! Tweet this! Pin this! Snap this! Sooo much sharing.
The word “share” has always implied a selfless, charitable act. But the more we share our every move and thought on social media, the more self-centered we can tend to sound.
Not me, of course. Other people.
For years, Facebook encouraged visitors to a friend’s profile to “write on their Wall.” It sounded sort of illicit, like an invitation to scribble graffiti.
The idea of a digital “wall” seemed odd at a time when other social networks were promoting pages. Maybe that’s why it never really caught on. In 2011, Facebook replaced the Wall with the current Timeline format, which displays updates chronologically.
This ambiguous answer to Facebook’s “What’s your relationship status?” could apply to almost any romantic entanglement between “single” and “married” and is more interesting than either. It’s become a common response to the “How’s your love life?” question and even inspired a 2009 romantic comedy with Meryl Streep.
Tag, you’re it! No, you’re it! What was once just a child’s game is now a way to get people to notice your posts, or to embarrass them by flagging them in unflattering photos. Come to think of it, maybe Tag is the new Poke.