Facebook is the most popular social network on the planet. It celebrated its eighth birthday on Feb. 4, 2012. Although Facebook has only been around since 2004, it certainly seems like much longer.
For many of us, it feels like we've grown up habitually checking to see who has liked our photos and commented on our status updates. We love to use it. Sometimes we hate ourselves for loving it so much. We complain about it. We use it to complain about almost everything else. It's a revolution and an addiction. In many ways it's like a chair, but in other ways it's not like a chair at all.
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Regardless, 2012 was arguably Facebook's biggest year in terms of noteworthy accomplishments. And that's saying a lot, since it was widely credited with facilitating the Arab Spring in 2011.
Here's a look back at Facebook's biggest milestones of 2012:
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1 Billion Users
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced that the network had surpassed 1 billion active users on Oct. 4. There are 7 billion people on the entire planet. Only two countries in the world — China and India — have more inhabitants than Facebook has users.
The billion active Facebook users have forged more than 140 billion friendships.
To celebrate these accomplishments, Facebook released its first commercial, which compared the network to, among other things, chairs, doorbells and a great nation.
IPO Woes and Instagram
After years of posturing, Facebook became a publicly tradable company on May 18. The stock opened at around $42 dollars per share; but it quickly plummeted, falling to under $18 by Sept. 4. Prices have recovered somewhat of late; the stock has been hovering around $25 for most of December.
About a month before the Facebook IPO, the company agreed in principle to purchase the extremely popular photo sharing app Instagram. The two companies finalized their deal in early September. Facebook ended up paying $730 million in cash and stock.
Zuckerberg Ties the Knot
It turned out to be a big week for Zuckerberg. On May 19, just a day after the Facebook stock debuted, he married Priscilla Chan, his girlfriend of nine years.
Chan also celebrated a notable accomplishment during the same week. On the Monday prior to the couple's wedding, she graduated from medical school at the University of California, San Francisco.
The massive and controversial change to Facebook's UI, the "Timeline" profile, actually started rolling out to users in Sept. 2011. To the chagrin of many, Facebook has spent much of 2012 chasing down the last few Timeline holdouts more vigorously than Tommy Lee Jones hunted Harrison Ford in the film version of The Fugitive.
During the past year, we've also seen the network redesign its messaging interface, help center and the often-overlooked friendship pages. In addition, Facebook recently added a jobs board and reintroduced the option to give gifts to friends. There have been numerous upgrades to the various Facebook mobile apps. The network has also enabled emoticon art (try :|] or (^^^)) into messages and comments, but not status updates.
There were two other notable tweaks during 2012 that improved the Facebook experience. Users can now edit their comments after posting; and Facebook incorporated a "close friends" feature that allows you to further customize the type of content you receive.
Eschewing convenience for privacy, Facebook also temporarily disabled its facial recognition feature in response to heavy criticism from regulators. The controversy flared up in September, when Facebook backed down to European regulators in the face of an audit from the Irish Data Protection Commissioner. Facebook also pulled the feature in the U.S., even though there was no specific request from regulators to do so.
Social Politics and Activism
Facebook continued to be a space for political discussion in 2012, particularly regarding the U.S. presidential election. Both candidates leveraged the network to jockey for voters, and Election Day was the most talked about day of the year in the U.S, beating out even the Super Bowl.
On Election Day formal, Facebook helped voters find their polling places. When the news of Obama's victory broke, it not only spurred Bob Dylan's first status update of all time, but it also produced the most-liked photo in Facebook's history.
This photo of Barack and Michelle Obama currently has more than 4 million "likes."
Facebook also continued to be a place where people could organize in 2012. Aside from finding weekend parties and other local social events, Facebook has become a space where activists gather.
Social media is given a large amount of credit for the 2011 uprisings now known as the Arab Spring. There wasn't anything quite so dramatic in 2012, but there were more than a few noteworthy instances. For example, Walmart employees used Facebook to organize a Black Friday strike.
In a much more dubious instance, a Bangladeshi man allegedly used Facebook to plot a terrorist attack on the Federal Reserve in New York City. Police arrested Quazi Mohammad Rezwanul Ahsan Nafis on Oct. 17 after an undercover agent used Facebook to initiate contact with the suspected terrorist.
Facebook Vs. Sex
Do people really prefer Facebook to sex? Researchers studying the wildly popular social media phenomenon have linked the two as highly pleasurable and addictive behaviors.
The results of these studies came back with mixed results. While the University of Canterbury in New Zealand found that people like sex more than Facebook, a study from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business found that resisting the urge to check Facebook is more difficult than resisting the urge for sex. You're probably resisting that urge right now.
Although these studies have their flaws, it is a testament to Facebook's popularity that it is even put in the same category with these behaviors.
What is everyone doing on Facebook anyway? Other than stalking, flirting and the occasional humble-brag, it looks like people are spending a lot of time playing games. About 250 million people used Facebook for gaming in 2012, up significantly from the previous year.
Facebook addiction is one of the driving social media distractions that cost the U.S. economy an estimated $650 billion each year.
Frustrated by all the time he was wasting, one San Francisco blogger found a creative way to stay focused. Maneesh Sethi used Craigslist to hire an employee whom he payed $8 an hour to slap him in the face each time he checked Facebook. Apparently, it worked: Sethi saw his productivity jump from 38% to 98%.
Employees "Like" Facebook
It's not just users who love Facebook — the company's employees do too. Earlier this month, Glassdoor revealed that Facebook was voted the best place to work across all industries in 2012.
Facebook pampers its employees with free meals and laundry services, great medical and retirement benefits and a generally stimulating work environment. Zuckerberg enjoys a 99% approval rating from employees, according to the report.
A Platform for Social Good
It's not all gaming and goofing around on Facebook. Much like previous years, the network served as a platform for progressivism and social good.
Facebook encouraged users to become organ donors in May, when it enabled an organ donor status on the Timeline. It also provides users with information on how to become organ donors if they aren't already.
In another Timeline update, Facebook enabled same-sex marriage icons.
The network also became a vital information tool for those affected by Superstorm Sandy in October.
Facebook faces tough challenges in 2013. With increasing pressure to monetize, the company will have to strike a delicate balance between user experience and financial considerations. As the recent tilt over Instagram's terms of service proved, there is a tipping point at which users will abandon a popular network.
No one is suggesting a return to MySpace just yet, but it's always an option.
2005 - The Facebook
Back in the days when The Facebook was only available to select networks, the News Feed didn't exist. Users hopped between profiles like this one.
This story originally published on Mashable here.