The year was 2007, and Myspace was king. With more than 300 million registered users, it was the world’s largest social-networking platform by a mile and, since overtaking Google the previous year, the most visited website in the United States. Friendster had been thoroughly eclipsed. Google’s first attempt at a social network, Orkut, was a domestic flop. Twitter, founded in 2006, still hosted only a fraction of a percent of Myspace’s user base. Snapchat and Instagram weren’t even a twinkle in Silicon Valley’s eye.
Facebook, though, was on the upswing. For nearly three years, it had slowly spread through schools and businesses. In September 2006, it opened fully to the public for the first time. By October 2007, it had 50 million active users around the world. By July 2008, it would have 90 million. In 2009, it would overtake Myspace for good.
Facebook first appeared in the pages of The Atlantic during the early stages of this precipitous rise. Michael Hirschorn’s 2007 article, titled simply “About Facebook,” acts as a time capsule for all the uncertain potential of that moment in the social network’s history. It was also a prescient assessment of what came next.
Hirschorn believed that Myspace’s popularity was tenuous and not built to last. He asserted that the site relied “too much on the packaging and marketing of tools that exist elsewhere on the web.” Without a “compelling retention mechanism,” he argued, the platform was vulnerable to losing its users when greener pastures presented themselves, just as Friendster had lost its own to Myspace years earlier. But Facebook, Hirschorn thought, was different. It was “the site that, in my experience, comes closest to fulfilling the promise of social media,” he wrote.