This article traces the evolution of Facebook from an
early-stage social networking site into a
"platform-as-infrastructure" (Nieborg & Helmond, 2018). We do
this by operationalising an evolutionary perspective on social media, and by
tracing the evolution of Facebook's platform architectures, interfaces,
governance frameworks, and control mechanisms.
We identify four periods that define Facebook's evolution:
First, in terms of its platform architecture, it became a highly programmable
infrastructure with complex data and functionalities that could be configured
by partners to meet the demands of specific market and stakeholder
environments. In doing so, it accumulated external dependencies that required
its ongoing engagement with larger stakeholders and environments such as media
and content production, the advertising industry, or local (developer)
Second, in terms of its internal boundary-work concerning
the programmability of its platforms, Facebook increasingly embedded itself
into partner organisations' domain-specific developer communities, thereby
accumulating additional technical and business operations and stakeholder
interactions that required it to respond through a variety of control
mechanisms and boundary-work strategies.
Third, in terms of its evolving embedding, it accumulated
additional external dependencies that required its ongoing engagement with
partner organisations' domain-specific developer communities, such as media and
content production, the advertising community, or local (developer)
Fourth, in terms of its evolving embeddeding, it accumulated
additional external dependencies through its ongoing involvement in other
social media and digital marketing ecosystems that require its ongoing
engagement with larger stakeholders and environments such ad technology,
e-commerce, or data-driven advertising.
Fifth, in terms of its evolving embedding, the evolution of
its programmability and corporate partnerships facilitated this process, as it
enabled it to address new stakeholder groups in other market and stakeholder
environments through a variety of bespoke and customised partner programmes.
This included the fbFund programme, which awarded grants to
developers who built apps on the Facebook platform. This led to a rapid
expansion of the Facebook app ecosystem and facilitated the further development
of the social media giant as an online content monetisation platform for
professional creators, publishers, and content producers, as well as a platform
for on-demand advertising.
Finally, in terms of its evolving embedding, its
programmability and corporate partnerships enabled it to address new
stakeholder groups in the media and publishing sector through a variety of
bespoke and specialised partner programmes. This further developed the social
media giant as an online content monetisation and content-distribution platform
for professional creators, publishers, and media companies.
These changes helped Facebook to establish itself as an
influential online data-driven advertising and content-distribution platform,
but it also created a huge societal impact. It changed the way people
communicate with each other and their social networks, and it also made it
easier for users to share their private information and build up an online