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) communities.
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) communities.
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 reputation.