A couple weeks ago, Facebook changed its overall website appearance and layout once again, prompting user outcry and complaints about how the site had changed once again, and that they were going to leave the site. However, the frequent changes to the site's appearance are the reasons why Facebook is going to be around for a while.
In the time since Facebook started, it has had an incredible amount of influence on how people begin to interact with one another. Growing up with much larger, completing websites such as Friendster and Myspace, the website has shown that it's able to take on their competition by adapting to major changes in how people utilize the internet. When it started, the website was essentially an online profile, listing someone's name, their favorites, a picture, a way to upload photographs, and a wall. Originally, when I first started with the website in 2005, the wall feature had a disclaimer on it: "We don't know what this is for, but type away", or something along those lines. Initially as a comments field, the Wall has become a central part of the Facebook website, changing how people interact with one another, share information and update their friends on the mundane aspects of their lives.
The wall feature is the most important aspect of the website, and something that other websites have attempted to copy - Myspace now allows for status updates, as does numerous chat clients, such as gchat and AIM, while becoming the literal center of attention for users. The home page, once one's profile, changed to a friends list, to a new feed that gathered everyone's status updates to keep everyone up to date with everything that was going on. The result is an addicting one - hundreds of millions have signed up for the service, and while each new update undoubtedly sees a drop off in people, either out of frustration or security concerns, the site has continued to grow.
Facebook's constant changes to the design are what will be keeping the website from going the way of their now smaller cousins. It's a good business practice, and demonstrates that the site is not only keeping up to date with what their competition is doing, but it shows that the company is innovative and looking to lead the way in just how people use the internet. This, I think, is the most important aspect of the site's longevity thus far.
Since the site began, the ways in which people have utilized the internet has changed a lot, partially at the site's prompting, but also with the introduction of other websites. Looking at the bigger picture, it's unlikely that the website Twitter would have appeared without the introduction of Facebook’s status updates, and in its stripped down form, Twitter has become incredibly popular. With this new competition, the latest versions of Facebook have focused on the updates that people post to their profiles via the news and live feeds that exist in the home page. With it, Facebook is able to offer the exact same thing (although with four times the characters as their competitor), with all of the extras that the site already offers. Its adaptation comes not only in how people use the internet, but how they access the internet. Dedicated Facebook sites for mobile devices have been developed, while some of its competitors, such as myspace, keep the same format, reducing functionality and the overall appearance to the site.
Similarly, the introduction of new features, such as the suggestions to users who they might know, as well as easy ways to import contacts allow the site to keep users invested, talking and continuing to use the site as often as possible. The site’s purpose, in this instance is to become as useful as possible for people to connect to one another, and it’s certainly succeeded in the time that I’ve used it, keeping me in touch with a number of people whom I would have fallen out of touch with years ago.
As the site moved from a social networking site into the greater business world, it's also been clear that the site has had longer term business plans as the site has begun to expand, hinging on the ability of the site to adapt effectively to new online environments. The introduction of small paid applications, targeted ads and other similar practices help with the website when it comes to its finances, helping to generate cash for the site. This, in my mind, is why Facebook will never charge for access, no matter how many of the groups out there claim that that's in the works. It doesn't make sense, because a lot of the site's growth is most likely contingent on signing up as many people as possible, and introducing a fee, no matter how small it is, would impede that greatly, although long-time users would likely cough it up. No, the key to Facebook is the growth of the platform, and clearly, they're doing something right in that regard.