How Facebook Strategically Built a 1.5 Billion User Product Ecosystem – A Product Management Case Study

Facebook released some insane usage numbers yesterday.


More than half the world’s internet users are now on Facebook.

So how did Facebook outgrow other social networks like MySpace and Friendster? What is the guiding compass that Mark Zuckerberg uses to confidently make sweeping, counter intuitive product decisions? How does Facebook decide which features and products to focus on next?

I’ve been tracking Facebook’s product growth for the last 10 years. This is what I learned.

Facebook grew their product ecosystem in an organic, sustainable way. It follows the same growth path summarized the Pyrami Framework. Facebook first focused on functional features. These are features that solve a user’s problems. When Mark Zuckerberg first designed Facebook. It was designed to solve a specific problem. The problem was that there was no easy way to look people up in Harvard. He solved the problem by building a version of Harvard’s yearbook and placed it online. Functionality, the 1st version worked very well. Emotionally, it was pretty rough. The first version had a rough design. It wasn’t pretty. Ecologically, it had features like the invite system to actively help grow the ecosystem.

Thefacebook, 2004

As Facebook grew, it built more features. It didn’t build features just to give users more options. Facebook built functional features that solved problems. Facebook tackled problems like news discovery (newsfeed), communication (chat), and photo management (photos). Many of these problems gave birth to small functional features that later evolved into full products. The chat feature evolved into Facebook Messenger, the newsfeed feature later evolved into Facebook Paper, the photo app later evolved into Facebook Camera. Shopping and payment could be next.

Myspace had a very different approach. Instead of focusing on functional features that helped people tackling problems, it added emotional features that helped people express themselves. This resulted in a noisy ecosystem where profile page designs were all over the place. Hacking was prevalent. Theses noises in the ecosystem set up obstacles that made it hard for Myspace to standardize the design + data to further evolve the product.

Myspace gave users too many options to customize their profile

Myspace gave users too many options to customize their profile

Facebook on the other hand, focused on building out the right emotional features after building the right functional features. He wanted to give his mobile users a feeling of responsiveness, speed, and delight. To make this happen, he moved from away from HTML5 to invest more into native code.

“Our Biggest Mistake Was Betting Too Much on HTML5” – Mark Zuckerberg

Facebook built many emotional features with the sole purpose of delighting and surprising users. For example, Facebook messenger launched Facebook stickers, animated Thumbs Up, and Facebook GIFs.

To keep the ecosystem thriving, Facebook built more ecological features. These are features that increase the # of interactions in an ecosystem and features that organically grow the ecosystem. Features like Events gave Facebook the power to reach out to people that was outside of the ecosystem. Payments in Messenger gave users a new way to interact with each other.

Facebook Messenger Pay

Facebook Messenger Pay

If you want to grow your product into a thriving ecosystem, build your product features in this order: Functional, Emotional, and Ecological. For more details, check out my post on the Pyrami: The Product Growth Framework.


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