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Monday, July 16, 2007

Facebook's Dirty Secret You Probably Didn't Know

VenturaBeat and TechCrunch are covering this story regarding the lawsuit that has been haunting FaceBook for 3 years now. Some former Harvard Business School friends of Facebook founders are saying he stole the code and business plan from them and they wanted their piece of the pie.

Now, it would be safe to say that almost zero of the MarketingShift readers were in school when TheFaceBook was making its way around college campuses like I was in 2001-2002. In addition I am also Co-owner of a small network of online college communities so when I heard of theFaceBook I took an extra particular interest in them. More specifically, I was curious to how they were growing so fast and how all these people in Eastern North Carolina had heard of them.

We spent a good amount of time trying to analyze what they were doing to generate this buzz and after enough digging we uncovered the secret behind their "viral marketing" campaign. First off, I'm sure FaceBook will adamentally deny what I'm about to say but I'm sure a lot of people who were hit by this campaign would be able to validate my story.

TheFaceBook, as it was originally known, was able to spark a long term growth pattern in a way that most people have been unable to find success: Spam. That's right, I said it, TheFaceBook was a big time spammer. They just did it a bit differently than others have. What they would do is connect to a University's LDAP directory where all the students contact information was stored. For those who don't know what LDAP is here is a brief description. LDAP or Lightweight Directory Access Protocol, is an Internet protocol that email and other programs use to look up information from a server.

Once they successfully connected to a server, which was not hard because many were left insecure, they would snag all the information they could and begin their campaign. They wouldn't spam everyone they would only send emails to the underclassmen asking them to "check out this site" or sometimes would ask the kids to send the email and link on to their classmates and so on. The biggest reason this would work was if students were passing it on to other students it seemed more genuine. I have the emails somewhere and if I can find them I will post them.

At the time, this type of viral marketing was pretty new compared to today when every new "web 2.0" app has an "Email This to a friend" feature so it would result in a completely different situation if they were just starting that type of campaign today. TheFacebook definitely made the most of their spamming efforts and combine that in with the impact of using AIM profiles to promote TheFaceBook and you have a viral marketing campaign with enough power to generate one of the top 20 most visited sites in the US. *According to Alexa

By Matt O'Hern at 01:18 PM | Comments (1)

(1) Thoughts on Facebook's Dirty Secret You Probably Didn't Know

I may be one of the few regular readers who was in school during that time. The beginning of 2004 was when it first started catching on at my campus, but I really didn't see much value to it (because none of my friends were using it at the time) so I resisted. By the end of 2004 it seemed like everyone was on Facebook. I do think a major factor in its rise was the link in AIM profiles. Everyone had one at first, and that was about the first time I remember so many people putting links in their profiles. Now everyone puts links in profiles, but you hardly ever see facebook profile links. Thanks for providing these facts.

Comments by Jason Peck : Monday, July 16, 2007 at 06:10 PM

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