While Facebook was just getting on its feet in 2004, a similar social network called Campus Network (or CU Community) was ahead and more advanced. Slate explains why only one survived.
Why did Facebook succeed where Campus Network failed? The simplest explanation is, well, its simplicity. Yes, Campus Network had advanced features that Facebook was missing. While Campus Network blitzed first-time users right away, Facebook updated its features incrementally. Facebook respected the Web's learning curve.
Campus Network did too much too soon. Neither site, of course, can claim to be the first social network—Friendster and MySpace already had large followings in 2003. But both Facebook and Campus Network had the crucial insight that overlaying a virtual community on top of an existing community—a college campus—would cement users' trust and loyalty. Campus Network figured it out first. Facebook just executed it better.
While people want to make their own choices, research shows too many options creates problems. We become overwhelmed. There is no substitute for simplicity and clarity. Whether on purpose or by accident, Facebook was built from the perspective of looking at what users would do with the site rather than building to show off what its creators could do. One approach shows respect for the audience.