The Death & Return of the Online Birthday Wish

Drew Chapin
The Startup
Published in
2 min readSep 2, 2023

Earlier this week, I dug into the history of the Facebook birthday phenomenon and Meta’s attempts to maintain relevance including Facebook Gifts (RIP), online cards, celebratory videos stitched together from previously-uploaded content, charity fundraisers, and more.

It’s a journey worth studying for startup founders and project managers of all stripes, because none of these perfectly reasonable efforts provided the lift necessary to keep Facebook birthdays alive: public birthday posts and activity are down 90% or more from their height about ten years ago.

Truth is that people realized many of their online relationships consisted entirely of saying “happy birthday” to one another — revealing that it was a hollow and meaningless exchange. No number of pre-made videos or charitable donations were going to change that.

Most stopped doing the online birthday thing entirely.

In pubic, at least. A good number of socially-inclined users continued reaching out about birthdays in private (via messaging or e-mail).

But this pivot revealed a funny new Facebook user segment: people who maintain an open Facebook account so they can use it as a birthday calendar. It’s an odd one — an over-kill, like driving a monster truck to do your grocery run down the street — but a user segment more prevalent than you might think.

Another group of people — generally younger users who may not have had a Facebook to begin with — have relied on a stand-alone birthday experience. The (aptly-named) Birthday App offers a birthday calendar that is fully pre-populated with the birthdays of everyone in your contacts, with no effort required on your part.

Birthday App, which promises to help you be a better friend, leaves you in control of how it’s used —whether you want to just send a quick text, a custom digital birthday card, or send a gift is up to you. It doesn’t try to take over the system calendar on your phone and it’s not overly-intrusive.

Bigger picture: the demand for Birthday App (and the Facebook/birthday calendar use-case) in this modern environment (as social networks splinter and demand for mass-market/public social media falls off) proves the online birthday is part of the social media experience we’ve decided to hold on to.

And as “happy birthday” is among the least toxic parts of social media, that’s something to celebrate.

Andrew Chapin is a product discovery specialist, tech entrepreneur, and writer. Find him on Threads or T2.



Drew Chapin
The Startup

Early-stage tech business development, focused on the intersection of commerce and media. Specialize in product discovery. Writing & working on what's next.