Home Your IT Home IT 2011: Facebook's path to 1b users a cyber space oddity

As Facebook grows towards the magic 1 billion user mark, the site 'Inside Facebook' uses various datasets to show that, while overall users seems to be growing, the number of users in the US, UK and Canada is confusingly 'growing quickly or slowing of falling'.

Ah, statistics. These imprecise yet methodically collected numbers are used for all manner of purposes, and sometimes provide no clear answers, especially when similar-ish data sets are providing quite dissimilar results.

One Facebook-watching site is called 'Inside Facebook', which a couple of days ago announced that its 'Inside Facebook Gold' stats showed Facebook seeing big traffic drops in the US and Canada as the king of social networks reached 687m users, with Inside Facebook saying these stats are 'based exactly on the data that Facebook provides in its advertising tool".

This was followed up by UK news outlets referring to a drop in UK Facebook users, too, with The Guardian's article noting Inside Facebook's stats showing Facebook's 20m new users per month over the past year dropping to only 13.9m new accounts in April, and then just 11.8m new accounts in May.

However, Inside Facebook then followed up with another story, using various sets of data, with each oddly showing a different result when it came to actual Facebook numbers worldwide and the growth patterns in different countries. 

The last time Facebook provided specific numbers was when it passed the 500m user mark, so while the company clearly knows the detailed truth to the number of active and passive accounts, it hasn't released any specific numbers.

Inside Facebook's follow-up story had third parties 'showing Facebook with fewer monthly active users [in the US] in January and February, but Facebook's own data didn't reflect that', and then go on to say that in May, 'only third party to report numbers so far is showing growth, in contrast to the loss that Facebook is showing.'

Inside Facebook points out that Facebook notes 'the data from the ad tool isn't intended for measuring traffic', but that hasn't stopped Inside Facebook from using the data as 'it seems to be the most specific, and directionally accurate, despite the questions".

What did Facebook have to say?

Please read on to page two'¦


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Alex Zaharov-Reutt

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One of Australia’s best-known technology journalists and consumer tech experts, Alex has appeared in his capacity as technology expert on all of Australia’s free-to-air and pay TV networks, including stints as presenter of Ch 10’s Internet Bright Ideas, Ch 7’s Room for Improvement and tech expert on Ch 9’s Today Show, among many other news and current affairs programs.