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

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'¦

Facebook's statement was as follows:

'From time to time, we see stories about Facebook losing users in some regions. Some of these reports use data extracted from our advertising tool, which provides broad estimates on the reach of Facebook ads and isn't designed to be a source for tracking the overall growth of Facebook.

'We are very pleased with our growth and with the way people are engaged with Facebook. More than 50 per cent of our active users log on to Facebook in any given day.

So, are the numbers really dropping by millions in Western countries, as some non-English speaking countries favour locally grown Facebook clones instead of the real US Facebook deal?

It's hard to say, but as The Guardian quotes Mark Zuckerberg saying last June in relation to reaching 1bn users worldwide, "it is almost a guarantee that it will happen".

To do otherwise would be to lose face, and potentially even to lose Facebook, but we're far from that scenario.

After all, Facebook stills reigns over the social networking world as king of the coolest online club, and with more brands, sites and advertising going to Facebook than ever.

Growth has continued despite a string of privacy bungles, with the company's global growth continuing despite claims of some decline in the US, UK and Canadian markets.

Perhaps the realities of life becoming ever more expensive worldwide is impacting on Internet use in western countries, as people struggle with higher petrol and energy prices, higher food prices, higher insurance costs following so many natural disasters and higher costs for just about everything else, leaving less time for social networking as more actual working is required to keep up with inflation, taxes, levies and life's sometimes unexpectedly expensive twists and turns.

On the other hand, it might also see a rise in people figuring out ways to make more money from Facebook, especially while its global growth is still on the upwards, as the company looks to and beyond that 1b user base, while not only keeping that user base happy and deeply engaged, but ensuring strong and growing multiple monetisation streams of income to grow the service globally and successfully out-compete the competition.

However, whatever happens, Facebook's seeming policy that it is better to ask for forgiveness than it is for permission is one constant we can presumably count on to re-appear in the future, as will analysis and questions over the true number of members and active users, even once passing the magic 1b user base is announced.

If the claimed user base of 687m users is accurate, with a recent rate of 20m new users a month, there's not enough time this year for Facebook to reach a billion users, leaving 2012 the year of a new hope for Facebook to strike back with the announcement of an empire 1 billion+ strong.



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Alex Zaharov-Reutt

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 on all the major news and current affairs programs, on commercial and public radio, and technology, lifestyle and reality TV shows. Visit Alex at Twitter here.