There are now over 300 million people using Facebook. Roughly half of them log in to the service on any given day. About 70,000,000 of those users—call it 25%—live in the US. Anywhere from 700,000 to 1,000,000 new users arrive each day, and that growth rate is itself accelerating.
This chart shows us that Google and Yahoo were ahead of Facebook in unique visitors in August.
But neither Google nor Yahoo have anything like Facebook's sticky engagement. In fact, according to Facebook's own numbers, users spend six billion person-minutes per day there. That means each Facebook account is using the service for an average of 20 minutes per day; Nielsen says it's almost six hours per month. Forget the decimal level accuracy for a minute: Mashable calls Facebook "the Internet's ultimate time-waster."
Has anything like this ever happened before?
I don't think so. It looks to me like we are witnessing, participating in, bootstrapping, the biggest social phenomenon in our species's history.
I asked that question on Twitter yesterday and received a couple of answers. One fellow said Facebook is a trend and that large adoption of trends are not terribly unusual. Another said that each new user agrees to join Facebook because of the other 299,999,999 who are already there.
I think the latter gets close to helping us understand what we're seeing.
We know that we are inherently social creatures. It is very difficult to force us to stay away from like-minded fellows, or, for that matter, non-like-minded.
When I was a youngster growing up in New York City, we prided ourselves on being the biggest city in the world ("there are eight million stories in the Naked City...this has been one of them.") But today, there are 38 cities with populations greater than 8,000,000. Metro New York is #6 with almost 22 million, Tokyo #1 at 34.
We flock to one another in real life and now, increasingly, online.
And, probably for the same reasons.
More people means more action.
Defined any way you wish, being in the presence of more people like (and unlike) ourselves is exciting. Socially. Culturally. Economically.
Everywhere on Earth we see this trend towards urbanization. Soon, many people will spend their whole lives in cities, never leaving. And soon, many people will spend their whole online lives on Facebook.
How many do today? How many of its 300 million members never consider doing anything else but checking in on Facebook?
For those people Facebook is the Internet.
We often speak of Internet sites as transitory. First there was CompuServe and AOL, then Friendster, then MySpace, then Facebook. And we think this means something—some upstart in a garage somewhere—will come and dislodge Facebook as the premiere place/time destination.
I'm not so sure.
Some social phenomena—like the development of agriculture and the attendant shift away from hunter-gatherer culture—are uniquely transformational.
I'm wondering if Facebook just might not be one of them.