Brian Solis, principal at Altimeter Group, wrote a fascinating blog post last week about the growth of Facebook relative to that of the Internet as a whole. Some of his statistics are striking, such as Facebook now being bigger than the entire Internet was back in 2004.
Our time online has also increased dramatically. In 2002 the average time spent online was just 46 minutes a day, yet it is now measured at over 4 hours.
Naturally social networking sites and the Internet now being mobile have stimulated much of this increased use, but with Facebook now fast approaching a billion active users, are there other angles worth watching?
I think so. Do you remember the days before the web became easy to use – the pre-Netscape world? Going online back then meant using a bulletin board service like CompuServe or AOL – you had to be a member of the club to get in.
Those ‘walled garden’ services had pretty much everything we all wanted within their boundaries, but from about 1994 they all declined because the open Internet was so much bigger – and free to access.
In many ways the expanding range of services within Facebook appear to be taking back to the idea of just using a subset of the entire Internet. Consumers will ultimately decide what they want – Facebook has become so huge because it is useful and because of the network effect, everyone is on there making it harder to avoid the site.
And as Facebook expands into jobs, and possibly an internal payment mechanism, there is even more reason to spend more time there. People have got used to the idea of a newsfeed, a stream of information, rather than going from point to point within the Internet to find information.
But I wonder sometimes where this will lead. As Brian’s blog points out, there are very different information flows across all the major social networks – Facebook, YouTube, Twitter – just a few sites now make up an enormous proportion of Internet activity.
Facebook has become the killer app of the Internet for this era, much like Lotus 123 once was for the IBM Personal Computer. But 123 eventually met its match in Excel. Will something similar happen again or does Facebook have too much of a lead for any rival to catch up?