It’s only been a couple of months since Facebook announced that it now has 500 active (rather than registered) users, and yet already that number seems somewhat old-hat. And so, in a shameless attempt to whip up a bit of controversy (kind of) I thought I’d predict the point at which they will hit their next major mile-stone: 1 billion.
When Facebook hit 350 million users, back in December 2009, I thought it would be interesting to plot a graph predicting when they might hit other mile-stones, based on their growth up to that point. And when we did, it turned out to be incredibly accurate: we were out on the 400 million prediction by a matter of days, and the big 500 by a couple of weeks. I’ve now finally got round to updating the prediction and I can exclusively reveal that Facebook will hit 1 billion in July 2011, meaning they’ll have doubled in size in 12 months.
Now obviously predicting future growth based on historical figures is a farm from perfect science, and there are any number of caveats, not least being the glass ceiling that is the total number of internet users worldwide (currently estimated at just under 2 billion), the fact that Facebook is currently blocked in the world’s biggest internet market and the fact that their growth may start to tail off. However something tells me that this needn’t be the case.
Firstly, whilst the majority of internet connections are currently via desk-top technologies, the growth in mobile devices (whether phones, tablets or netbooks) means that this is unlikely to be the case for much longer (exactly when mobile connections will overtake the desktop depends on which analyst you listen to). Certainly, a large and growing number of Facebook users primarily access the service via a mobile, whilst it accounts for a huge percentage of mobile web usage.
And then there’s the issue of a plateau in growth. When we originally pulled this prediction together it looked as if Facebook might have reached its peak: whereas growth back at the start of 2009 was around 10% every month, by the end of the year it was down to about 5%. But, judging by the fact that the 500 million announcement came slightly earlier than we predicted, it seems like it’s back up to about 6% month-on-month.
This really is quite impressive and, I would imagine, is due to the fact that they are now starting to prevail in markets where they had previously been a smaller player: as Zuckerberg himself has said, they know a country has reached a tipping point in a new market when local-to-local connections start to outnumber local-to-foreign ones. I’m guessing they’re seeing quite a lot of this right now.
So, will Facebook really reach 1 billion users by next July? In truth no-one, including Facebook themselves, really knows. But what seems clear is that there’s no real danger of them shrinking anytime soon, meaning they can carry on with turning more of those users into ad dollars, perhaps by starting to open up beta-products to the 80% of their users outside of the US.
Facebook image by Gemma Bardsley on flickr