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Facebook and its Google-esque social dominance

FacebookNew figures reveal that Facebook gets almost 59 percent of US-based web traffic among the top social networks. And Facebook's dominance of social networking is so complete that those figures aren't even shocking.

Metrics firm Experian Hitwise recently released its social networking website traffic report for September 2009, measuring a total of 155 online destinations. While Hitwise comes to some unsurprising conclusions, like Facebook's prominence, the report does make some interesting suggestions. By the numbers, Facebook looks like it really is the Google of social networks, but MySpace may offer more activities, and Twitter is proving impossible to measure.

Social networking: the numbers

Hitwise put together a list of 155 social networks to measure US-based traffic among popular social networks. Facebook was first with 58.59 percent of American traffic; MySpace came in second with 30.26 percent; Tagged was a distant third with a dismal 2.38 percent; and Twitter and myYearbook rounded out the bottom five with 1.84 and 1.05 percent, respectively.

Among other numbers Hitwise produced, it was interesting to note that users spend the most time at MySpace for an average visit of 25 minutes and 56 seconds. The rest of the top five ended up in this order: Tagged (25:17), Facebook (23:00), myYearbook (18:07) and Twitter (15:52).

Can Facebook become a verb?

Facebook is on its way to becoming Google, at least in terms of the social network's popularity. I think we've all known for some time that Facebook is at the top of the pack when it comes to social networks, but Hitwise's numbers remind us of how far Facebook is ahead of its competitors. People weren't even talking about Facebook when News Corp. acquired MySpace in 2005, but how quickly times change. Now, Facebook looks set not only to be the leader, but the dominant social network in the United States. In fact, these numbers are looking more and more like a traffic listing for search engines.

ComScore's search rankings for August 2009 put Google at the top with 64.7 percent of US search traffic, followed by Yahoo at 19.3 percent and Microsoft at 8.9, with Ask and AOL bringing up the rear at less than 4 percent each.

By the numbers, MySpace is a more viable number two to Facebook than Yahoo is to Google; however, that could all change if Microsoft and Yahoo get regulatory approval for their search technology merger. At that point, the rankings would look something like this: Google, 65 percent; Yahoo-Microsoft, 28.2 percent; and then a huge drop to the bottom-feeding Ask and AOL. Facebook isn't in Google Land yet, but Facebook's growth for September 2009 was 194 percent over September 2008, according to Hitwise. If Facebook keeps growing like that, MySpace might have to pull a Microsoft and team up with Tagged or Google's Orkut to stay competitive.

MySpacers have more fun

But all is not lost for MySpace, as its user base seems to be spending more time just hanging out online. Maybe it's the recently added MySpace Mail or its experimentation with Internet TV or all those big-name promotions that always take up the landing screen. Whatever it is, most MySpacers are spending almost three minutes more online than Facebook types are.

What's up with Twitter?

Hitwise's study also shows, as I've said before, that measuring Twitter is a problem for metrics firms. The fact is, many people are not using the service through its Website, which is what Hitwise measures, but through a third-party Twitter client, smartphone application, or text messaging.

I'm sure you could argue that all social networking traffic would spike if you included Twitter-style text messaging updates or visits from smartphone applications. However, unlike the other networks, Twitter's dominant interface is not Twitter.com, so measuring its overall popularity by Website visits is not a fair comparison. Instead, it would be better to count all unique visitors on a daily basis from third-party Twitter clients and text messaging, as well as Twitter's own website.

In fact, maybe it's time to throw out the concept of measuring only website traffic, and add hits from mobile devices and applications as well. It's a fragmented technological world out there, so why shouldn't our metrics reports reflect that? Besides, Tagged in third place? Are you kidding me? I simply have a hard time believing that Tagged would beat out Twitter in terms of popularity.

See also:

10 Facebook & Twitter privacy faux pas

The 10 worst Facebook apps

Facebook wins $200m investment

Facebook Lite: Why you'll love it

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