Facebook Leads The Social Network Pack

In an unsurprising report released by Experien Hitwise, a metrics firm, the most popular social network in the United States is Facebook.  The network, created by Mark Zuckerberg, garnered a landslide statistic of fifty-nine percent of American social-network traffic.  The September ’09 report, which tracked and measured Web traffic from 155 total online destinations, posed some interesting ideas, though the information it revealed was not unexpected.

Hitwise’s report presents evidence that Facebook is evolving into the Google of the social-network family.  Myspace, by comparison, seems to have more activities available to its users, and Twitter is – again, not surprisingly – seemingly impossible to measure accurately.

Statistics

Facebook headed a list of 155 social networks that Hitwise assembled, in an attempt to compare the hit traffic from United States computers for the most-traveled social networks.  59.59 percent of all American social network traffic went to Facebook, with Myspace’s 30.26 percent running a distant second and Tagge a remote show position with 2.38 percent.  The top five were completed by Twitter, with 1.84 percent, and myYearbook with 1.05.

The rankings amount of time spent per visit at each of the social networks, interestingly, did not match the popularity rankings.  First place went to MySpace, with visits averaging at nearly 26 minutes.  Tagged was second at 25 minutes 17 seconds, with the most-popular Facebook at an even 23 minutes.  Again, myYearbook and Twitter round out the top five, with 18 minutes seven seconds and 15 minutes 52 seconds, respectively.

Just like Google

In terms of popularity alone, Facebook is beginning to resemble Google.  The Hitwise survey really drives home the extent to which Facebook has come to dominate the competition among social networks.  It seems difficult to believe the relative invisibility of the network in 2005, when MySpace was acquired by News Corp.  Today, it is clearly the dominant network in the United States, with usership continuing to increase almost exponentially.

Comparing the social network statistics to those of the popular search engines, there are some interesting things to note.  The gap between Google’s 64.7 percent of search traffic in the United States and Yahoo’s 19.3 percent is wider than the gap between Facebook and MySpace.  (Microsoft Search holds third place with 8.9 percent, and the top five are completed with Ask.com and AOL Search with less than 8 percent between them.)

That Google/Yahoo gap could narrow considerably, however, if Yahoo and Microsoft are able to merge their search technology, a proposal which is up for regulatory approval.  If that happens, the combined numbers of Yahoo and Microsoft would account for approximately 28.2 percent of search traffic, compared to Google’s 65, with Ask and AOL still holding the miniscule numbers at the bottom of the pack.

There is currently a statistical similarity between Facebook/MySpace and Google/Yahoo, though far from being a match between the two comparisons.  Facebook may be on its way, however, as its growth rate as measured by Hitwise in September of this year beat last September’s growth by nearly 200 percent.  With that rate of expansion, MySpace may want to imitate Yahoo and seek to team up with Tagged or another viable network if it wants to keep a competitive edge.

Party at MySpace

When it comes to just spending casual time online and having fun, however, MySpace takes the blue ribbon.  There could be many reasons for this, most notably the big ticket movie and music promotions that occupy the landing page.  The new MySpace Mail could also be a factor, as well as MySpace’s forays into Internet TV.  These combined factors may account for the visit time that Myspace sees over what Facebook users spend – nearly 3 minutes more for MySpace.

The Twitter Dilemma

The Hitwise study readily admits that metrics firms cannot accurately measure Twitter’s statistics at this time.  Hitwise measures the traffic that social networks get through the direct website, which a large number of Tweeters do not use.  Much of Twitter’s traffic comes through smartphone apps, texts, and third-party Twitter clients.

Twitter proves that measuring a social network’s popularity by Web traffic alone will not provide accurate results.  If the third-party and mobile Twitter hits were measured along with the traffic on Twitter’s site, the readings would spike dramatically and one may expect to see dramatically different results.  And while Twitter is the only network whose primary interface is not the Web site, other networks are catching on.  Facebook Mobile is also gaining speed, and will continue to do so with an upcoming Flash smartphone plug-in that will enable many heretofore unusable Facebook games and applications.

It would pay, therefore, to count not just Web traffic to each social network, but all unique visitors from all sources, including texting and third-party, for Twitter and its competition.  Metrics reporters are under an increasing obligation to respect and measure all means of accessing each network to ascertain reliable results.  It seems clear, for instance, that a truly accurate survey would not show the pop-culture icon Twitter with lesser popularity than the also-ran network Tagged.

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