Facebook: targeting 60m users by the end of 2007

Facebook: targeting 60m users by the end of 2007

After months of rocketing traffic
and climactic media coverage, Facebook is about to open its London
office, bring a UK PR team on board and begin its European offensive in
earnest. It’s a little bit of Silicon Valley gloss in Soho Square…
should we start calling it Valley-Ho?

Jemima Kiss
September 11, 2007 7:30 AM

After months of rocketing
traffic and climactic media coverage, Facebook is about to open its
London office, bring a UK PR team on board and begin its European
offensive in earnest. It’s a little bit of Silicon Valley gloss in Soho
Square… should we start calling it Valley-Ho?

I was well
and truly briefed yesterday in the deluxe surroundings of the Soho
Hotel, and sent away with a basket of juicy Facebook stats. Not least,
the UK now has 5.2m Facebook users each month, and is the third biggest
Facebook market worldwide.

The company has revised its audience target from 40m to 60m unique
users each month by the end of 2007 – reflecting at least 3% growth
each week and 200,000 new users every day.

The revenue power

Facebook’s page views, claimed chief revenue officer Owen Van Natta,
have reached 60bn a month. And this is a pay-per-view advertising model.

The page use per user is pretty dense at around 50 pages per user
per day, but the site is trying to include more information on fewer
pages.

Facebook’s real power as an advertising platform, of course, is in
the goldmine of personal data that the site holds about us all. As much
as Google has that lucrative 18 months of data on all our searches,
email and lord knows what else, Facebook has the potential to similarly
ramp up its advertising to target only the most relevant users for each
brand.

"Advertising usually means banners and button, or search," said
Chamath Palihapitiya, vice president of product marketing and
operations.

"We honestly believe if we make advertising more compelling and more
socially relevant, we can have significantly less but have it being
more valuable. We have an incredible number of page views and could
become the most high traffic site in the world. The thing is not to
have as many ads as possible but to make them as essential and
necessary as possible. And then it is not viewed as advertising, but as
content."

Facebook is not a social networking site
When the site started in the US it was limited to college students,
hence the demographics of its users being slightly younger in the US.
Elsewhere, including the UK, the typical user is over 25 and that is
also the age group showing the fastest growth. Why is that?

"We don’t single out a particular group or vertical as more
important – we want to create as much diversity as possible. We have to
be impartial so that 1000 flowers can bloom. There’s a strength in
letting people choose for themselves."

The difference between Facebook and others social networking sites,
they told me, is that Facebook isn’t a social networking site. Despite
that perception among users, the Facebookers insisted that the site is
simply a utility, a communications tool, and a social graph that maps
the real world actions of its users.

The privacy issue
A little too much has been made of the new Public Search Listing tool, said the Facebookers.

In short, in a few weeks’ time, a summary of user profiles will be
made available to search engines, though only those who made their
profiles discoverable. So if your privacy is turned up to eleven, and
no-one can find you on Facebook.com, no-one will be able to find you on
Google either.

If you do want to be found, your stalkers will only get a thumbnail
picture, your name and four links to message or befriend you. I read
this change as a move to expand the Facebook user base, but with an
appropriate balance between that expansion and the privacy of users.

Four of our five users have more than one application
The key differentiator for Facebook so far has been the applications
platform, where external developers have access to key sections of code
so that they can build their own plug-ins for Facebook. There are 3,000
such applications on offer, from a Flickr photo plug in to "adopt a
local dog". (I’m guilty of that last one, I confess.)

At least 80% of users have tried at least one application – an
indication of how powerful the platform has been in taking the widget
phenomenon to the mainstream. Users don’t need to know these are
widgets, or even how they work.

This is all extremely cunning of Facebook, who are trying to build
the web within the web. It’s the equivalent of a lens of your social
circle through which a person uses and views the web, as chief revenue
officer Owen Van Natta explained.

Why go to Flickr, Hotmail and YouTube when you can view all that content within Facebook?

Palihapitiya told me that Facebook’s traffic nearly doubles that of
traffic to four big photo-sharing sites combined: Flickr, Photobucket,
Shutterfly and Webshots. Similarly with events, Facebook is 2.5 times
bigger than Evite.

We strive to be like Google
The Facebookers see themselves as lowering the access barriers to tech
entrepreneurs and developers, enabling all of them – whether a major
corporation or a pair of student developers in India – to build on the
Facebook applications platform.

"We strive to be like Google, like that kind of technology company," said Palihapitiya.

"We make a product and a utility to be as simple as possible for
consumers. And for developers, we can short cut what has taken years on
the open web by offering growth and engagement out of the box."

The Facebookers are adamant that this is a technology company, not a
media company – and perhaps that is key to their success. There’s an
implied serendipity in Facebook’s business plan, that the pull of the
most applications and functions within the site will dictate how the
business develops – to be, as they explain, "functionally useful rather
than media focused".

That is precisely the kind of strategy that strikes terror into the
hearts of power-crazed media executives, many of them still clinging to
their frigid old media world. Even when they do open up a little, it
always feels like a bolt-on. Will the gap between technology companies
and old world media ever be bridged? I’m wondering if the new movers
are just filling that void already. It’s a whole new way of thinking.

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