As 2010 draws to a close, it looks like facebook has had another fantastic year. Whilst there is still a week or so to go until the end of 2010, it's looking like they will finish the year with approximately 575 million registered users.
The above graph shows the number of year-end registrations, per year, since the debut in 2003. The growth looks pretty exponential up to 2009, but it looks like the rate of change of growth has slowed in 2010. Don't get me wrong, they've added approx 225 million registered users this year (cf. 250 million last year), which is phenomenal … but what we are seeing is the effects of saturation; there are only so many warm bodies on the planet!
At 575 million registrations, facebook is close to having 30% of the the internet-connected-world with accounts (There are an estimated 2 billion people on the planet who have internet access), but facebook is strongly biased towards the English speaking world, and there are becoming fewer and fewer English speaking people who do not have facebook accounts.
For facebook to continue growing at their current pace they are going to have to have to expand rapidly into the regions where they are currently only skimming the surface; those with non-Western based characters. This will be a challenge for them as there are already some pretty well entrenched players in these markets.
It's not just about having a translated product (one that can be read in the native language of the user), it's not just about having a localised product (one that has features specific to the culture/region of that local user), it's the challenge of making a prevalent product.
(Successful) Social Networks work because of the mesh of interconnections and interactions between the members. If I asked you to leave facebook tomorrow and join a new social network you'd think I was crazy. Sure, you could easily create a new account, but that account would be no 'fun' unless all your other friends migrated over too. Unless you could persuade all your friends and family to transfer over (and they'd not want to do it without their friends …) at best you're going to be stuck updating two feeds, and I don't know about you, but keeping up with facebook is enough for me. Let's face it, facebook has us vested users handcuffed. It's not a Monopoly functionality wise, there are plenty of other social networks to join with equivalent features, it's connection domination.
So, returning back to facebook, they've got a serious challenge ahead. They've dominated the Western world, but now they have to challenge the likes of China who have 200+ million users on QQ, or the slavic countries who are served by vkontakte (with approx 100 million users), mail.ru (similar size), and odnoklassniki (60 million).
There are plenty of other players too that many of you many not of even heard of (in no particular order): Habbo, Bebo, Orkut, Friendster, hi5, Badoo, Netlog, Viadeo, Mixi, Cyworld, StudiVZ, renren, BlackPlanet …
It's either going to be a slow uphill battle won by facebook as, inch-by-inch, they crawl their way into these new markets … each day increasing their market share a fraction of a percentage point until that magical day they reach a self-sustaining tipping point where their mass is critical enough that people are migrating over on their own to join friends already established on the network …
… or …
… it's going be a very interesting year ahead for either partnerhsips between facebook and these other networks, or (more likely) some very expensive acquisitions.
Happy holidays to all!