The Facebook Juggernaut: Exponential Growth + World’s Leading News Reader?

Facebook celebrated its sixth birthday on February 4th and announced that it now has over 400 million members. That’s quite an accomplishment — just a year ago, the social media giant had 150 million users.

Noting this milestone in a blog post, founder Mark Zuckerberg said:

We’ve made great progress over the last year towards making the world more open and connected.

If Facebook was a country, it would soon have the largest population in the world. At 400 million active users and counting, only China and India have more inhabitants:

Look again at that last number… That’s more than half a billion estimated users. Given Facebook’s exponential growth rate, it probably won’t be too long before the network reaches this milestone.

And Facebook could be a major disrupter in realm of news and media

An interesting post on ReadWriteWeb suggests that Facebook could become the world’s leading news reader and contends that, with a few tweaks, it could be a major player in the distribution of news content. (An update indicates that ReadWriteWeb has hard numbers confirming that Facebook is already the largest news reader on the Web.) A recent article on the Facebook blog encouraged members to set up a news feed on Facebook.

According to recent data from Hitwise, Facebook has eclipsed Google News to become the fourth-largest news distributor on the Web:

Facebook already drives 2.5 times as much traffic to other news and media destinations  (3.5%) as Google News (1.4%). Here’s an illustration of the increase over the past year in visits from Facebook to news and media Web sites relative to Google News:

A blog post at The Atlantic discusses how Facebook is becoming the real news portal for the world these days and notes that it’s not a surprise:

But the emergence of Facebook as a real driver of news stories tells us something important about how news works. Getting our news from our friends is nothing new. It’s as old as the concept of neighborhood gossip. But if Hitwise analytics are capturing a true trend in media, and the share of Facebook outbound links really doubled in the last six months, it paints the picture of an increasingly nichefied world of news readers. Friends are reading what their friends are reading, who are reading what their friends are reading, and so on. It presages the deterioration of top-down news, and the rise of news-reading groups whose news sources and opinions become a centripetal, self-perpetuated cycle of information — or disinformation.

The majority of traffic to news sites still comes from Google, Yahoo, and MSN, but Facebook is definitely a player to watch.

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