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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Facebook’s Zuckerberg: Privacy No Longer a “Social Norm”

Really?!

In an interview with TechCrunch founder Michael Arrington, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg said that he had done an “about face” on privacy and argued that it is no longer a “social norm”. The 25-year-old Facebook entrepreneur was speaking at TechCrunch’s ‘Crunchie’ awards in San Francisco over the weekend.

Zuckerberg’s privacy stance dovetails with the recent dubious changes to Facebook’s privacy settings, which made more personal information public and reduced users’ control over their personal data. (The Electronic Privacy Information Center asked the Federal Trade Commission to look into the changes Facebook made to the privacy settings and to force Facebook to restore its old privacy protections.)

Claiming that online users have adapted to sharing information online via blogs and other social media, Zuckerberg said that “if he had created Facebook today, as opposed to several years ago, he would have made user information public, not private, by default as it was for years until the company changed dramatically in December,” ReadWriteWeb reports.

Here’s the portion of the interview in which he discusses his views on privacy, transcribed by ReadWriteWeb. In response to the question, “Where is privacy on the Web going?”, Zuckerberg says:

“When I got started in my dorm room at Harvard, the question a lot of people asked was ‘why would I want to put any information on the Internet at all? Why would I want to have a website?’

“And then in the last 5 or 6 years, blogging has taken off in a huge way and all these different services that have people sharing all this information. People have really gotten comfortable not only sharing more information and different kinds, but more openly and with more people. That social norm is just something that has evolved over time.

“We view it as our role in the system to constantly be innovating and be updating what our system is to reflect what the current social norms are.

“A lot of companies would be trapped by the conventions and their legacies of what they’ve built, doing a privacy change – doing a privacy change for 350 million users is not the kind of thing that a lot of companies would do. But we viewed that as a really important thing, to always keep a beginner’s mind and what would we do if we were starting the company now and we decided that these would be the social norms now and we just went for it.”

Watch TechCrunch founder Michael Arrington’s six-minute interview with Zuckerberg in the video below, and read more in ReadWriteWeb’s excellent piece on the implications of Zuckerberg’s position on privacy on ReadWriteWeb — the quote about privacy is from 3:00 to 4:00.

Is Zuckerberg right about changing attitudes toward online privacy? Do you expect a degree of privacy on social networks? Do you think becoming more public will help or hurt Facebook?


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Facebook CEO Bares All, Embraces New Privacy Settings

While privacy gurus, security firms, and users try to decipher the implications of Facebook’s new privacy settings, at least one person is embracing them: Facebook Founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

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Zuckerberg, who is usually extremely private, has opened up his profile so that anyone can see his wall, events, and photos. And what’s in the CEO’s profile? His photo album is pretty benign; Valleywag has posted their favorite images. It appears that he’s a fan of the Killers, The West Wing, and Taylor Swift. And his wall shows he actively uses Facebook’s “like” and commenting features.

Nothing has the potential to irritate the legions of Facebook users quite like a mammoth site update. Facebook says the new privacy settings make it easier to control the information users share (even though it’s really about increasing traffic and visibility). The reaction to the privacy changes was mixed. Zuckerberg’s blog post got the thumbs up from over 48,000 users, and the comments section of the Facebook blog was loaded with praise for the new rules. But there was also a lot of complaining and a brewing backlash. Instead of being thankful for having more control, most users are just confused by the changes. Those who aren’t confused are angry — or an unfortunate combination of both confused and angry.

(Remember when Facebook rolled out a minor redesign of its status feed in October? Lots of Facebook users were pretty angry then, too.)

TrueSlant’s report suggests that Zuckerberg doesn’t understand the new settings, which is highly unlikely. It’s more plausible that he’s trying to show everyone else that there’s no harm in opening up. He would certainly look hypocritical if he kept his profile limited to his friends. So opening up his profile was a smart, premeditated move — he’s leading by example. But it’s not likely to sway Facebook users who are skeptical that openness is in their best interests.

Have you adjusted your privacy settings? Do you think Zuckerberg’s move will convince Facebook users to open up? Please leave a comment!

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