Facebook – The State Of The Nation

On 22 July, BBC News reported that online social networking giant Facebook had signed up it 500 millionth user, meaning that one in twelve people in the planet were now users of the site. Taken alone, that figure is impressive, but when considered alongside a number of others, the huge reach and growing influence of social media generally and Facebook specifically is not something which even the most casual observer or online skeptic can ignore, especially given that the site had “only” 150 million users in January 2009:

• 26 Million Britons use Facebook, with the average user having around 130 “Friends”

• The average Facebook user creates 90 pieces of content per month

• 30 Billion pieces of content (including links, news, blogs etc.) are shared between users each month

• More than 3 Billion images are uploaded to the site each month

• There are more than 60 Million Status Updates per day

• Collectively, users spend more than 700 billion minutes on Facebook every month

• If the membership of Facebook were a country, it would be the third biggest in the world

• In 2009, Facebook generated around £525 million, mostly from advertising revenue.

Where does the site go from here?

Founder Mark Zuckerberg has stated his ambition for the site to reach 750 million and eventually one billion users in a relatively short amount of time. Although the site will continue to grow into an even bigger commercial entity, it will still have to deal with a number of continuing problems.

In February 2010, the site was granted a US Patent over elements of its “News Feed” feature that allow users to participate in each others’ activity which may yet lead to it taking action against other Social Media sites and platforms which operate along the same lines, potentially including Twitter. Facebook and its founders are no strangers to Intellectual Property issues, having settled a claim brought by rival ConnectU and its owners after allegations as to the ownership of the site’s source code, concept and design in 2008 for a sum believed to be around $65 million, made up of damages and shares. That claim may not be over, as the value of those shares remains in dispute.

Zuckerberg himself faces another ongoing dispute with web designer Paul Ceglia, claiming that a 2003 contract between them granted Ceglia a 50% stake in the business arising from the expansion of the original site, which began life as an online “yearbook” for students at Harvard University. Although the claim may never make it to trial, Ceglia’s lawyers have already been able to obtain a court order to stop both Zuckerberg and the Site itself from transferring or selling any assets pending a future hearing.

Aside from these issues, Facebook has also enjoyed an at times contentious relationship with its users; being forced to change its Terms of Use in March 2009 after a public outcry over the site’s attempt to claim ownership or a licence to use any and all content created and posted on the site by its users as well as a public backlash over its approach to privacy in May this year following an initial refusal to install a “panic button” to protect vulnerable users.

David Cameron had his own run-in with the site after it refused to take down a “Tribute” Page to Raoul Moat in July this year, and the Prime Minister’s own attitude towards his officials engaging the public through social media channels is clear – social networking platforms and sites are banned in the majority of government departments.

Whatever the future may hold for the site, it is clearly here to stay and it would appear that the world will need to continue to change around the social media landscape as well as vice versa – brands in particular face a number of challenges around their use in the new environment. The voice of what is now notionally the third largest “virtual” country on the planet will only become more influential and affect how users and the commercial world interact with each other. We’ve only just begun to appreciate the legal, social and ethical issues raised through that interaction, which is now part of our everyday lives.

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