Facebook reaches 200m users

LONDON - Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg confirmed yesterday that the social networking site has attracted 200m global users, growing by 50m in 2009 alone and doubling the number of unique monthly visitors achieved by its main rival MySpace.

In a blog post titled '200 Million Strong', Zuckerberg confirmed that Facebook continues to attract a large number of users, despite recent qualms over the website redesign and user privacy.

In January, Zuckerberg announced that Facebook had amassed 150m users, which grew to 175m in February. The figures show that in 2009 more than 500,000 people have signed up for Facebook everyday.

Data showed that more than one in four people with internet access visited Facebook in February.

In April last year, Facebook levelled with MySpace in terms of users. Since then MySpace has languished, posting a 2% drop in February with nominal growth in March.

However despite Facebook's successes, questions remain over its ability to tap into a sustainable revenue stream - as the number of users continue to grow, so do operational costs.

In a recent financial report, Facebook expected revenues to grow by 70% in 2009 and said it would be profitable in 2010.

Facebook generally attracts revenue through targeted display advertising and has also welcomed market researchers using its database as a source for collecting demographical statistics.

Facebook recently parted with its chief financial officer Gideon Yu, which analysts indicated was a sign the social network was preparing to float on the stock market.

A recent website redesign, which raised the ire of millions of Facebook users, could play a key role in attracting more advertising revenue.

Last month Facebook rejigged its homepage to resemble rival website Twitter, with a "stream" of regularly updated friend information, which caused a furore among users.

Despite the uproar, the redesign remains and, according to a blog written by Facebook chief operational officer Sheryl Sandberg yesterday, the facelift provides an good opportunity for advertisers.

Sandberg said on average Facebook users have 120 friends, which can be split up into three different groups: reciprocal, direct and active.

Reciprocal friends engage in two-way conversation and only account for about five of the average user's 120 friends.

Direct communications is generally one way and doesn't always get a response, but accounts for more friends, on average about nine.

The last group of active communicators represent a potential advertising opportunity. Active communication, which is achieved by the "streaming" Facebook redesign, where information is shared with a larger number of friends, allows targeted ads to be screened to users.

With MySpace eclipsed, Facebook's main competition may now come from Twitter. The network has fewer users, last confirmed at around 7m, but has been attracting more attention in the media and among online opinion formers.

Furthermore Twitter, which has also been criticised for its lack of business model, has been attracting the attention advertisers. It was revealed yesterday that a number of major media brands, include Virgin and Universal, were planning to launch Twitter-specific campaigns with the help of a new consultancy group, Twitter Partners.

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