Social networking site Facebook has overtaken Google (GOOG) search-engine to become the most visited Web site in the United States. Facebook first edged Google out of the top spot in March. More recently, for the week ended June 19, 2010, the social networking site accounted for 8.86% of U.S. Web traffic, compared to Google’s 7.25%. Yahoo! (YHOO) placed a distant third, with 3.78% of Web traffic. This measure excludes other Google-owned sites, such as Google Maps and YouTube.
Google had previously been the number one site since September of 2007, when it passed another social networking site, MySpace.com (owned by News Corporation (NWS)), to take the top spot. However, Facebook had been gaining ground for a while, and was the most visited site during the Christmas and New Year’s holidays.
Facebook’s rise to power makes a lot of sense given the considerable popularity of social networking Web sites in recent years. Despite such an abundance of information accessible via the Internet, it should come as little surprise that many users are most interested in the same subject: themselves and their own social lives. Social networking sites provide a convenient way to stay in contact with family, friends, and acquaintances. They enhance, rather than replace, a user’s social life, allowing him or her to interact in a meaningful way with family and friends, and to meet new people, as well. MySpace.com dominated this scene for several years before ultimately being eclipsed by Facebook.
It is important to understand, however, the limitations of a comparison between Google and Facebook. The two Web sites are used for much different purposes. Google often serves as a launching pad for Internet use. Facebook is more of a destination. As a social networking Web site, it is somewhat more narrowly focused. Google, along with its owned sites, serves a wide variety of needs and interests. At the present time, Google is by far the dominant player among search engines, with no close second. It ought to remain very relevant, regardless of what happens within the social networking arena.
Nevertheless, the importance of social networking should not be understated. With Facebook’s dramatic growth rates in recent years, it has penetrated a large segment of the population, which has allowed it to evolve into a communications platform. Google has clearly recognized the importance of this medium, and has launched a social networking and messaging tool of its own, Google Buzz, in February of 2010. Google Buzz has been integrated into the company’s popular email program, Gmail. Buzz may lack the innovative features necessary to gain an edge over other popular social networking sites, though it should benefit from Gmail’s broad user base, as this service allows users to easily create a network from their existing email contacts.
Facebook should continue to gain ground going forward, and will likely remain widely popular for the foreseeable future. Nevertheless, its continued dominance may depend on its ability to remain relevant on the social networking scene. The dynamic nature of the Internet and the social networking space, in particular, ought to ensure that the competitive landscape will look considerably different in just a few short years from now. Facebook’s ability to adapt will likely be tested.