It's easy to get numbed by the traffic stats for Facebook: more than 400 million users, the average user spends 55 minutes a day on the site, 3 billion photo uploads per month. At some point the stratospheric numbers just start to run together. Maybe that's why seeing a new metric in visual form, via this chart from Hitwise, stopped me in my tracks:
The headline around the Web was that, for the first time, Facebook had eclipsed Google as the most-visited site in the U.S. for a full week. Previously, Facebook had hit No. 1 on a few big holidays, like Christmas and New Year's Day. That makes sense—everyone is home and uploading photos from that digital camera Santa left under the tree, or furiously untagging photos from the night before (respectively). But for the week ending March 13, the biggest holiday I could find was Registered Dietitian Day. It's clear from the chart above that Facebook's days of needing major events to eke past Google are over.
This isn't the story of Google performing badly. According to Hitwise, the search giant's numbers are up 9 percent as compared with the same week in 2009. It's just that Facebook's numbers are up . This doesn't look like a Hitwise anomaly; data from Compete.com indicates the same trend, although a little less starkly.
You have to wonder if some of Google's innovations aren't hurting it in contests like these. Internet users who have switched to Google's Chrome or any other modern browser can search right from the address bar, bypassing a visit. It's so easy to find stuff and get directions on Google's mobile offerings, like the Maps app on the iPhone, that you can leave the house without going through google.com first.
But that's obviously not the full story. As Facebook continues its bloblike expansion from colleges to high school to parents to the entire world, an accelerating number of people are falling under its spell of status updates, photo tagging, and gaming apps. And while Facebook has no other social network to seriously contend with, Google will have to fend off the surprisingly tenacious Bing.
Traffic isn't everything. Thanks to the breadth of its offerings—search, advertising, maps, news, YouTube, Web apps, and so much more—Google remains the most powerful force on the Web, even if Facebook technically racks up more visits or page views. And Google is doing crazy-ambitious stuff like experimenting with gigabit Internet service, while Facebook is still figuring out its ad targeting. But the point remains: with the vertigo-inducing effect of the chart above and Google's clumsy foray onto Facebook's social-networking turf, Google's gotta be worried.