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Comscore: Social Networking is the #1 Most Popular Online Activity Worldwide

Wow, that didn't take long. Facebook is only a few years old, as are most social networks, and yet 20% of all time spent worldwide online is now spend on social networking sites.

Comscore has released a PDF report called "It's a Social World." You can download it here, if you are willing to register to get it: http://bit.ly/s7hjsO

According to the report, social networks account for 1 of every 5 minutes spent online, and Facebook dominates the category and accounts for 1 of every 7 minutes spent online in the entire world. 55% of the world's internet users are now on Facebook.

That domination is impressive. It's mind-boggling, in fact. According to Comscore, "the importance of Facebook cannot be overstated." But will Facebook remain the only major social network in the world, or will Google+ actually become competitive with Facebook in the coming years?

I expect that Facebook will reach a billion active users next year, but with somewhat slowing growth. (I first predicted Facebook would someday reach a billion users back in May 2007 the day that Facebook launched Platform: http://bit.ly/pS2Ag3). The company seems to be emphasizing how much content people share on Facebook more than its user growth numbers.

Today, I'll predict officially that Google+ will also reach a billion users. Here's why:

I'm currently tracking about 500,000 new users daily on Google+ in December, which is about twice what it was in November. The trending is definitely up sharply. The growth is between 5-6% weekly. In addition, this week Google announced that 700,000 new Android phones are being activated daily, up from 550,000 last quarter. As more Android phones come out next year that are based on Android 4, Google+ will benefit because of a nice integration and a sweet sign up flow for new users.

Given the current trajectory of Google+, the boost next year from Android 4, and the ongoing Google+ integrations with other Google properties, I am convinced that in the next few months Google+ will be adding 1 million new daily users. At that rate, it will take less than 3 years for Google+ to reach a billion users. If the rate of growth increases further, which I fully expect, then it could happen in 2 years or less.

Google+ will likely achieve the 1 million new users per day milestone at about the same time that Facebook goes public and starts reporting it's numbers. (Reportedly Facebook is doing practice earnings phone calls in anticipating of the real thing.) So we should have more visibility into Facebook's growth and usage next year.

Based on Comscore's analysis, Facebook currently garners about 14-15% of all online hours spent in the entire world. That could easily grow to 20%.

It will be interesting to see if Google+ can eventually achieve that kind of usage as well.

Google is famous for it's employee "20% time," where employees get to spend 20% of their time working on projects of their choosing. It will be interesting to see if "20% time" will ever take on a new meaning at Google when it applies to everyone in the world spending 20% of their online/mobile time on Google properties. That may not be too far away.

I think +Larry Page was brilliant to tie all Google employee bonuses in 2011 to the success of Google+. Remember, at the beginning of the year, the conventional wisdom was that Google didn't get social and that Facebook posed by far the biggest threat to the future success of Google.

Now, Google+ has close to 60 million users (that's my number; Comscore reports 65 million global visitors) and is adding more than 500,000 new users per day, and at an increasing rate. Google+ has a chance to catch Facebook in terms of total minutes spent online.

Perhaps the 2012 bonus plan should be tied to minutes spent on Google+. Facebook still poses the #1 biggest threat to Google overall, and Google+ still offers the biggest opportunity for Google to become competitive in the time spent on site metric.

While the media buzz around Facebook vs. Google+ has subsided a bit in the past couple of months, I expect that it will come back with a vengeance in early 2012 as Facebook actually files for its IPO. Whether Facebook achieves a valuation north of $100 billion or not will depend both on its own revenue and usage numbers as well as the competitive landscape in social networking, which means primarily Google+. It will be fascinating to watch this play out next year.
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