Facebook reach set to surpass Google within 18 months?

Jacques Mattheij has been drawing graphs and today predicts that Facebook’s worldwide reach will overtake Google sometime in the next 9 to 18 months. Facebook’s spectacular growth has been widely publicised with active users now above 500 million worldwide, 50% of whom log on to Facebook on any given day. That all adds up to in excess of 700 billion minutes spent on Facebook every month, a staggering amount of time.

But can Facebook’s growth continue at the current rate? For this to happen two dynamics have to work together:

  1. Facebook has to continue to entice new users to its service at or above the current rate. While the user base in mature markets like the USA and UK is starting to plateau, there’s still plenty of geographical expansion for Facebook to chase. With the site currently available in just 70 languages, there are still millions of users who have yet to have the opportunity to use Facebook. Plus there’s still the late majority in many countries who may have resisted joining until now but find the pull of the network effect too strong to resist.
  2. Facebook has to hold onto its current users and, crucially, keep them active on the site. This is probably Facebook’s toughest challenge. There’s never been more choice with major competitors like Google, Apple and Microsoft finally getting their acts together. After its early pioneering innovation, many of Facebook’s recent enhancements have mimicked features built by other services. Can Facebook continue to innovate at the speed needed to keep competitors at bay? Is their service and the power of their vast network sticky enough to keep users active?

But the battle between Facebook and Google to be the world’s biggest web service will also hinge on Google’s ability to hold onto its current user base. Similar to Facebook, Google faces more competition than ever before from the Bing/Yahoo! alliance, as well as changing search behaviour which sees a growing number of users searching through other services like Twitter and Facebook. It’s far from certain that Google’s own traffic will remain at current levels; rapid and game-changing innovation may be needed to stem the flow of traffic to other search services.

Jacques’ right. It seems almost inevitable that Facebook will soon attract a bigger reach than Google. The only uncertainty is when. Your best guesses in the comments field please…

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