For the week ending March 13, 2010, and for the first time in its spectacular ascendancy, Facebook became the most visited site on the Internet. Already, analysts and experts are hailing this as a momentous event, one that validates the power of social networking in the rapidly evolving universe of the World Wide Web. There’s just one problem: the premise is simply false.
Dusting off the history of the recent past, almost exactly two-and-a-half-years ago, Google passed MySpace to become the most visited site on the Internet – and has held that position until last week. Yes, that’s right: MySpace, the once-meteoric and now-languishing social network that went from Internet sensation to, in the eyes of marketers, the social network for less affluent and educated demographics, fairly recently held the lofty moniker “most visited site.” So this symbolic achievement of Facebook harkens less to any real milestone moment in the history of social networking on the Internet, and more to the hyperbolic crowning of a flavor of the month.
Don’t get me wrong: Facebook is on an upward trajectory that will continue going up long before it starts to go down again. Yet the claim that this reflects the ascension of social networking is ignoring an entire decade of growth and change, at least some of which preceded Facebook even being an apple in the eye of Mark Zuckerberg and his intrepid founder/friends.
There is a more interesting and ultimately powerful observation to take from the “Facebook is #1” story: namely, the media and mainstream thought leadership have not yet caught on to the fact that power and influence on the Internet has officially graduated beyond one’s .com domain. In reality, Google has far, far more visitors than Facebook: they have google.com and gmail.com and dozens of other properties that are not counted toward these specious rankings of “most visited.” Indeed, once accounting for other properties beyond the core .com even the battered, beaten, venerable warhorse Yahoo! has significantly more visitors than Facebook.
More people visit Yahoo! than Facebook? Still? Really? Indeed.
The other important thing to take from this analysis is the reality that the address bar simply doesn’t matter much anymore. Google, for example, already has their own equivalent in the form of—in most browsers—the always-ready search bar. Each time a user clicks into it, types in a term and pushes enter, they are getting sucked back into Google. For Facebook, each time a status update email is sent out, they are sucking users back into Facebook. Any real analysis of “Who’s #1 on the Internet?” needs to account for these things, and not limit itself to those times when we visit the site itself directly through a browser: how much more loyal am I to Facebook because of the status updates I see and read but never click? How much more do I rely on ESPN because of the multitude of real-time updates they push to my iPhone?
Defining online success is so much more than traffic to a dot.com address. I have to wonder when the media and experts will start to catch up and appreciate the rich tapestry of entry and touchpoints that lead to profits, loyalty and success through and on the Internet.