July 06, 2011

Billions of Awesome Pieces of Content Served Daily?

Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook CEO, and Barack Obama, USA's interim CEO, dueled for attention this morning in what turned out to be an intriguing one-two punch on the state of social globally and then then the state of the nation broadly. Zuckerberg promised us something "Awesome", while Obama dueled with opposing party leaders claiming he didn't keep his own promises. Not bad considering both were completed before noon Pacific.

Zuckerberg, possibly feeling a little defensive after a week-plus of early adopters fawning over Google+, possibly the biggest and most direct alternative to Facebook since the network started, focused primarily on the introduction of group chat, anticipated since the Beluga acquisition earlier this year, and the integration of video calling, powered by Skype, also expected. While that particular awesomeness could be debated, more important was the company's shift away from measuring raw user counts - which is mind-boggling at 750 million active accounts, far and away the leader, but pushing more attention on the amount of content shared on the network. Zuckerberg said that number, growing exponentially, ahead of user growth, is now at 4 billion unique items per day.

4 billion. Per day. Just on Facebook.

We know people don't share equally, with a nice 5 or so shares per registered user per day, but as Zuckerberg highlighted, there are more and more ways to update your Facebook stream. It may have started simple, with your interests, but now all manner of application and service can post to your feed, whether you're there or not. You can check in, or tweet in, or upload your photos, or have your blog posted there, and yes, still add status updates, comments, likes and so on. No wonder more updates are happening per person and this number is growing.

Exponential Content Growth on Facebook (Image via TechCrunch stream)

Selfishly speaking, this is why I've highlighted my6sense and teamed up with them for the past year. Zuckerberg highlighted the growth in mobile and the growth in content being shared per person leading to this incredible tsunami of data that shows no sign of decreasing. What this presents to us is, unsurprisingly, a question of quality. Facebook is for many a necessary utility to connect people and act as an online Rolodex. It's a service our parents understand and our little sisters too. Maybe our grandparents and assorted relatives are there too. I know mine are, and I've had to hide a lot of their stuff, trust me.

When Google+ launched, I gave the team kudos for not immediately jumping on the aggregation bandwagon. It is this aggregation and the introduction of so many different ways to update Facebook that has helped power the content numbers, and theoretically decreased your ability to find the best stuff. Google+ is addicting for many of the first users who know that the content was created and shared with them in mind. For Facebook, while they want more than anything to keep you on their site and to keep you engaged, which is working very well, there's a question, especially among the bleeding-edge geeks, as to whether they are spending real time on the network and contributing directly.

Think about two other things Zuckerberg said today. One was that many (he almost said most) people do not make friend requests, but react to them in a passive way. That's been my case as well. Second, he said that groups work when everybody knows who is in the group, typically started by one person who is the ringleader of sorts. This tells me that people, counted in those 750 million users helping post 4 billion items a day, are possibly sleepwalking through the network. They're not working to expand their contact list or to create groups, but reacting to others. This is happening because they're tapped out. They're tapped out on time and on interest. They probably don't want more friends, more connections, more groups because they're already at the point where they're full, and they're often full on the junk food equivalent of content.

Creating new features for 750 million people at once and making it simple enough for your grandparents to use is incredibly difficult, and Facebook made it look pretty simple today in their demos. While not the most advanced, as early comparisons to Google Talk and Google+ pointed out, the goal was simple and successful. Group chat, if it's anything like Beluga, should be a sure win as well. But I continue to worry about the site's ability (and others like it) to accurately discern what the most interesting and relevant updates are for me. They know, just like I've said for a long time, that the amount of content being created and shared is increasing, and is at all time highs. Now, they've delivered to us a number - a new metric to watch, because it's only going to get a lot busier from here.

Billions and billions and billions of pieces of content. Every day. And that's just on one network - a huge one yes, but just one. Impressive.

Disclosure: I am vice president of marketing at my6sense, a Paladin client. Our service supports Facebook streams for relevance.