Facebook now has more than a billion users. The fact that this comes across largely as little more a cute statistic tells us a lot about just how used we’ve become to the staggering power of the Internet.
According to the site, the figure only covers people who’ve logged in to the site in the past month, leaving out real people who’ve left their accounts dormant and many of the bogus accounts created for advertising or spam purposes.
Not unreasonably, Mark Zuckerberg notes that “Helping a billion people connect is amazing, humbling and by far the thing I am most proud of in my life.” On the other hand, given most changes to the site seem to piss off half the users, it must be incredible to have the power to simultaneously upset 500 million people.
The usual way people try to get their heads round the sheer size of Facebook’s audience is by comparing it to a national population. It’s long been in third place, but could conceivably one day overtake India (1.21 billion) and China (1.35 billion.)
Those massive numbers have consequences though. Think about Facebook’s user database. China and India have only had a handful of censuses since hitting the billion mark themselves. Depending on the percentage of people who don’t complete the census, it’s genuinely possible Facebook has the biggest list of personal details ever produced, certainly one of the few with more than a billion individuals, and the only one that’s updated in real time.
Facebook also says that 140 billion friend connections have been made. Assuming it isn’t double counting (so Bill befriending Jane isn’t counted as different to Jane befriending Bill) that makes an average of 140 friends apiece. Take into account that some people will have ditched friends, but others are new to the site and are still building up friendships, and it’s certainly not far off the so-called Dunbar number that estimates the average human can maintain relationships with around 150 people.