Apple’s iPhone may be big news, but in Silicon Valley all eyes are on Facebook.
Plao Alto, Calif. — Given its roots as a college networking site, Facebook has historically shown very strong skews toward the 18-24 year old age segment.
Facebook’s membership among the early adopters who are first to latch onto new technology trends has skyrocketed in recent weeks, sparking a minor backlash among kids who find it “creepy” that adults are flooding to their site.
The social-networking site saw an 89% increase in U.S.-based visitors in May compared with the same period last year, according to Internet metrics firm ComScore.
The most dramatic growth occurred among 25-34 year olds (up 181%), while 12-17 year olds grew 149% and those age 35 and older grew 98%.
In late May, Facebook opened itself up as a platform for third-party developers, offering them limited access to its data and infrastructure to build and market their own applications to site users.
However, since the decision to open registration to everyone, the site has seen visitors from all age groups flood the site, said Jack Flanagan, EVP of comScore Media Metrix, as he recently released the results of a study on the visitation to Facebook.com, which showed the site grew to 26.6 million unique visitors in the U.S. in May 2007, marking an 89% increase versus the same month last year.
“As the overall visitation to Facebook continues to grow,” Flanagan, continued, “the demographic composition of the site will likely more closely resemble that of the total Internet audience.”
Before it was open to the general public, Facebook had about 14 million unique monthly visitors.
Indeed, venture capitalists are now quizzing Web entrepreneurs on their “Facebook strategy.”
“Call it escape velocity or whatever you want, but social networking now has it. Facebook now has it,” Netscape co-founder Marc Andreessen wrote last week on his blog. His latest company, Ning, is helping users build simple software programs that can easily be made to run within Facebook.
“Do not miss what is happening to Facebook. It is a turning mainstream," notes popular technology blogger Robert Scoble.
At the San Francisco developer event where that announcement was made, CEO Mark Zuckerberg pitched the Facebook platform as a place to profit. “You can build a real advertising business off of Facebook,” he told developers. “If you do not want to run ads, you can go ahead and sell something.”
Yet within days of the announcement, Facebook has had to contend with becoming the victim of its own success. Some programmers complained it was hard to get noticed in the flood of programs debuting each day.
Slide Inc. tops the list of application creators with a variety of programs including Top Friends, which puts up photos of a user’s best friends on Facebook. It has 7.6 million users. ILike is the second most popular with 4.3 million users of software that allows friends to listen to your favorite songs.
Freelance developer Craig Ulliott of Philadelphia captured the feeling when he asked on a forum for software programmers within Facebook: “I have 250,000 users, what now?”
His travel map application “Where I have Been” was adding several users every second, overwhelming his ability to pay for computers to support the increase in traffic. Since raising the issue, he has added nearly a million more users to 1.2 million in all.
Another ratings company, Nielsen//NetRatings last week said that over the past six months, Facebook’s audience in the United Kingdom grew at 19 times the rate of growth seen by MySpace, 523% compared to 28%.
Facebook has become the central way many users keep track of Web sites they use every day. More importantly, it is a way to keep up with what friends are doing, says Chief Technology Officer Adam D’Angelo, a high school classmate of Zuckerberg.
Far bigger rival MySpace has difficulty striking a balance between sharing personal data and not divulging “too much information.” Many Facebook users post their mobile phone numbers, political affiliations or changes in dating status.
Facebook is inherently not open the way the Web is open. Users share all kinds of information on the site they would never share on the Web, D’Angelo, 22, says. “We get users to divulge more information because we protect users’ privacy.”
The Palo Alto-based company, founded in 2004 as a social site for students at Harvard by then-undergraduate Mark Zuckerberg, has seen usage spike by allowing hundreds of software makers to build programs for the site.
The overnight popularity of many software programs also has led detractors to argue that many of the applications gaining traction on Facebook are unsophisticated and superficial programs — emoticons, horoscopes, even virtual food fights.
Facebook’s D’Angelo chides critics, saying that the rules of building advanced software have not been overturned. “Now that the platform has been out for six weeks, we are finally seeing applications that take a month to develop,” he said.
After all, Facebook gears its entire advertiser pitch around a claim to offer the “ideal” audience of “youth trend-setters” critical for brand success…