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1 Billion Facebook Users in 2012? Not So Fast

A report has been released by interactive agency icrossing. We reported on it over at Marketing Pilgrim. The gist? That 2012 could or rather should be the year that Facebook reaches 1 billion accounts. I am not going to go so far as to say users or active users mainly because we all need to be smart about this and not be under the impression that every Facebook account is either A) real or B) real active. In 2011 Facebook announced they hit the 800 million mark in September. That means that the social media giant needs to grow by 25% before the end of 2012 in order to hit the 1 billion mark. Oh and we also have to trust that they actually hit it. Too cynical? Sorry but it’s safer being that way in the Internet space.

If all goes as planned, according to the “research” from iCrossing, Facebook should hit the one billion mark in August of 2012. So the over/under is set for 8/15/12 (we’ll pick the middle of the month to be fair). I am taking the over and I will go as far to say that they will not hit the 1 billion mark in 2012–period.

What? How can you say that you ask? Here are a few of my completely non-scientific and completely unverifiable thoughts that make me take this radical stance on something that, in the end, isn’t worth considering anyway.

Developed nation growth has already happened – If you are in an Internet-savvy country and are not on Facebook by now, what would be the reason to suddenly start? I don’t think there is one. In fact I think that growth may be close to finished outside of the folks who “come of age” each year to have an account. I will tell you that the last of the late adopters, my mom, has gotten on board. I suspect there is no one left based on that knowledge alone.

Large countries don’t see Facebook as their social network of choice – Where could huge growth come from for Facebook? Two obvious pockets would be Russia and China. The only trouble is that neither country is giving Facebook its social media crown. Another potential hot spot (in many senses of the word) would be a place like Brazil, but Orkut is the social media king there. (Score one for Google that many have forgotten!)

In order to grow in the remaining largest population centers, Facebook would need to compete – Let’s face it. Facebook has had little or no competition in the social space. They have been allowed to grow unfettered to this point. Once they have shaken every last piece of low hanging social media fruit from the tree they are left with China, Russia, Brazil and Japan where, if they were to get market share, they would need to compete. Facebook doesn’t compete. It steamrolls. Google is the same way. It is what it is, but what it isn’t is a competitive force. It’s a first mover that is  eventually going to run up against its limits. (like Google has on many fronts, thus their foray into social) Personally, I don’t think Facebook has the chops to compete in a place where they are not the top dog.

Facebook is going to run an IPO gauntlet – Some conspiracy theorists have said that Google’s latest search development “Search Plus Your World” was a ploy to get the government to take notice of the anti-competitive position that Facebook takes by only offering its results to Bing. Interesting yet somewhat fantastic. It is fun to consider though, I must admit.

All of these variables and more will conspire to slow down the lightspeed paced growth of Facebook. It’ll be like the days of Google when people complained that 40% growth was “not enough.” Once the growth rate slows for Facebook, people (as in the press) will give themselves something to write about by hypothesizing that Facebook’s flattening growth is due to Facebook fatigue, burn out, or general disinterest. Heck, maybe Google+ or options like Path will cut into Facebook’s dominance.

I say it can’t happen soon enough. Of course, no one will be watching if Google is getting skewered on Capitol Hill will they? That’s Facebook’s and Microsoft’s strategy to keep Google in check on all of this. Competition through legislation. The beginning of the end of the free market as we know it.

Oh well. What’s on your mind?

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