With its still-in-limited-field-test social network Google+, Google looks poised to challenge Facebook head-on in the increasingly important social media space. Some analysts give the edge to Facebook with its large head start -- the company claims more than half a billion active users worldwide, half of whom log onto the site each day. Other pundits point to Google's large number of users across multiple products along with its engineering prowess as factors making it a formidable challenger.
How do the companies stack up head to head? Here's a look at some of the available statistics.
Google has a clear edge globally, according to ComScore Data Mine: Google reached a billion unique visitors worldwide in May, while Facebook rang in at 713.6 million.
Google's lead is narrower in the U.S., where it had 155 million unique visitors from desktop and laptop computers in May compared with Facebook's 140 million, the Nielsen Company reported. The Nielsen survey does not include mobile devices.
Facebook had a huge lead in time spent per person: more than 6 hours vs. an hour and 20 minutes.
However, Facebook users have been fairly unhappy with the social media site. Last year, it scored "in the bottom 5% of all measured private sector companies and in the same range as airlines and cable companies, two perennially low-scoring industries with terrible customer satisfaction," according to the July 2010 American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) E-Business Report. Google's score of 80 (out of 100) was substantially higher than Facebook's 64. New data should be coming out sometime this month.
Bottom line: Google is still the Internet's leading brand in terms of number of users. Facebook has an enormous base of regular users who spend a considerable amount of time on its site -- much more time than on Google. However, Facebook's users were not particularly happy with their experience last year. It will be interesting to see whether Facebook's customer satisfaction scores come in higher in this year's ACSI.
Google's revenues are fairly straightforward, since as a public company it must report such data each quarter. Facebook's are less clear, since it is still privately held. According to one estimate reported by The Wall Street Journal, Facebook had $1.86 billion in ad revenue last year and should top $4 billion this year. Google reported $29.3 billion in overall revenues last year (not just from ads).
eMarketer estimates that Google had 38.5% of the online advertising market last year vs. 4.6% for Facebook. The research firm estimates that Facebook's share will grow to 7% this year compared with 40.8% for Google.
Bottom line: Google is considerably larger than Facebook in revenue and still growing, but Facebook looks to be expanding much faster.
This is a particularly tough metric, as Facebook doesn't release that data. The latest estimate, from an in-depth profile of chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg in the current issue of The New Yorker, came in at 2,500 employees. That's close to double the estimates reported for early 2010. Google reported 24,400 employees at the end of last year, up from 19,835 in 2009.
Bottom line: As with revenue, Google's employee count is substantially higher than Facebook's, but Facebook appears to be growing more rapidly.
Many other factors will come into play to determine whether Google+ can successfully challenge Facebook in the social media arena, including the appeal of the new service and whether people are willing to leave an established network where they already have numerous connections.
Google is well positioned as an Internet brand with better customer satisfaction than Facebook, and is a larger company with more internal resources. However, Facebook is a high-growth company that's likely on the verge of a public stock offering, meaning it has access both to a great deal of investor cash and top-flight employees hoping to cash in on that growth.
The most likely winner? Social media users, who will benefit from two strong companies battling to improve their products to either keep or win over customers.
Mari Keefe helped gather data for this analysis.
Sharon Machlis is online managing editor at Computerworld. Her e-mail address is email@example.com. You can follow her on Twitter @sharon000, on Facebook or by subscribing to her RSS feeds:
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