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Facebook eyes major milestone: 500M users

Social networking phenom expects to crest half a billion users this week

July 19, 2010 03:31 PM ET

Computerworld - Facebook is hoping to hit a major milestone this week.

The social networking phenomenon is expecting to grab its 500 millionth user this week, according to Andrew Noyes, a Facebook spokesman. With just about a half-billion users, Facebook has become a social networking powerhouse that has helped to transform the way people use the Internet and connect with one another.

"Half a billion users is quite a milestone no matter how you look at it," said Dan Olds, an analyst at Gabriel Consulting Group Inc. "This obviously makes Facebook the numero uno social network, which is a quite an accomplishment. However, they can't rest on their pixel laurels. Their position guarantees them additional scrutiny in terms of user security, appropriate content and stability."

Rumors have been circulating online that Facebook has some big plans to celebrate its 500 millionth user, but Noyes declined to say what they might be.

The expected milestone could be coming on the heels of what was a poor month for Facebook.

Earlier this month, Inside Facebook, a site that tracks Facebook usage, reported that the social network's growth dropped dramatically between May and June. Facebook picked up 320,800 new U.S. users in June, according to Inside Facebook, a far cry from the 7.8 million U.S. users it acquired in May. That followed news in March that Facebook replaced Google as the most-visited Web site in the U.S. for a full week.

The huge drop in new users led industry analysts to speculate that some people may be tiring of Facebook and social networking in general. Facebook's recent spate of privacy issues also may have put off some people who otherwise might have joined the site.

However, other studies have shown that some Facebook users are obsessive about the site. Many even call themselves social networking addicts.

Last week, a report from The Oxygen Media Insights Group, part of a company that focuses on television channels and Web sites for women, reported that a majority of women say they're addicted to social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter.

But regardless of any obsession, Olds was quick to note that Facebook is still open to attack from rival companies that would like a piece of its social media pie.

"No doubt, being top dog also puts a big target on their backs," Olds added. "Every new social network will be gunning for them, looking to peel off users. They'll be looking to exploit every real or perceived Facebook shortcoming and turn it into the basis to drive their own new network."

At the end of last month, rumors began to spread that Google is working on what could be a Facebook-killer. There's still quite a bit of online chatter that Google is developing a social networking service, dubbed Google Me, that would compete directly with Facebook.

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at Twitter @sgaudin or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed Gaudin RSS. Her e-mail address is sgaudin@computerworld.com.

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