2009: Year of the Social Network

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Social Networks Draw Crowds

And several analysts noted that the results of online user counts bear out such opinions.

Earlier this fall, for instance, Facebook logged its 350 millionth user. And this summer, Nielsen Co. reported that In April, Facebook users spent 13.9 billion minutes on the site, 700% more than the year-earlier total of 1.7 billion minutes.

And Twitter hasn't been a shrinking violet in the social networking scene in 200

9. In March, for example, the number of U.S. visitors to the site increased by 131% just from February, according to online researcher comScore Inc. And Experian Hitwise, an Internet monitoring firm reported this fall that Twitter's September traffic increased by 1170% compared to year-earlier month.

All this growth did have to come at someone's expense, and that burden seems to have fallen on MySpace. A pioneer in the social networking scene and an early market leader, MySpace's share fell behind Facebook globally and in the U.S. this year for the first time. Facebook's share of the U.S. market reached 30.26% in September while MySpace's September share plunged 55% to 30.26% from a market leading 66.84% share a year earlier, according to Experian Hitwise.

But the expanse of social networking users isn't just about the sheer numbers. It's also about the breadth of the users. Everyone from the kid who sat behind you in homeroom during sophomore year to Oprah Winfrey to NASA astronauts orbiting in space are connecting with their fans online this year.

Remaining Challenge: Cashing Out

The task that remains for social networking firms is a big one -- finding ways to generate revenue and profit.

Twitter's leaders have been adamant through 2009 that they are comfortable taking their time to come up with and to implement a viable business plan. Both Twitter CEO Evan Williams and co-founder Biz Stone have said they want to focus first on building out the site's features, and then focus on the money.

By year's end, though, Twitter had signed potential revenue generating deals with Google and Microsoft to help them offer users the ability to get real time results from the Google and Bing search engines. And Microsoft signed a similar deal with Facebook.

While none of the companies disclosed the deals' financial details, industry watchers speculate that both Twitter and Facebook finally hit on a potentially big pay day.

Jim McGregor, an analyst with In-Stat, said the real-time search deals are an indication of what users can expect in 2010. "I think the early adopter phase is over," said McGregor. "Now, we'll see more of a judgment period on what the true value is here. This was a big year but, no, there's definitely more to come."

This story, "2009: Year of the Social Network" was originally published by Computerworld.

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