Facebook member numbers and the hot air of the PR balloon

So. Facebook has 400 million members and apparently 175 million daily uniques; which is more than the number of members Facebook had in January 2009. The service already serves up more photos that anyone else in the world. In other words the numbers are huge.

Sounds pretty good doesn’t it, especially if you are company being told that you would have access to all those members as long as you have some social media flack to hold your hand.

I have real problems with numbers like this, just as I have always been suspect of the massive numbers always claimed by software companies as being indicative of the number of people actually using the software.

After all does the millions of downloads claimed by Firefox take into account the different versions that already existing Firefox users will automatically download. Do the numbers take into account people like myself who have downloaded just about every version but end up not using it.

No they don’t take any of that into account. All the numbers across the versions are amalgamated to provide a single number to show the world. It doesn’t matter if people like myself never actually use the software because Firefox has it’s number so it’s happy.

Twitter has the same sort of problem but in reverse which causes the company a lot of problems over the perception of adoption of the service. Many sources put the membership of Twitter around the 4 million mark but their traffic numbers don’t match up this. The problem is that the vast majority of Twitter users never go to the actual Twitter site but rather use third party clients. So really any claims of traffic numbers for Twitter will always be suspect.

So now we have Facebook bragging about having 400 million members but really how many are actual active members?

Facebook can’t use the Twitter excuse of 3rd party clients stealing away pageviews from the Facebook site itself. So if we are to take any stock in the numbers tossed out by Sandberg at Davos that Facebook is crossing the 175 million unique visits per day this means that approximately one third of their claimed userbase is visiting at any one time.

So what are those other 225 million supposed members doing?

Sure it sounds great to be able to say you have 400 million members but really if almost two thirds of your userbase isn’t using the service that large number rings kind of hollow.

This doesn’t change the fact that Facebook is huge but I would imagine if we were to pop the hot air of the number’s balloon we would find the real member count isn’t near what is being trumpeted.