Facebook: 1 billion users. What's next for the social network?

Facebook: 1 billion users arrives just two years after it announced it had half a billion users. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is now 'a part of this tradition of things that connect us.' 

Reuters
It has been a good couple of years for Facebook.

In July of 2010, Facebook hit the 500-million-member mark. Now, some 26 months later, the newly-public company has rattled past a new milestone: A billion users, the most ever for a social network, and a vertiginous leap from Facebook's humble beginnings as the brainchild of Harvard drop-out Mark Zuckerberg. In a letter to users this week, Zuckerberg said the moment was a "special" one for him. 

"We belong to a rich tradition of people making things that bring us together," Zuckerberg wrote. "Today, we honor this tradition. We honor the humanity of the people we serve. We honor the everyday things people have always made to bring us together: Chairs, doorbells, airplanes, bridges, games. These are all things that connect us. And now Facebook is a part of this tradition of things that connect us too."

Some perspective: The total population of the globe is estimated to be 7 billion people. That means roughly 14 percent of the human race uses Facebook. According to Facebook, a majority of those users – 60 percent – access the social network through a mobile device such as a tablet or smartphone. (Also, can we backtrack to consider the essential strangeness of Zuckerberg's statement? Doorbells?)

The big question, of course, is what's next for Facebook.

After all, the social network will undoubtedly keep growing, but probably not as it has in recent years. For one, there are only about 2.3 billion regular Internet users in the world, as of March of 2012. 513 million of that number reportedly live in China, where Facebook is banned. So even assuming Facebook does manage to attract the half billion or so remaining users (a big if), eventually it will hit a brick wall in terms of growth.

Moreover, as Aaron Smith, Laurie Segall and Stacy Cowley of CNN note, not all of the billion Facebook users are created equal.

"Less than 20 percent of Facebook's users live in the US and Canada," they write, "but those users account for 48 percent of the $992 million in advertising revenue that Facebook took in last quarter. Facebook makes an average of $3.20 each quarter in revenue off its North American users, versus just 55 cents from those in Asia."

This is important because Facebook's growth in North America has slowed significantly in recent months. 

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