There's a surprise buried deep within the statistics Facebook has revealed about its user base's activities on the social network: Sure, more content is being shared than ever before. But the percentage of sharers has shrunk.
The statistic that captured much of the media's attention was that Facebook now has over 400 million active users. But VentureBeat points out another: Five billion pieces of content (photos, Weblinks, notes, and such) are being shared among the userbase every single week. As well as being a phenomenal figure all by itself, this represents an astonishing growth in just six months: In July, the comparable figure stood at just a billion, five times less.
So Facebook's continual system tweaks plus services such as Facebook Connect are really helping transform the company into a content-sharing network rather than a meeting place for college friends. Five billion pieces of shared content is exactly the kind of statistic Facebook will use to leverage its position as a supplier of real-time status updates to search engines like Google and Bing (where it's trying to follow Twitter's lead.)
But, while the raw number of items being shared has gone up, exactly how many of these pieces of content are shared to everyone on Facebook (as it would love us all to do, thanks to its most recent privacy changes)? This isn't revealed, and it's probably a more vital measure of how Facebook is changing into a content-sharer. Furthermore, while items like Weblinks (which must count as "shared content") are being broadcast by Facebookers to their friends, one wonders how much of this is actually sourced outside Facebook.
For example, many people I know use Twitter status updates to drive their Facebook status updates. The primary mode of content sharing is then via Twitter, with a bonus inside Facebook to one's friendship network—and as Twitter's users evolve and expand how they interact with Twitter, sharing more Weblinks, photos, and videos, this can hardly be counted as a success for Facebook.
And then there's the most intriguing stat: While the actual raw count of data shared has skyrocketed, the overall percentage of Facebookers who post status updates daily has actually fallen. Which means that on the whole, Facebook's users may be much less engaged with the site. And much of the increased content-sharing is coming either from a proportionally smaller group or from the much larger number of pages being published—many of those, however, are promotional vehicles for other companies, particularly local businesses.
What can we conclude from this? Facebook is, to an extent, transforming itself into a content platform. But this is almost immaterial to the day-to-day goings on of its core users, who seem to be continuing to use the social network pretty much as they have been. The only measure of success is how well Facebook has been able to monetize these changes—and that's a statistic we're unlikely to get our hands on.