Facebook, which turned six years old today and has some 400 million users, is a major player in the way people consume news all around the world.
That was the premise of a Feb. 1 post by ReadWriteWeb's Marshall Kirkpatrick, who wrote in reaction to Facebook's suggestion that users become fans of news organizations that publish on Facebook, using the social network as their primary news reader.
Market researcher Hitwise Feb. 3 found that in fact Facebook is a lead news reader, after Google, Yahoo and MSN search. This stunned me: A social networking site is a leading news disseminator? Then I did some serious thinking about this and realized it's probably true.
To handle my daily work, I grab all of my high-tech news through Google Reader, one of the RSS feed readers Kirkpatrick said was probably going to be replaced by Facebook over time. I receive no non-tech news through Google Reader, which is one of my main workflow applications.
At the local level, I receive a major state newspaper. In the morning I learn local things like who the new mayor of my hometown is and what projects children in surrounding schools are working on, as well as news about unfortunate accidents and tragedies that happen at the local level.
Yet everything big that breaks over the course of my 8-to-whenever workday-not to be morbid, but the best examples I can think of now are the deaths of Michael Jackson, Patrick Swayze and, most recently, JD Salinger-I discovered through Facebook and Twitter. I didn't go to these sites to read news, but rather happened on the bits by looking at Facebook News Feed or Twitter's trends.
That's the sort of serendipitous discovery that makes the Web-particularly services with scale such as Facebook and Twitter-so powerful.
If I'm stumbling upon news on Facebook and Twitter, you might well imagine the average Facebook user who spends 20 to 25 minutes per day on the site is getting a lot of news through digital osmosis, if not seeking it on the social network outright. Or what of the guy or gal who tweets 20 times a day? He or she might spot a new trend on Twitter and click on those tweets for news. That is another promising digital news path.
That's the anecdotal surmising. Now for some harder data. Hitwise analyst Heather Hopkins found that Facebook was the No. 4 source of visits to News and Media sites the week of Jan. 25, after Google (17.3 percent), Yahoo (7.9 percent) and MSN (4.4 percent).