Less than a week after Twitter offered its hottest tweet trends for 2009, Facebook Dec. 21 released its own list of trends from data mapped about top trending words and phrases in U.S. status updates for the year.
Like Twitter tweets, status updates enable Facebook users to write about what’s going on with them, albeit without the 140-character cap. Facebook Memology charts “memes,” or trends that consume user activity on Facebook, whose membership soared to 350 million-plus users over the course of the year.
Lars Blackstrom, a Facebook data scientist, said he and his team looked at how many times each phrase with length from one to four words occurred in U.S. Facebook status updates, then computed the rate at which each phrase occurred in 2009 relative to 2008. Facebook then analyzed activity around words and series of words to find the key trends for the year. All of this was done with complete anonymity of user data, Blackstrom promised.
“In the United States alone, people on Facebook are sharing hundreds of millions of words every day, thousands per second, in status updates,” wrote Blackstrom. “When taken as a whole, these words offer a unique barometer into the issues, world events and thoughts that are connecting people.”
Facebook applications such as Farmville, Farm Town and Social Living topped the Facebook Memology 2009 list.
Farmville, whose creators Zynga just banked $180 million in funding from Digital Sky Technologies and others, has more than 72 million active users each month. How big is this number? That’s more than Twitter’s entire user base of roughly 60 million.
Speaking of which, in a sign of how Facebook and Twitter share millions of users, Twitter and RT, short for retweet, were popular Facebook memes in 2009. Twitter peaked as a term in April though mentions decreased over the past few months, Blackstrom found.
FML, sweet digital slang for “eff my life,” was a major Facebook acronym to express frustration in status updates for the year. FB, FB Friends, News Feed also spiked when Facebook made some controversial changes to its News Feed a few months ago. Meanwhile, usage of the acronym “FB” (shorthand for Facebook) increased 7 fold in 2009, with “FB Friends” increasing about 10 times over the same period.
Unfortunately, swine flu was also a big trending topic following multiple outbreaks of the H1N1 virus, which has mutated and made millions ill in 2009.
Of course, the passing of pop star Michael Jackson was a major meme on Facebook, with millions of users mourning his death and consoling each other on the social network. “Mentions of his name were 10,000 times higher on June 25, the day he died, than the previous day, and no other unexpected news event can compare to the burst we saw on that day,” said Blackstrom.
Patrick Swayze’s death from a battle with pancreatic cancer received two-thirds as many mentions as Jackson’s on the peak day of status updates about Swayze. Jackson and Swayze, thanks to the 1987 sleeper hit film “Dirty Dancing,” captured much of the spotlight in the 1980s and were contemporary stars. Both stars danced and performed at high levels in their prime.
In other pop star news, Lady Gaga was the biggest new performer of 2009 based on status updates from people in the U.S. Movies such as New Moon, Transformers, Star Trek, The Hangover, Paranormal Activity and Harry Potter captivated the Facebook zeitgeist. New Moon beat out Transformers and Potter in popularity.
For sports, the 2009 Superbowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers and 2009 World Series victors’ the New York Yankees seized their share of the Facebook spotlight. Blackstrom said the Steelers reached a higher peak in mentions than the Yankees because they only played a single football game.
Other hot topics include health care, thanks to the reform push from U.S. President Barack Obama. Facebook found that millions of pro-reform users updated their status with the following message:
“No one should die because they cannot afford health care, and no one should go broke because they get sick. If you agree, please post this as your status for the rest of the day.” This was a strong indication of how the virality of social networks can help users rally around important issues.
Family keywords such as mom, dad, son, daughter and kids were also big. Yes, whole families use Facebook.
Religious terms such as Lord, God and Easter also held sway in 2009, which was a big year for trend lists. Google posted its Zeitgeist of terms three weeks ago, one day after Microsoft Bing released its list.
Read more about Facebook Memology on TechMeme here.