Measurement Firms Don’t Agree on January 2010 Traffic for Facebook, MySpace and Twitter

Web measurement firms’ monthly statistics have collectively shown a consistent trend for the last half a year or so: Facebook is growing in the US and around the world, while competitors, most notably Twitter and MySpace, have not been. But January was a little different.

While most firms continued to show the same pattern, comScore saw Facebook’s growth slowing and its top two competitors gaining. Here’s a look at each firm tracked versus our last review for December, as well as what Facebook itself has reported. We conclude with our take on the situation.

ComScore:

ComScore says Facebook had grown from 469 million monthly active users in December to 472 million worldwide in January, which is a lot less than it has shown previous months. In the US, it similarly showed the service growing even less, from 112 to nearly 113 million.

Meanwhile, MySpace had a huge month, according to comScore, apparently reversing a long decline. In the US, it went from 57 million to nearly 70 million. Worldwide was also big, growing from 92 million to nearly 120 million.

Twitter, the microblogging service, appeared to be on pace to overtake Facebook based on growth in the first part of 2009. But that hasn’t been the case since last summer. But in January, it grew from 20 million to nearly 22 million US users and, from 65 million to 74 million worldwide. While comScore hasn’t been showing big US growth for Twitter recently, it did show it growing by around 5 million over the course of December.

We asked comScore if any measurement changes might have affected the numbers, and it tells us there were none.

Also, comScore previously reported that Facebook significantly grew its search volume in January.

Nielsen:

In contrast to comScore, the firm showed Facebook growing from 110 million to more than 116 million in the US, although it hasn’t provided international data. It showed MySpace’s parent division of News Corp. Online, with 82 million US uniques in January, up from 80 million.

Nielsen signed a deal with Facebook last fall, where the analytics company will track and provide Facebook advertising data to companies running campaigns with the service. It’s not clear if the deal gives the company especially accurate insight into Facebook traffic, though.
The firm also showed the average US Facebook user spent 7 hours on the site in January, a 10% increase from December.

Quantcast:

The data here looks more like what Nielsen is seeing. The firm, which only provides US traffic data, shows Facebook growing from 117 million to 124 million monthly unique visitors, although traffic appeared to level off towards the end of the month. Twitter saw a slight rise and MySpace stayed flat.

Compete:

More like comScore than the others, the firm shows relatively slow Facebook growth in January, from 132 million to nearly 134 million. But it also shows even less growth for MySpace and Twitter. Meanwhile, like Nielsen, it shows Facebook gaining more attention from users.

Facebook:

The company announced that it had reached 400 million monthly active users — essentially the same measurement as “monthly unique visitors” — as of the beginning of February. It does not provide US numbers; MySpace and Twitter do not provide monthly active user numbers.

Meanwhile, using Facebook’s advertising tool, we tracked US growth of around 5 million, from 103 million to 108 million. Worldwide, we saw it grow from around 350 million at the beginning of January to more than 373 million at the end of the month. However, the advertising tool data is typically delayed by a number of weeks, so that information more likely reflects December.

Conclusion: Wait Until Next Month

Has Facebook’s traffic slowed? Are MySpace and Twitter starting to boom around the world? Given the many contradictions in this month’s data, we’ll need to wait and see how traffic ends up in February or later. Minor variations like what we’re seeing here is a normal part of trying to get accurate readings. Each firm has its own methodology for trying to determine overall patterns, and differences between them are likely accounting for what we see in January.

The biggest caveat is international traffic — due to local complexities with internet services in countries around the world, data here is typically divergent. ComScore, for example, has long reported Facebook having tens of millions more international users than the company itself has. Most of the other firms don’t even bother to report international data.

Averaged between the services, Facebook’s US traffic seems to be clearer. It grew between a couple million and 5 or so million users in January, which is in keeping with its growth trend in previous months while MySpace and Twitter continued to see zero to moderate growth.