How Much More Can Facebook Grow?

By Justin Lafferty 

As you’ve likely heard, Facebook now has 1 billion users. Now the countdown to 2 billion can begin, but when could the social network reach that number? According to the chief technology officer of The Huffington Post, Facebook could double its membership in two years.

John Pavley thinks Facebook can get to 2 billion by just 2014. However, the significant growth will also be the site’s death knell. He notes that Facebook isn’t too big to fail:

The problem is the diminishing value that each new user adds to the Facebook business model. In the run-up to 2 billion, Facebook hopes that each new user will bring in more value than the previous user. But Facebook doesn’t know this for sure, as it already has more users than it can count. As (Co-Founder and CEO) Mark (Zuckerberg) admitted last week, Facebook estimates that it has 1 billion users, but even this number is uncertain because it’s too much data to manage.

Our brains are geared to deal with human-scale problems. We can’t count to 1 billion. A computer can count to 1 billion, but computers are only as smart (or dumb) as the humans who program them. If I can’t properly account for and understand my 1 billionth user, then that user is worth less to me than my 1 millionth user. Instead of knowing my users, I can only guess, or estimate, with less and less accuracy, who my users are and what they need. My 1 million valuable users get lost in the noise of the average 1 billion users.

It’s the Law of Diminishing Returns in effect.

Luckily, Pavley has some ideas for Zuckerberg:

Birth Control! News flash to the other 6 billion people in the world: Facebook is closed! Go join Google Plus and be Larry and Sergey’s problem. Google’s healthy search business can foot the bill for the giant social network that Facebook can’t. Facebook doesn’t need to be the only social network, and it might die if it gets much bigger. Instead, Facebook should focus on improving the number and quality of the social connections between its high-value users.

Freemium Business Model! Who of us with money in our pockets would not welcome an ad-free, premium Facebook experience without promoted posts, commercialized likes, and our private data leaking all over the Internet? Users who pay a monthly subscription (or just pay) are super-valuable, and Facebook doesn’t need billions of them to make a healthy profit (Apple or Spotify can explain this to Mark and his team). Keep the free service as a source of potential paying subscribers, but focus on making cash, not friends.

Open-source the code! Facebook doesn’t need to be proprietary to win. It has tons of big, hairy technical problems to solve in supporting billions of users, and the open -ource community would love to help. Facebook already has an awesome open-source library (with a great name: Folly), so why not go all the way like Mozilla and Linux? The secret sauce isn’t in the code; it’s in the leadership! Open-source would allow Facebook to focus more on business problems, and less on technical problems.

Readers: Do you think Facebook will continue to grow, or has it leveled out?

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.