People Are on Facebook More Than Google; That's Worse for Google Than It Looks

Last Updated Sep 10, 2010 2:08 PM EDT

If you ever wondered why Google is apparently hellbent on launching a social network (it's working on something called Google Me), look no further than just-released comScore numbers. For the first time ever, the time Americans spent on Facebook actually surpassed the time they spent on Google. While users spent 39.8 million minutes on Google -- or 9.6 percent of their online time -- they spent 41.1 million minutes using Facebook, accounting for 9.9 percent.

But these stats definitely require a look beneath the covers. The knee-jerk analysis is that while Google searches are not very time-consuming, people wile away hours on Facebook catching up on the latest gossip. Thus, with 500 million users -- many of whom spend huge chunks of time there on a daily basis -- Facebook would be the obvious winner.

Not so fast. The Google stats also include Gmail, YouTube, and all other Google sites, such as lesser time sucks Picasa and Blogger. So, in other words, even though YouTube is far and away the dominant video site (with 143 million unique users in July), people probably do billions of Google searches a day, and Gmail is one of the most popular email platforms, Americans still are spending more time on Facebook. Wow.

Of course, where Facebook does not win is in the revenue game. Even though it is making strides, and could double its 2009 revenue to about $1.4 billion this year, Google made $6.8 billion in the second quarter alone. No real competition there.

So does that mean Google should just look the other way when it comes to this annoying little time spent figure? No. If past history is any guide, it's a mistake to not make an attempt at getting involved in the latest trend on the Web.

All you need to come to that conclusion is to look at comScore's "time spent" statistics over the last few years. The company emailed me a spreadsheet today that goes back to June 2007, and the contrasts are enlightening. Back then, people spent the most time on Yahoo sites, using its properties for 39.7 million minutes; people spent 11.4 million minutes on Google sites, and only 5.3 million on Facebook. Today, the numbers are much closer to one another, but the players are in reverse order. Yahoo now ranks third, with people spending 37.7 million minutes on its sites. Who knows what the Web will look like three years from now? Google doesn't want to take the chance it won't still be front-and-center in the picture.