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Tomorrow’s (virtual) fish ‘n’ chip paper*

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Hitwise, the website traffic monitoring organisation, has recently revealed that, in the US, Facebook’s website had more traffic than Google’s over the course of a full week, reaching 7.07% of all site visits in the week ending 13 March compared to Google’s 7.03% share. Evidently, one in every seven visits to websites (in the US) is to one of these two – an example of the extent to which both organisations have come to dominate our web lives (Facebook has doubled its number of users in the past twelve months, as the FT’s report of this same story indicates).

Facebook has previously had more traffic than Google over the course of single days, frequently at holiday times, but not over a full week. This was the first occasion on which Google has not ranked No. 1 since September 2007 [registration required; limited viewing time]. Additionally, it is clear that, whereas Google’s overall share has been growing slowly to the point where it is almost static, Facebook has been swallowing market share, rising from around 2.5% of all website visits around one year ago.

One of the interesting follow-on aspects to this story is provided by a couple of stories that Hitwise posted a few weeks previously: one referring to another blog commenting that, following a company news blog posting encouraging users to set up a news feed on their Facebook pages, Facebook could become a significant distribution force for news content on the web; the other that the sorts of news sites that Facebook users access is fundamentally different to those accessing news via Google News, being much more geared to ‘broadcast’ as opposed to ‘print’ media.

Google itself is still the largest point of reference for news and media sites, originating over 17% of traffic to news and media sites, while Facebook is 4th largest, accounting for 3.52% (in turn ahead of Google News’s 1.39% share). Combined, Facebook and Google News account for a very small proportion of traffic to news sites – and it would be interesting to see a similar balance for Google, as the top provider of ‘upstream clicks’. Nevertheless, the list of news sites that accrue from clicks via Facebook being so different to the more traditional, heavyweight news sites that accrue via Google News provides an insightful comment on the changing use of the internet. I’m tempted to say that the news and media sites to which Facebook offers ‘upstream’ traffic more or less offer ‘news lite’ content – that would, perhaps, be a bit unfair, but it is clear that weather, entertainment, humour and the attempt to provide user-relevant, or user-oriented, news stories (and applications) predominate on Facebook compared to the ‘here’s what’s happening’ approach of traditional news sites.

That by itself is an eye-catching (and, actually,  quite uncomfortable, albeit not particularly new) comment on how we use the internet to read news (and what we are likely to read while we’re there), as well as the sorts of sites that are more likely to land underneath our mouse. This leads to a discussion not least of the future of online news sites, how they might look, etc. – and whether and how they might charge us for content in the future. It has long been an aim of some online newspapers to charge for access (and not just those within the ownership of the Murdoch clan, either), to which the usual counterpoint has been the availability of alternative, ‘free’ sites (in inverted commas because the alternative funding models, based on advertising, underpinning such sites mean that you pay for it somewhere, somehow); or, otherwise, the ability of news services to ‘scrape’ news stories from paid-for sites, thereby getting around the payment angle.

The rise of Facebook and the different approaches its users have to accessing news media, however, offers another – the traditional news media sites are, increasingly, not what we want to visit anyway.

This doesn’t preclude the possibility of online sites charging for access – for which you might be prepared to do to keep up with a news approach to which you are instinctively sympathetic or a favourite commentator, for example. But it does seem likely to put another obstacle in the way of the pay-for-content model. It will be interesting to see how the Murdoch clan et al. get around that.

* As long as the fish ‘n’ chips doesn’t become virtual, too.

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Written by Calvin

17/03/2010 at 1:19 pm

Posted in Web life

Tagged with ,