Facebook hits 500 million users

Facebook is set to hit a significant milestone when it passes 500 million users this week. The timing is particularly apt given The Social Network – an unofficial film about the rise of Facebook, set for release in October – has just seen its trailer released too – see bottom of the post for more.

The Washington Post provides comment on the milestone, which is likely to be the first of many given Facebook’s pursuit of developing markets.

In its six-year history, the site has become ritualized in our daily lives. It has even attracted the unwilling who join for fear of being cut out of the social fabric. It has connected old friends and family. It has helped make and break political campaigns and careers. It has turned many of us into daily communicators of one-line missives on the profound and mundane. And it has tested the limits of what we care to share and keep private.

The sheer impact and sized of the Facebook universe has captured the attention of federal regulators and lawmakers who are struggling to protect consumers and their privacy as they flock to this and other sites like Twitter. The privately held company that still thinks of itself as a startup is also learning how to handle the new responsibilities that its massive trove of information about its half billion users brings .

The half-billion-member-mark can’t be understated. To put the number into perspective, the population inhabiting Facebook now equals that of the United States, Japan and Germany combined. Or, two Mexicos and a Brazil. The universe of Facebook membership is less than half the population of India, but in the last year the social networking Internet site has doubled in size.

The Silicon Valley Web site is now the biggest online trust of our vacation photos, electronic rolodexes, and recordings of how we felt about President Obama’s candidacy for president, the ban on headscarves in France and the Lindsay Lohan’s rollercoaster ride with sobriety. Seventy percent of users are outside the U.S., and one-quarter of all users are checking in and updating their pages from their cell phones.

Inside Facebook has a growth plotting the site’s recent growth while it adds caution to potential of Facebook reaching a billion users.

That (a billion users) is possible, especially if the company’s focus on low-penetration countries like Russia, South Korea and Japan work out (it is banned in a fourth, China). It is localizing apps and services for those places, and encouraging third-party developers to do the same.

Using Facebook’s advertising tool, we’ve been tracking country and demographic data, and we’ve observed rises and dips within countries and regions even as the worldwide traffic total has grown. In places where Facebook grew first — the US, and some European countries, especially — we’ve observed more weak months as the service has penetrated more of the total population. The fact that so many people are on Facebook means that there aren’t many more people left who can join.

Meanwhile, Facebook racked up another milestone when Starbucks became the first company to reach 10 million members on its fan page – see Inside Facebook (again) for more details.

Finally, here’s the trailer for the movie, again worth remembering this is unofficial and not affiliated to Facebook itself.

Via the film’s official website