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ComScore: Facebook traffic surged after 'open' registration

Internet statistics firm says social-networking site experienced 89 percent growth in traffic, mostly outside "collegiate" demographic, when it dropped its exclusivity.

According to Internet statistics firm ComScore, unique visits to Facebook rocketed 89 percent between May 2006 and May 2007, from about 14 million unique visitors to 26.6 million.

Average minutes spent on the site per users also rose from 138 to 186--a 35 percent increase--and the number of pages viewed rose 143 percent, from 6,530 to 15,841. This coincides with Facebook's decision to "open its doors" last fall, no longer requiring a corporate or university e-mail address in order to gain access to the site.

Consequently, most of the growth charted by ComScore is outside of the 18-to-24 age demographic, simply because they were the ones who likely already had Facebook accounts. In that age group, traffic only rose 38 percent: still impressive, but nothing compared to other sectors of the population.

Within the 12-to-17 age demographic, Facebook traffic rose 149 percent, and within the 25-to-34 demographic, it rose 181 percent. In the 35-plus age group, despite Facebook's lingering reputation as "something for college kids," traffic on the site rose 98 percent between May 2006 and May 2007.

It should be noted that any Internet statistics still ought to be taken with a (small) grain of salt. The industry hasn't yet come to a concrete conclusion on which methodologies work best, and so many Web stats firms, ComScore included, have taken some criticism in recent months.

But I don't think anybody's going to be doubting ComScore's Facebook numbers much; in truth, this is not all that surprising. Everybody knows Facebook's gone from college procrastination tool to head-turning Internet phenomenon over the past year. The Mark Zuckerberg-founded company built itself an enviable degree of online mystique by first limiting its scope to Harvard University and a few other elite universities, then expanding gradually to other colleges, then to businesses, and finally to its "open" model. It's well-known that Facebook's been growing rapidly; these statistics serve only to bolster that fact.

More interesting statistics will likely be forthcoming, once there's been enough time to see how Facebook's new platform strategy has affected its growth as well as the demographics of its users.

Anecdotally, I've heard a lot of people saying that many of their "professional" or "techy" friends didn't start using the social network until the announcement of Facebook Platform in late May gave it plenty of positive buzz--and more tech cred. Future statistics will likely have more to say about that.