World population in 1804 = Facebook users today

Here is an interesting, if not misguided, comparison of how many people are now Facebook users:

One billion people. That’s how many active monthly users Facebook has accrued in the eight years of its existence, the company announced today.

It took the population of modern humans about 200,000 years to reach that number, a milestone that was hit, demographers believe, just over two centuries ago in 1804 (bearing in mind that population tabs, then and now, are not exactly precise). Since then, human population has just exploded, enabled and protected by advances in medicine, agriculture, and hygiene. In the past year, it is estimated that the human headcount hit 7 billion.

I think I know what this comparison is trying to do: show the remarkable speed at which Facebook has attracted users. I agree. It has been remarkable.

At the same time, this is comparing apples to oranges. Yes, they are both large numbers of people. But one number is tied to human development, birth rates, life expectancy, technological improvement, and so on. This number reminds us of the broader scope of human history which is longer and progress is relatively slow. Having seven billion people on earth requires a lot of resources, space, and creative energy to tackle everyday and long-term problems. On the other side, you have Facebook, an Internet site that has attracted lots of users. While some of these users may be mega-users, people who are constantly online updating their status, tagging photos, reading other people’s walls, it is still just an online program, a relatively small part of human existence.

Perhaps there would be better ways to make a comparison to Facebook’s user total:

1. Looking at adoption rates compared to other technologies. In other words, is Facebook’s growth something completely new, a sign of the digital world, or does its adoption rate compare more to other technologies? Comparisons can be made here.

2. What one billion people in the world do on a daily basis or how many other objects have such broad appeal. For example, this website suggests there are 5.6 billion cell phone users in the world. (Meaning: Facebook has many more users to attract.)

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