Will the Great Depressed Push Facebook Higher?

facebook-daily-visitsHitwise, a data analytics and research company, today released a report that indicated a big spike in Facebook traffic on Christmas Eve. The research firm says that Facebook hit a new high, with traffic “reaching 2.18% of all U.S. Internet visits compared with 1.42% average for November.”

That’s up 54 percent from November 2008 and 53 percent from December 24, 2007, when it set its last new record. The Santa bump put Facebook fifth among all web sites. In the UK, social networking sites and YouTube accounted for 10 percent of total Internet traffic. There could be many reasons for the bump, such as people using social networks to send personal messages instead of sending emails (I got far fewer emails this year that in the past) and sharing photographs via Facebook, for example. Of course, with fewer gifts (and toys), people might have just spent an inordinate amount of time on Facebook. However, let’s not forget — there was terrible weather around the country and people didn’t have anywhere to go, except to hit the computer.

According to Hitwise Demographics, the top cities (based on DMA or Designated Marketed Areas ) on Facebook are New York, Chicago, Washington, Boston and Philadelphia. These cities were all hard hit by the snow storms last week and the poor weather may have kept people inside with little else to do but send holiday greetings to friends.

This last bit actually could indicate a long-term trend, as we the people might go through 2009 (which is already shaping up to be on miserable year) as the great depressed. 

If you remember, the last downturn (2001) helped Google (s GOOG) establish its contextual advertising business, which is now like a Middle Eastern oil gusher that keeps spewing cash. It was able to do so because everyone wanted to focus their ad dollars online in a specific sort of a way.  

From that perspective, Facebook (or any other social network) could have a lot of our attention, because, well, we don’t have that much to do offline. With far fewer dollars to fritter away on offline socializing (or shopping), there is a good chance we would spend a lot of time in front of the computer, socializing online. Is it too far-fetched to think that this downturn might actually play to Facebook’s advantage?