As Facebook Hits 350M Mark, Growth Shows Signs of Slowing

Facebook has crossed the 350 million active user-mark, CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced tonight. But while the site’s latest growth spurt is impressive, it took 77 days, as compared to earlier this year when Facebook had added 50 million users in as short a time as 62 days. But it’s still the site’s second-quickest such milestone to date.

A Look Back at Facebook Growth
Dec. 1, 2009: 350 million users (77 days since last benchmark)
Sept. 15, 2009: 300 million users (62 days since last benchmark)
July 15, 2009: 250 million users (98 days since last benchmark)
April 8, 2009: 200 million users (91 days since last benchmark)
Jan. 7, 2009: 150 million users (134 days since last benchmark)
August 26, 2008: 100 million users
Source: Facebook blog posts

Of course, at some point Facebook’s growth has to slow down, unless the company scores a global maternity ward deal. The opportunities for the self-reported cash-flow positive Facebook to expand quickly and easily are petering out. There were only 444 million worldwide broadband subscribers in the second quarter of 2009, according to Point Topic. Hence the increasing value of more accessible products like Facebook’s mobile and “Lite” versions that address markets where broadband still isn’t prevalent.

It’s perhaps fitting that Zuckerberg announced the 350 million milestone alongside the phasing out of the company’s regional network feature. Regional networks were first introduced three years ago as a way to facilitate expansion when Facebook moved from a schools-only service to the general public. The idea was to expose new users’ offline communities to give them a group of local profiles to access within the site. At the time, Facebook had 9.5 million users.

Clearly, things have changed. “[A]s Facebook has grown, some of these regional networks now have millions of members and we’ve concluded that this is no longer the best way for you to control your privacy,” Zuckerberg said in a blog post Tuesday.

Zuckerberg did not say when the feature would be disabled, but said it would affect the nearly 50 percent of Facebook users who have identified themselves as members of regional networks. “In the next couple of weeks” all users will be asked to update their privacy settings. Many users may be happy about new privacy features that include granular item-by-item controls, but then again these updates have a way of confusing and annoying people, especially all those buckets upon buckets of new members.

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