Net Worth: Calculate your worth on Facebook

On: October 31, 2011
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About Eelke Hermens
Hacker and cultural critic, passionate about information theory and semantics. Fed up with cyber utopians.


My project begun with a question: What is the worth of a single Facebook user? Or: How much money does Facebook make of all the culmination of all interactions on the platform by a single user. To do this, I first needed statistics, lots of statistics. To be more precise, I needed reliable statistics on Facebooks projected total revenue and quantitive information on the online presence of its users. Luckily the former, with Facebooks IPO looming in the foreseeable future, was not that hard to find. I eventually combined some projections to get to a rough estimate of Facebooks total revenue. The main source of income for Facebook is advertisement (followed by the sales of Facebook Credits), so the assumption is that this revenue is virtually in its totality dependent on Facebooks user base.

1. Stats, stats, stats…

Next I looked for statistics on the use of Facebook. This proved to be far more tricky. The statistics that Facebook release themselves are regularly updated but don’t provide in depth information on user activity. Also, the actual statistics that they release vary greatly. As of this moment the page contains information on the average number of friends, something that was only recently added. Understandably, this official statistics page only releases numbers that favor the company and require some further investigation and interpretation.
There are two other notable sources on Facebook statistics. First there’s research, either done in an academic context or conducted by a company like Nielsen who release a quarterly Social Media Monitor. These statistics are derived from user questionnaires and are very helpful, if not always outdated (Facebooks immensely fast growth make it hard to gather relevant numbers). Second there are statistics provided by Facebook to the press. Rarely gets anything released, but there are moments when certain stats are shared. The best example was when Time magazine ran a cover story on Facebook and made a video called One Minute on Facebook which used statistics from Facebook on its users. This was a very helpful source. The difficulty was placing all the different numbers in the right timeframe. For example: If I knew how many links users were sharing in 2010 I had to translate that to the current situation, taking the growth into account. These are a sample of the numbers I used in calculating ones net worth:

  • Facebook will estimately hit a revenue of $4.27 billion in 2011 (Bloomberg)
  • There are currently active 800,000,000 users according to Facebook (Facebook)
  • In july Facebook hit 1,000,000,000,000 pageviews (Doubleclick)
  • Facebook users spend 700 billion minutes per month on Facebook (source)
  • Each minute 50,304 links are shared on Facebook (Time magazine)
  • In 2011 Facebook will make $470 million from its Facebook Credits (Bloomberg)

2. The calculation

The next step was to incorporate the Facebook API to use Facebook Connect to calculate his or her worth. In combining some permissions I was able to get the relevant information to calculate ones worth. I compared the average Facebook user, which I derived from the statistics, to the current user. In doing so I used the following information:

  • The number of likes in the last 60 days
  • The number of friends
  • The amount of overall activity

These factors should give a rough estimate of where the user is on the scale of activity. With these numbers the application could estimate your total worth.

An example of a few statistics of many in Net Worth

3. The API

I eventually went further in deriving all kinds of statistics from the users social graph. I explored the API and looked for everything I could get my hands on of the users friends. This way I could generate all kinds of wonderful and unexpected statistics in the application, like my favorite: “The percentage of your friends parents who are on Facebook” (which seems to be around 15% on average). These statistics are made possible by something called friends permissions. Friend permissions are a curious thing, it allows your Facebook app to ask permission for your friends information. This means that every Facebook user is potentially a gatekeeper to its social graphs data (to be clear: this friends data is not anonymous), every user is unwillingly subjected to a form of responsibility. The app is able to retrieve information on hundreds of users through a single user. For example: I could retrieve birthdays which weren’t explicitly shared as public by the users, they were shared to friends only. The problem here is that the privacy settings mainly concern the front-end experience of Facebook and don’t necessarily reflect on the way the API is structured. This is even more obscured because the API is a fragmented mess. It consists of several API’s, some deprecated, some under heavy development and it’s poorly documented. I think this matter needs far more attention, Facebooks back-end is the gateway of a huge eco system of applications, some that exist solely to retrieve user information through scams. The way the API is structured (and promoted) tells us a lot about Facebooks politics, business model and future prospects. Looking closely into the history and current practices of the API can tell us an interesting story.


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