Thursday New Tools Feature: You Have 1.1 Billion New Friend Requests...

Nielsen this week released a study demonstrating just how popular and widespread social networking has become. From the Reuters story on the study:

Networking and blogging sites account for almost ten percent of time spent on the internet -- more than on email.

"While two-thirds of the global online population already accesses member community sites, their vigorous adoption and the migration of time show no signs of slowing," said John Burbank, the CEO of Nielsen Online.

One in every 11 minutes spent online globally is on networking sites. Between December 2007 and December 2008, the time spent on the sites climbed 63 percent to 45 billion minutes.

To put that growth in perspective, the growth in "member communities" online this year was "more than twice that of any of the other four largest sectors," and more than three times the growth rate of overall internet usage. To those that think of Facebook and similar sites as optional, largely peripheral entities, this study should come as a serious wake-up call. Social networking sites are changing the game the same way that email did when it was introduced. Facebook is no longer just an excuse for college students to avoid writing papers; in fact, social networking use has grown the most among 35-49 year olds (see chart).

More and more people are using social networking sites to communicate, socialize, and organize online - the overall amount of time spent on Facebook increased a whopping 566% this year. This is a very interesting and powerful phenomenon, which will have wide-spread implications for the political sphere - for instance, back in November, right after the election, I wrote about what an incredibly effective GOTV tool Facebook was, in part due to of the sociological effects of "seeing" all of your friends vote.

Another phenomenon that promises to further shake things up is the confluence of mobile technology and social networking. The Nielsen study found that  

...the increasing popularity of social networks has resulted in increasing demand to access them on the move. Mobile is a natural fit for social networks, as consumers are used to connecting with friends via mobile calls and text. UK mobile web users have the greatest propensity to visit a social network through their handset with 23% of them (2 million people) doing so, compared to 19% in the US (10.6 million people). The numbers of people doing so are a big increase on last year - 249% in the UK and 156% in the US.

To learn more about how to use social networks effectively, check out our New Politics Institute paper, "Leverage Social Networks," which was written by Facebook's Chris Kelly. You can also watch him and others explain how to harness the power of social networks at our New Politics Institute event, Social Networking in Politics.

Finally, check out this video of Ning's Jason Rosenthal at our recent event, New Tools for a New Era:

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