Coding Horror

programming and human factors

Total Users Does Not Equal Total Usage

As of August 9th, 2006, MySpace has 100 million members. For reference, the population of California is approximately 36 million, and the population of the United States is approximately 300 million.

myspace-usa-population.png myspace-california-population.png myspace-population.png

I have a hard time believing that 1 in 3 Americans could conceivably be MySpace users.

I'm not the only person to be skeptical of these inflated "member" numbers. Robert Scoble recently took issue with the claim that Windows Live Spaces is the largest blogging service on the planet. He did a little ad-hoc investigation of Windows Live Spaces. Most of the member pages he visited were virtual ghost towns.

Dare Obasanjo addresses this criticism head-on:

The number of spaces on Windows Live Spaces isn't a particularly interesting metric to me nor is it to anyone I know who works on the product. We are more interested in the number of people who actually use our service and get value added to their lives by being able to share, discuss and communicate with their friends, families and total strangers.

Kudos to Dare for cutting to the heart of this debate. Who cares how many users signed up for your free service? How many users actually use it?

To illustrate the absurdity of user counts as a metric, Dare cited the LiveJournal stats page. According to that page, LiveJournal has approximately 11 million accounts. However:

  • 1 in 3 accounts are never used.
  • 1 in 5 accounts are "active in some way".
  • 1 in 10 accounts updated in the last 30 days.

If the LiveJournal statistics are representative of other social networking websites, then we should immediately divide the total number of "users", "spaces", or "accounts", by five. Maybe even by ten! That's a realistic estimate of how many people are actually using the service.

Total number of LiveJournal accounts:

11 million

Total number of active LiveJournal accounts:

1.5 million

And that's still an optimistic estimate, because it doesn't factor in multiple accounts established by the same person.

Now if only MySpace and Windows Live Spaces would be as forthcoming about the actual usage of their service, instead of bandying around meaningless user counts.

Written by Jeff Atwood

Indoor enthusiast. Co-founder of Stack Overflow and Discourse. Disclaimer: I have no idea what I'm talking about. Find me here: