It's been a big year for Facebook, and today The Social Network underlined just how big, releasing its fourth quarter and full-year results for 2015. And the numbers are pretty amazing.
First off, there's user growth - Facebook's reported that Daily Active Users (DAUs) were at 1.04 billion, on average, for December 2015, an increase of 17%, year-on-year.
Mobile DAUs were at an average of 934 million per day in December (+25% YoY).
While Monthly Active Users (MAUs) rose to an average of 1.59 billion in December (+14% YoY).
Facebook's continued user growth is amazing, particularly when contrasted against the challenges Twitter's faced in building their active user base in any meaningful way. The data goes some way towards underlining the value of Facebook's ever-evolving News Feed algorithm - while many individual users and businesses on Facebook have been upset about the declines in organic reach over the last few years, clearly that strategy is delivering the desired benefits and helping expand user-growth and time spent on platform.
This is particularly relevant when you consider Facebook's ubiquity - at some point, you'd expect Facebook would have to reach saturation point, particularly in those markets where the platform's been present for now more than a decade. Yet, there's little indication of that happening anytime soon - as reflected in the user growth data, Facebook's still growing in its largest markets (+2 million US/Canada users in Q4). Couple that with Facebook's likely expansion through their internet.org/Free Basics initiative - which aims to connect the reported two-thirds of the world without adequate internet access - and it's hard to see those growth figures slowing up in the immediate future.
In addition, Facebook's developing ever-smarter AI systems, enhancements that will enable them to refine and improve their algorithms and evolve the user-experience even further. Recently, Serkan Piantino from Facebook's AI Research team outlined some of the advances they'd made on image recognition, the development of which could have significant benefits for Facebook's development of contextual and intelligent-match data capabilities.
As noted by Piantano:
"This is exciting because it's moving so fast and it opens up a whole universe of products that understand content and intent on Facebook that never could have existed before."
As Facebook advances in this regard, their audience understanding, their ad targeting - their place in the lives of their users is likely to grow in-step, and the evolution of contextual data and audience understanding systems will also up the expectation amongst the wider social media audience. If Facebook's able to master contextual matching - showing more of what's of most interest to you, when you need/want to see it, users will grow accustomed to that level of service, and those that fail to deliver a similar experience will lose relevance.
This is why AI is such an important development, and why Facebook and Google are working hard to perfect it - given the strong and sustained growth at Facebook, it's clear that the contextual approach is working, and delivering a user experience of increased relevance is more important than providing every update to each user, all of the time, at least in the case of Facebook's user base and how they use the platform.
One other particular point of note: Facebook's 'Mobile-Only Active Users' - those accessing the site via mobile device exclusively - increased by 96 million, the biggest increase in Facebook's recorded history of this measure.
It barely needs to be re-iterated, but mobile is critical. More and more people are conducting more and more of their online activities exclusively via mobile devices - if you're not factoring in the mobile experience in your planning, you may be missing out. Make sure you're checking your analytics to see where your audience is searching/connecting and be sure to optimize your online experience accordingly.
In terms of revenue, Facebook hit $17.93 billion for the full-year 2015, with a big increase in Q4 ($5.84b).
The North American region still leads Facebook's overall revenue charge, but Q4 saw significant increases in all regions (with advertising driving some 97% of that income).
Average Revenue Per User (ARPU) also saw big increases, with a huge jump of almost $3 per user in the U.S./Canada.
It's hard to fault Facebook's overall strategic vision with numbers like that, and while spending on research and development was down for the quarter, Facebook has continued to invest in coming initiatives like AI, virtual reality and technological developments to improve connectivity for remote regions.
In sharing his thoughts on the results (in the accompanying earnings call) CEO Mark Zuckerberg focussed on the growth of video on Facebook, noting that people are now watching more than 100 million hours of video on the platform every day. To work with this trend, Zuckerberg noted that they're working on improving their video suggestions to deliver more content to users, while they're also building a dedicated video platform on Facebook "for people who just want to watch video" - in other words, their YouTube challenger which would use Facebook's algorithm to help users find more video content of interest.
Zuckerberg noting this is initiative is of relevance, and highlights the focus this initiative is getting - and how seriously Facebook is taking video and the race with YouTube for online video supremacy. While the video discovery platform was revealed back in October, it wasn't really treated as a big deal, but its potential is big. Watch this space.
Zuckerberg also highlighted events and groups as seeing a significant rise in use - with more than 1 billion people now using groups on the platform. You can expect these elements to also see increasing focus in 2016.
Zuckerberg also talked up the development of Instagram and its new search and 'trending content' features to fuel discovery. And Messenger also got specific focus, with Zuckerberg highlighting their efforts to enhance and build the service, noting, specifically, their new integration with Uber which enables Messenger users to order a car in-app. Zuckerberg said they're working to further develop such integrations, with more services, including airlines, coming on board soon.
Overall this was an amazing quarter, and an amazing year for The Social Network, and it's hard to see anything but positives in future for the ever-expanding giant. While Facebook still has mis-steps every now and then, they are becoming fewer, and their focus on future tech, as enabled by the investment they're able to make in such developments, places the company well for continued growth in future. For all the talk of people turning away from Facebook, all the chatter about the kids moving on, the platform continues to move forward, consuming all in its wake.
Even for the doubters, the numbers here are pretty undeniable. It'll be interesting to see how the company builds on this over the course of 2016.