In a remarkable testament to the rapid growth (approaching ubiquity) of social media, last month social networks received more hits than search engines in the UK, according to the latest data from Experian Hitwise. In the past, online behaviors across the pond have foreshadowed or mirrored similar changes in the U.S., suggesting a similar shift may be coming here.
Total search engine hits -- covering Google, Yahoo, Bing, and others -- accounted for 11.33% of Internet visits in May, trailing social networks, which accounted for 11.88% of total visits, according to the figures from Experian Hitwise. Unsurprisingly this comes not long after Facebook passed Google in terms of Web site hits in the U.S., with the social net taking 7.07% of Web traffic versus 7.03% for the search engine during the week ending March 13.
These shifts are the culmination of a trend that has been developing for some time, hinting at yet another potential sea change in the way people access the Internet. Basically, I picture the evolution of Internet access as following a trend towards greater concentrations of personal and relevant public content -- progressing from early AOL-style portals offering email plus Web browsing, to Yahoo-style homepages which added personalized features like photo-sharing and RSS news feeds, and now finally profile-centered access combining all these elements plus personal relationships (increasingly enabled by mobile access).
Of course, my use of the word "finally" just indicated that this is the latest -- not actually the last -- transformation of the way people "get on" the Internet. It will be interesting to see what the next stage brings, and I'm curious to hear the opinions and predictions of any digital diviners out there.
I'm also wondering whether, and to what the degree the shift really reflects a loss for search engines. Instead, it may simply reflect increasing efficiency in their ability to lead users to relevant search results (either because of improved algorithms, users employing more precise search methods, or both) in which case I would argue that search engines are becoming more powerful, not less.