Facebook Inc. surpassed Google Inc. as the most visited website in the U.S. last year, spotlighting the rapid ascendance of social networking over search engines and Internet portals.
Facebook received 8.9 percent of all U.S. Web visits between January and November 2010, according to New York-based Internet tracker Experian Hitwise. Google's main site was second with 7.2 percent, followed by Yahoo! Inc.'s Mail service, Yahoo's Web portal and Google's YouTube.
Facebook, founded by 26-year-old Mark Zuckerberg in 2004, has more than 500 million users and commands a valuation of more than $40 billion on exchanges for privately held companies. The site's leadership in social networking has attracted advertisers such as Coca-Cola Co. and JPMorgan Chase & Co., letting Facebook reach sales of about $2 billion this year, according to people familiar with the matter.
"Facebook could be a bigger IPO than Google," said Tom Taulli, an independent researcher on initial public offerings. "If I'm Google, I'm concerned. If Facebook is becoming the gateway to the Web, that's going to be trouble for Google, in terms of ad revenues and growth potential."
Facebook first topped Google on a week-to-week basis in March and maintained its lead throughout 2010. The Palo Alto, Calif.-based company enticed more users by adding games, revamping its news feed, improving chat features and offering more security options. The next step for the company is to increase its e-commerce partnerships so that friends recommend products to one another in a more sophisticated manner, Taulli said.