The World’s Most Popular Social Networks, and Who Owns Them
Currently, there are over 4.5 billion people around the world who use some form of social media—about 57% of the global population.
Yet, while social media’s audience is widespread and diverse, just a handful of companies control a majority of the world’s most popular social media platforms. Meta, the tech giant formerly known as Facebook, owns four of the five most widely used platforms.
This graphic highlights the biggest social networks across the globe, measured by their monthly active users (MAUs).
Note: We’ll be using terms like “social network” and “social platform” interchangeably to refer to various messaging, video, and image-sharing platforms that have social attributes built in.
Top Social Platforms by Monthly Active Users
To measure each platform’s MAUs, we dug into various sources, including the most recent company SEC filings, and quarterly earnings reports.
A majority of Meta’s user base comes from its most popular platform, Facebook—the social media giant currently has around 2.9 billion MAUs worldwide.
|Rank||Platform name||Parent company||Country||Monthly active users, in millions|
|#25||Line||Naver||🇰🇷 South Korea||169|
|#27||Likee||Bigo Live||🇸🇬 Singapore||150|
Where in the world are Facebook users located? The platform’s biggest user base comes from India, with an audience size of almost 350 million. Its second-largest user base is the United States, with 193.9 million users, while Indonesia comes in third with 142.5 million.
But Facebook isn’t the only social giant in Meta’s network of platforms. WhatsApp has approximately 2 billion MAUs, making it Meta’s second-largest platform, and the third-largest social network overall.
Like Facebook, a significant number of WhatsApp users are located in India, with roughly 390 million users. Brazil has a large portion of WhatsApp users as well, with an audience size of 108 million.
The Billion Users Club
Meta currently dominates the social network landscape, with a combined total of 7.5 billion MAUs across all four of its platforms. However, a few other companies also hit the one billion MAU mark across all their platforms on the list:
|Rank||Parent company||# of companies on the list||Country||Combined MUAs|
|1||Meta||4||🇺🇸 U.S.||7.5 billion|
|2||Tencent||3||🇨🇳 China||2.4 billion|
|3||Alphabet||1||🇺🇸 U.S.||2.3 billion|
|4||Bytedance||2||🇨🇳 China||1.6 billion|
|5||Kuaishou||1||🇨🇳 China||1 billion|
After Meta, Tencent has the second-highest reach thanks to its three platforms—WeChat, Qzone, and QQ. Of the three, WeChat is currently the most popular. On average, WeChat users send about 45 billion messages a day.
Third on the list is Alphabet, thanks to its one platform, YouTube. Founded in 2005, this video streaming platform currently has over 50 million content creators, who share approximately 500 hours of video content every minute.
Close behind Alphabet is Bytedance, with a combined 1.6 billion MAUs across its two platforms—Douyin and its international counterpart TikTok. While the apps share a lot of similarities, they function as completely separate entities, with different registration, content policies, and regulations.
Global Social Networks? Not Always
While social media networks often transcend country borders, it’s worth noting that the online realm does not completely escape the constraints and regulations of our physical world.
Since 2009, Facebook has been banned in China for not complying with censorship rules. Facebook was also blocked in Iran and Syria around the same time and has been blocked sporadically since.
In 2020, the Trump administration tried to enact a similar ban against TikTok, but the order was blocked by a federal judge and eventually revoked by the Biden administration a year later.
Despite various bans and roadblocks, it’s clear that social media platforms have seeped into the lives (and onto the screens) of users across the globe. And as internet access worldwide continues to grow, so too will the number of social media users.
How Big Tech Revenue and Profit Breaks Down, by Company
How do the big tech giants make their money? This series of graphics shows a breakdown of big tech revenue, using Q2 2022 income statements.
In the media and public discourse, companies like Alphabet, Apple, and Microsoft are often lumped together into the same “Big Tech” category. After all, they constitute the world’s largest companies by market capitalization.
And because of this, it’s easy to assume they’re in direct competition with each other, fiercely battling for a bigger piece of the “Big Tech” pie. But while there is certainly competition between the world’s tech giants, it’s a lot less drastic than you might imagine.
This is apparent when you look into their various revenue streams, and this series of graphics by Truman Du provides a revenue breakdown of Alphabet, Amazon, Apple, and Microsoft.
How Big Tech Companies Generate Revenue
So how does each big tech firm make money? Let’s explore using data from each company’s June 2022 quarterly income statements.
View the full-size infographic
In Q2 2022, about 72% of Alphabet’s revenue came from search advertising. This makes sense considering Google and YouTube get a lot of eyeballs. Google dominates the search market—about 90% of all internet searches are done on Google platforms.
View the full-size infographic
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Amazon’s biggest revenue driver is e-commerce. However, as the graphic above shows, the costs of e-commerce are so steep, that it actually reported a net loss in Q2 2022.
As it often is, Amazon Web Services (AWS) was the company’s main profit-earner this quarter.
View the full-size infographic
Apple’s biggest revenue driver is consumer electronics sales, particularly from the iPhone which accounts for nearly half of overall revenue. iPhones are particularly popular in the U.S., where they make up around 50% of smartphone sales across the country.
Besides devices, services like Apple Music, Apple Pay, and Apple TV+ also generate revenue for the company. But in Q2 2022, Apple’s services branch accounted for only 24% of the company’s overall revenue.
View the full-size infographic
Microsoft has a fairly even split between its various revenue sources, but similarly to Amazon its biggest revenue driver is its cloud services platform, Azure.
After AWS, Azure is the second largest cloud server in the world, capturing 21% of the global cloud infrastructure market.
Animation: The Most Popular Websites by Web Traffic (1993-2022)
This video shows the evolution of the internet, highlighting the most popular websites from 1993 until 2022.
The Most Popular Websites Since 1993
Over the last three decades, the internet has grown at a mind-bending pace.
In 1993, there were fewer than 200 websites available on the World Wide Web. Fast forward to 2022, and that figure has grown to 2 billion.
This animated graphic by James Eagle provides a historical look at the evolution of the internet, showing the most popular websites over the years from 1993 to 2022.
The 90s to Early 2000s: Dial-Up Internet
It was possible to go on the proto-internet as early as the 1970s, but the more user-centric and widely accessible version we think of today didn’t really materialize until the early 1990s using dial-up modems.
Dial-up gave users access to the web through a modem that was connected to an active telephone line. There were several different portals in the 1990s for internet use, such as Prodigy and CompuServe, but AOL quickly became the most popular.
AOL held its top spot as the most visited website for nearly a decade. By June 2000, the online portal was getting over 400 million monthly visits. For context, there were about 413 million internet users around the world at that time.
|Rank||Website||Monthly Visits (May 2000)|
But when broadband internet hit the market and made dial-up obsolete, AOL lost its footing, and a new website took the top spot—Yahoo.
The Mid 2000s: Yahoo vs. Google
Founded in 1994, Yahoo started off as a web directory that was originally called “Jerry and David’s Guide to the World Wide Web.”
When the company started to pick up steam, its name changed to Yahoo, which became a backronym that stands for “Yet Another Hierarchical Officious Oracle.”
Yahoo grew fast and by the early 2000s, it became the most popular website on the internet. It held its top spot for several years—by April 2004, Yahoo was receiving 5.6 billion monthly visits.
|Rank||Website||Monthly Visits (April 2004)|
But Google was close on its heels. Founded in 1998, Google started out as a simpler and more efficient search engine, and the website quickly gained traction.
Funny enough, Google was actually Yahoo’s default search engine in the early 2000s until Yahoo dropped Google so it could use its own search engine technology in 2004.
For the next few years, Google and Yahoo competed fiercely, and both names took turns at the top of the most popular websites list. Then, in the 2010s, Yahoo’s trajectory started to head south after a series of missed opportunities and unsuccessful moves.
This cemented Google’s place at the top, and the website is still the most popular website as of January 2022.
The Late 2000s, Early 2010s: Social Media Enters the Chat
While Google has held its spot at the top for nearly two decades, it’s worth highlighting the emergence of social media platforms like YouTube and Facebook.
YouTube and Facebook certainly weren’t the first social media platforms to gain traction. MySpace had a successful run back in 2007—at one point, it was the third most popular website on the World Wide Web.
|Rank||Website||Monthly Visits (Jan 2007)|
But YouTube and Facebook marked a new era for social media platforms, partly because of their impeccable timing. Both platforms entered the scene around the same time that smartphone innovations were turning the mobile phone industry on its head. The iPhone’s design, and the introduction of the App store in 2008, made it easier than ever to access the internet via your mobile device.
As of January 2022, YouTube and Facebook are still the second and third most visited websites on the internet.
The 2020s: Google is Now Synonymous With the Internet
Google is the leading search engine by far, making up about 90% of all web, mobile, and in-app searches.
What will the most popular websites be in a few years? Will Google continue to hold the top spot? There are no signs of the internet giant slowing down anytime soon, but if history has taught us anything, it’s that things change. And no one should get too comfortable at the top.
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