When cloud formations take physical shape, neither their scale nor duration has an upper bound: We may begin to see cloud towns, then cloud cities, and ultimately cloud countries. At first this sounds rather implausible. Perhaps the internet will spur a wave of internal migrations as online communities begin gathering in person—but could this process really lead to a new city, or country? – Balaji Srinivasan, "Software is Reorganizing the World"
Back in 2018, Vala Afshar posted a list of the 15 largest global populations. At that time, there were 5 nation states (China, India, the US, Indonesia, and Brazil) inside the top 15. At that time, the main takeaway from that list was that many of these online communities have grown to sizes that many would have previously thought unthinkable.
Largest global population:— Vala Afshar (@ValaAfshar) March 31, 2018
3 China 🇨🇳
5 India 🇮🇳
11 United States 🇺🇸
12 Indonesia 🇮🇩
15 Brazil 🇧🇷
In light of all the new online social media platforms, I recompiled the list with the best available data that I could find. The biggest change is that India and China are now the only two nation states inside the top 15. The other notable change is the dramatic increase in the representation of Chinese-based social applications.
|Name||Population or Monthly Active Uers|
So how should we interpret this data?
- Some will note that Facebook has 5 of the top 10 digital properties and that Zuckerberg has a fascination with Augustus Cesar who – at his height – reigned over ~45mm people. In some sense, this means he "rules" over ~63x more people than the first Roman emperor, and thus Facebook needs to be regulated into submission to show Menlo Park who is truly in charge.
- Given the proliferation of China-based social media applications and the deep coupling between the CCP and Chinese enterprise (see The Party: The Secret World of China's Communist Rulers), we need to be very thoughtful about the conditions under which we grant Chinese companies access to the American market.
- Another Asian observation is the absence of any Indian companies. Part of the reason is likely related to WhatsApp's popularity in the subcontinent. However, given India's unique approach to fostering digital competition, it seems likely that we will see at least 1 Indian company break into the top 15 in the next 10 years.
- Two notable aspects about the internet and these communications platforms are 1) the sheer size and 2) the ability to frictionlessly match people with those who are "cosine similar". Back in 2013, Balaji Srinivasan predicted that we would be moving to a world where people could find similar groups of people online and then physically concentrate in a similar area: "Taken together, we are rapidly approaching a future characterized by a totally new phenomenon, the reverse diaspora: one that starts out internationally distributed, finds each other online, and ends up physically concentrated." During COVID, this thesis seemed to be proven out with the rise of alternate startup hubs outside the Bay in places like Austin and Miami. Post-COVID the test will be how many of these companies remain either fully remote or in-person in a non-Bay Area locale.
- I omitted Apple FaceTime and Apple Messenger since I couldn't find a good source for the DAU and MAU numbers.
- “List of Countries and Dependencies by Population - Wikipedia.” 2020. Archive.org. 2020. https://web.archive.org/web/20210526224942/https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_and_dependencies_by_population.
- Contributors to Wikimedia projects. 2020. “List of Social Platforms with at Least 100 Million Active Users.” Archive.org. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. October 22, 2020. https://web.archive.org/web/20210518215822/https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_social_platforms_with_at_least_100_million_active_users.