If Facebook continues to grow at its current pace, it will be bigger than Google in just a few years, says RBC Capital Markets analyst Ross Sandler. Sandler expects the social networking site to have more unique visitors than Google by 2011 or 2012, if both sites grow as he projects. Sandler predicts 85 percent annual growth for Facebook and 20 percent for Google. Facebook is already starting to drive more traffic to some sites than Google does, according to a recent article in Advertising Age. So will social networking take a chunk out of the search giant? Not right now. In fact, the opposite is occurring.

“Facebook’s growth is actually helping boost Google’s search share vs. the other engines,” Sandler said.

The social networking site drives almost one-fifth (19 percent) of Google’s traffic, up 10 percent from a year ago. According to Sandler’s data, the social networking site is the fourth largest source of Google visits. And Facebook users go to Google significantly more than to its search competitors.

Google is also the main source of Facebook visits, driving 64 percent of Facebook uniques.

In January 2009, there were 772 million unique Google visitors and 237 million Facebook uniques. If I’m reading Sandler's data correctly, Google and Facebook combined account for 99 percent of unique visits on the Internet. If almost every single user on the planet uses either Facebook or Google, that’s pretty incredible.

Facebook’s projected growth depends on it remaining the most popular social networking site for several years, something which has proven impossible thus far in internet history. MySpace, and Friendster before it, had a lot of early growth before flatlining and succumbing to an eventual successor.

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By Mark Alvarez