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Report: Social Networking Passes E-Mail In Popularity

Facebook's explosive growth helps make member communities the fourth most visited online sector globally, Nielsen reports.

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Spending time on social networking and blogging sites, categorized as "member communities" in the Nielsen report, now ranks as the fourth most popular activity on the Internet, while Web-mail visits have been bumped to fifth place. Participation in member communities grew 5.4 percent in 2008, according to the report, with 66.8 percent of Internet users visiting such sites last year against 61.4 percent doing so in 2007.

Not only are social networking and blogging growing at a more rapid pace in terms of user visits than any other sector of online activity classified by Nielsen, but the report also finds that time spent by users on member community sites is growing at more than three times the rate of overall Internet growth.

E-mailing grew 2.7 percent in 2008, bringing the total participation of global Internet users in that activity to 65.1 percent, but falling short of the new numbers for social networking, which grew at twice that rate.

Search remains the most popular activity on the Internet, with 85.9 percent of those online taking part, while general interest portals and communities attracted 85.2 percent of Internet users last year for second place. Software makers' Web sites were the third most popular destinations at 73.4 percent active reach.

Facebook has been the runaway winner as time spent on member community sites has grown from one minute in every 15 spent online by global Web surfers to one in every 11 minutes, according to Nielsen.

Total time spent by worldwide users on the entire Internet grew 18 percent from 2007 to last year, and minutes spent on member community sites grew by 63 percent in that time frame, but Facebook dwarfed both with 566 percent growth in user minutes spent on the Web site from December 2007 to December 2008.

The social networking site is just the ninth most popular brand on the Internet, according to the report, but with users spending on average three hours and 10 minutes per month on Facebook last year, it ranks first in user time spent among the world's 75 most popular online brands. Online video and gaming destinations also grew in terms of user time share, while instant messaging took a hit in 2008, Nielsen reports.

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