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ComScore: Social sites are going global

Facebook's growth in unique visitors was clocked at 153 percent over the past year, according to the statistics firm, and 115 percent of that growth was outside the U.S.

We sort of knew it already: while Facebook, MySpace, Bebo, Hi5, Orkut, and Friendster were all founded in the U.S., social networking is a worldwide phenomenon. New statistics from ComScore show that sites like Facebook are growing rapidly across the globe, even as that growth slows down in their home country.

Earlier on Tuesday, performance firm Pingdom released numbers pulled from Google Insights for Search, showing that different social networks have very different levels of "interest" across the world. ComScore's numbers, also released Tuesday, underscore the fact that social sites are increasingly global in nature--and sometimes unexpectedly.

According to ComScore's numbers, social-networking sites may be nearing a peak in North America. The industry's foothold in the U.S. and Canada grew only 9 percent from June 2007, but in Asia it grew 23 percent, in Latin America 33 percent, and in Europe 35 percent. And social networks grew a whopping 66 percent in the Middle East and Africa. The 9 percent growth in North America meant that it was the only region of the world where the growth of social networks did not outpace the growth of the Internet-using populace as a whole, which ComScore pegged at 11 percent.

The fastest-growing site is, not surprisingly, Facebook, with a 153 percent increase in unique visitors noted. Most of that growth is international--its domestic growth was estimated at 38 percent. Hi5, a San Francisco-founded site with a big foothold in Latin America, grew 100 percent. Friendster, another Bay Area social network, grew 50 percent thanks to a renewed interest among Asian audiences. Growing at 41 percent is Google's Orkut, at 32 percent is AOL's Bebo, and at 19 percent is Skyrock, a France-based social network that remains extremely popular among the youth in its home country.

News Corp.'s MySpace, still the biggest social network in the U.S., is not doing quite as well internationally. Its unique visitors have gone up only 3 percent year-over-year, ComScore said.

"Facebook has done an exceptional job of leveraging its brand internationally during the past year," ComScore executive Jack Flanagan said in a statement from the company. "By increasing the site's relevance to local markets through local language interface translation, the site is now competing strongly or even capturing the lead in several markets where it had a relatively minor presence just a year ago."

Facebook's internationalization strategy has consisted of leaving the single site intact but allowing members to translate it into the local languages of their choice. MySpace, with its focus more on media consumption rather than communication, has launched several dozen localized editions of the site instead.

MySpace representatives have said that the site's aim is to gain a long-term foothold across the world, not to be a hot global fad. At the same time, it's been engaging in high-profile marketing projects outside the U.S., and at this point it doesn't seem to have produced results yet.