Facebook smiling up at MySpace

News Corp. site leads field, but competitor is coming on strong

Despite impressive growth from Facebook during the past year, News Corp.'s MySpace continues to dominate the social networking arena in the U.S., according to Nielsen// NetRatings.

Last month, MySpace had 59.7 million unique visitors compared with Facebook's 16.5 million, NetRatings said. Facebook, though, has seen its visitors grow 110% compared with June 2006, while the News Corp. property has seen a 30% increase.

Facebook's growth is thanks in part to its September decision to open its doors to all Web users. The site previously was only open for those with valid high school or college e-mail addresses.

A comScore Media Metrix report recently found that growth on Facebook has been greater among noncollege-age users in the past year. From May 2006 to May 2007, unique visitors among the 18- to 24-year-old segment on Facebook grew at a rate of 38%, the lowest of any age group; visitors among 25- to 34-year-olds grew 181% during the period, while users older than age 35 grew 98% and visits among 12- to 17-year-olds grew 149%.

The News Corp. portal also dwarfs Facebook in terms of time spent on the site. MySpace users were on the portal for an average of two hours and 38 minutes in June, a 40% growth year-over-year, NetRatings said. Facebook visitors were on the site for one hour and eight minutes on average, for a 24% increase in that period.

The social networking numbers in the U.K., however, tell a different story. From November to May, Facebook has seen a 523% growth in unique visitors, NetRatings said, while MySpace has seen growth of 28%. Upstart Bebo also has beaten MySpace in this metric as well, growing 49% in that period.

For May, MySpace remained the leading social networking site in the U.K., with 6.5 million users compared with 4 million and 3.2 million for Bebo and Facebook, respectively. Alex Burmaster, European intel analyst at NetRatings, said that if the growth rates remain constant, both sites would overtake MySpace in September in terms of unique visitors among Brits.

Nielsen//NetRatings is owned by the Nielsen Co., parent company of The Hollywood Reporter.