Facebook's popularity drops 5% in one month

Facebook has suffered a decline in unique users in the UK for the first time since July 2006, falling 5% to 8.5m users in January, although the social networking site remains the most popular in the UK according to Nielsen.

The loss equates to 400,000 users from December to January, but Facebook's audience is still 712% higher than it was a year ago and 9% higher than three months ago.

It follows numerous articles in the media about people tiring of social networking sites and Facebook in particular.

Therefore, it still holds on to top spot among the social networking sites in the UK, remaining above MySpace and Bebo, which also suffered a decline in popularity last month.

MySpace's audience fell 5% from 5.3m unique users in December to 5m users in January. The News Corporation-owned site is down 9% year on year and down 14% from three months ago.

Bebo, which remains in third place, dropped 2% in January to 4.1m unique users. This figure is up 53% on a year ago but is down 8% from three months ago.

Alex Burmaster, European internet analyst at Nielsen Online, said: "Just as one swallow doesn't make a summer, so one month of falling audiences doesn't spell the decline of Facebook or social networking.

"It was inevitable that the early growth rates couldn't be sustained and the larger networks have been plateauing over the last few months."

He added that growth among the big players looks to be more about getting people from their competitors not attracting new people to social networking.

He said: "Real growth potential lies in the niche networks -- those based on a particular lifestyle or interest, such as travel, music, wealth or business."

Further social networking sites rounding out the top 10 in the UK include Windows Live Spaces, BBC Communities, Friends Reunited, Yahoo! Groups, MSN Groups, Google Groups and Piczo.

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