Social networking surpasses personal email

Social network sites and blogs are now visited by over two-thirds of the global online population, according to a new report by Nielsen Online - and they account for almost ten per cent of all internet time.

These "member communities" have become the fourth most popular category of online web browsing, which puts it ahead of personal email accounts. Social networking is growing twice as fast as any of the other four large sectors, which include PC software, search, portals, and email.

"Social networking has become a fundamental part of the global online experience," sid John Burbank, chief executive of Nielsen Online, in a statement.

According to Nielsen, Facebook - which is currently the world's most popular social network - is visited each month by three out of every ten people online. One in every 11 minutes spent online around the world is used either for blogging or social networking.

Mobile internet is having an important part in social networking. Nielsen found that UK mobile web users have the highest tendency to visit a social network on their mobile handset, and the number of mobile social networkers is up 249 per cent in the UK over last year's numbers.

"Social networking isn't just growing rapidly, it's evolving - both in terms of a broader audience and compelling new functionality," said Alex Burmaster, author of the study.