Facebook deserted by millions of users in biggest markets

(THE GUARDIAN)   Facebook has lost millions of users per month in its biggest markets, independent data suggests, as alternative social networks attract the attention of those looking for fresh online playgrounds.

As Facebook prepares to update investors on its performance in the first three months of the year, with analysts forecasting revenues up 36% on last year, studies suggest that its expansion in the US, UK and other major European countries has peaked.

In the last month, the world’s largest social network has lost 6m US visitors, a 4% fall, according to analysis firm SocialBakers. In the UK, 1.4m fewer users checked in last month, a fall of 4.5%. The declines are sustained. In the last six months, Facebook has lost nearly 9m monthly visitors in the US and 2m in the UK.

Users are also switching off in Canada, Spain, France, Germany and Japan, where Facebook has some of its biggest followings. A spokeswoman for Facebook declined to comment.

“The problem is that, in the US and UK, most people who want to sign up for Facebook have already done it,” said new media specialist Ian Maude at Enders Analysis. “There is a boredom factor where people like to try something new. Is Facebook going to go the way of Myspace? The risk is relatively small, but that is not to say it isn’t there.”

Alternative social networks such as Instagram, the photo sharing site that won 30m users in 18 months before Facebook acquired the business a year ago, have seen surges in popularity with younger age groups.

Path, the mobile phone-based social network founded by former Facebook employee Dave Morin, which restricts its users to 150 friends, is gaining 1m users a week and has recently topped 9m, with 500,000 Venezuelans downloading the app in a single weekend.

Facebook is still growing fast in South America: monthly visitors in Brazil were up 6% in the last month to 70m , according to SocialBakers, whose information is used by Facebook advertisers, while India has seen a 4% rise to 64m – still a fraction of the country’s population, leaving room for further growth.

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