Facebook has grown 153 per cent during the past year, propelled by the soaring growth of new in virtually every market outside North America, according to a report on social networking released Tuesday by ComScore.

While the growth in the number of new social networking users leveled off to 9 per cent in North America between June 2007 and June 2008, growth in several other regions soared by well over 30 per cent during the same period, according to the ComScore report. For example, the number of new users in the Middle East and Africa region grew by 66 per cent during the year, while usage in Europe grew by 35 per cent and in Latin America by 33 per cent, the report noted.

Facebook, which took the global lead among social networking sites in April 2008, has made a concerted effort to become more culturally relevant to markets outside of North America by launching several market-specific natural language interfaces.

As a result, while North America is still Facebook's largest visitor base with 49 million users, the growth of 38% there was far lower than the 303% increase in Europe, the 1055% increase in Latin America and the 403% jump in the Middle East and Africa region.

"Facebook has done an exceptional job of leveraging its brand internationally during the past year," added Jack Flanagan, ComScore executive vice president, in a statement. "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."

Meanwhile, the emphasis Hi5 Networks has put on its full-scale localization strategy has helped the site double its total visitor base to more than 56 million, the report found. Other social networking sites, including Friendster (up 50 per cent), Orkut (up 41 per cent), and Bebo (up 32 per cent) have demonstrated particularly strong growth on a global basis. On the other hand, MySpace grew only 3 per cent worldwide during the timeframe, the report noted.

Nick O'Neill, a blogger at AllFacebook and Social Times, noted that the report may suggest that the previous large shifts of users from Friendster to MySpace and finally to Facebook may begin to slow as users "begin to settle into their favourite sites." He added that Facebook's large growth rates abroad mean the network is on the fast track to becoming the global social networking leader by a significant margin.

"MySpace was only able to three per cent worldwide growth over the past year," O'Neill added. "These statistics highlight the ongoing global competition for social network audiences. The discussion of monetization may still be premature for many as the battle for global leadership is ongoing."