The love affair between Australians and social media may have peaked after new data from comScore showed that time spent on social networks had decreased in the country.

According to the data, social networking sites account for 20.8% of time spent online in Australia, with online portals are not far beyond, accounting for 17.3% of Australians’ time online.

comscore stats 20111 Has Australias interest in social media peaked? New comScore data suggests it may have

As the second chart below shows, the use of email has remained reasonably constant level unlike instant messaging that has dropped from 19.2% of all web activity in 2009 to just 7.1% in 2011. Web portals have seen an equally large dip from accounting for 29.3% of all traffic to just 17.3%.

To give some context to the new data, it represents a very small decrease in time spent on social media in the country based on previous data. A comparison shows that time spent using social media has remained constant over the last year, having initially jumped up 5.3% between 2009 and 2010.

comscore stats 0910 Has Australias interest in social media peaked? New comScore data suggests it may have

It is possible that Australian social media usage has plateaued however this data alone isn’t sufficient evidence to to prove that for two main reasons.

First off, and rather interestingly, comScore has lowered the age of Internet users it tracks from 15 down to 6 years old. Is the growth of child-friendly tablets the reason behind the change? It remains unclear, but the firm has adjusted its age parameters across all data sets.

This addition of a new demographic, whose web browsing is not tracked in the 2009 and 2010 data, could affect the proportion of usage within each category, although comScore did tell us that the difference is “very minimal”.

Secondly, the Internet activity which comScore records includes only that made from home or work locations, as the disclaimer below both charts points out, meaning no traffic from mobile devices is included. With mobile Internet usage growing at a fast rate across the world – and social networking on of its key drivers – it is true to say that more people in Australia are using their mobile devices to access social media.

Irrespective of including the mobile Internet based data in comScore’s findings, the growth in mobile social networking could be affecting the amount of time spent accessing social media from the home and work locations which comScore tracks. Users that check Facebook through an iPhone or BlackBerry are likely to spend less time logged into the site on their PC, for example.

At the same time, however, news is a popular driver of mobile Internet usage so there is an argument that the use of mobile Internet balances out across all categories.

Certainly with Facebook and Twitter no longer new on the scene, Australia wouldn’t be the first market where social networks have plateaued, if that is the case. But this drop could be a signal that we are using the Internet in a smarter way, accessing the web from a multitude of platforms beyond just our office or home PC.

One thing that is for sure, based on comScore’s statistics, is that social media is more popular in Malaysia than Australia. Indeed, Internet users in the Asian country spend one third of their time online on social networking sites compared to Australia’s 20.8%.

This  emphasis on social in Asia is just one reason that explains why the likes of Google, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn – which just opened a Japanese presence – are investing in Asia, where social media is booming.

Also on social media in Asia: see what Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey had to say about the company’s development in Asia