LONDON: Communications watchdog Ofcom has sliced-off the top of Britain's internet anthill to probe the scurryings beneath. Its report, Social Networking: A quantitative and qualitative research, published Thursday, makes fascinating [if eerie] reading.

The document reveals just how quickly social networking sites have become a part of Britons' lives. Nearly half of all children with access to the internet have registered their personal profile on a social networking site.

Not only is there widespread use (49%) among the 8-17 age group, the report also reveals that over one-fifth (22%) of adult internet users aged 16+ have their own online profile.

It is common for adults to have a profile on more than one site (average of 1.6), while half of these adult social networkers say they access their profiles at least every second day.

The research also shows how social networking sites are stretching the traditional meaning of 'friends'. Some users say that they derive enjoyment from 'collecting' lists of people with whom they have an online connection but often have never met. 

Following fashionable research practice, Ofcom has tagged and segregated social networkers into five different types ...

  1. Alpha Socialisers: mostly male, under 25s, who use sites in intense short bursts to flirt, meet new people and be entertained.
  2. Attention Seekers: mostly female, who crave attention and comments from others, often by posting photos and    customising their profiles.
  3. Followers: males and females of all ages who join sites to keep up with what their peers are doing.
  4. Faithfuls: older males and females generally aged over 20, who typically use social networking sites to rekindle old friendships, often from school or university.
  5. Functionals: mostly older males who tend to be single-minded in using sites for a particular purpose.
Such is Ofcom's obsession with labelling homo sapiens that it has not only concocted the quintet above, it also ties tags on three distinct groups of people who don't use social networking sites:
  1. Those concerned about online safety: often older people and concerned parents – who are especially concerned about making personal details available online.
  2. Technically inexperienced folk (usually aged over 30) who lack confidence in using the internet and computers.
  3. Intellectual rejecters: older teens and young adults, for example, who have no interest in social networking sites and see them as a waste of time.
The report has assembled a wealth of similar online profiles and data, available by clicking here.

Data sourced from Ofcom (UK); additional content by WARC staff