What your favourite Web sites say about you

Are MySpace users inherently promiscuous? Does Facebook turn you into a social recluse? Over the next few pages we aim to discover exactly what our surfing habits say about us

Rory Reid
14 min read

The universe has many unanswered questions: are MySpace users inherently promiscuous? Does Facebook turn you into a social recluse? Is Slashdot populated exclusively by geeks who were bullied as children? Does habitual blogging make you a sad, attention-seeking Billy No-mates?

Just like the stereotypical middle-aged man in a Ferrari, the things we do, clothes we wear and Web sites we visit say a lot about our personalities. Over the next few pages we aim to discover exactly why our favourite Web sites are so popular, and find out what our surfing habits say about us.

Obviously there isn't just one specific type of person that uses a particular site -- demographics vary widely -- but we're going to make an educated guess based on our own experience and knowledge of the geek community.

Are your opinions in line with ours? Read the feature and let us know what you think. -Rory Reid

What's the story?

Far from being an amateur effort developed in MySpace president Tom Anderson's garage, the site was a professional endeavour designed to overtake rival site Friendster. The initial project began in August 2003 and was overseen by Anderson, Brad Greenspan and Chris DeWolfe -- employees of eUniverse (later re-named Intermix Media).

According to Alexa Internet, MySpace is currently the sixth most popular English-language Web site -- it has attracted well over 100 million users to date. When parent company Intermix was acquired by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp for $580m (£290m) in July 2005, MySpace was valued at a handsome $327m (£160m), making the founders instant millionaires.

Did you know?
Intermix launched a huge marketing campaign and populated MySpace with a list of 20 million users and email subscribers it held separately. Alarm bells rang when the company was sued in 2005 by New York attorney general Eliot Spitzer for allegedly distributing Web toolbars that contained spyware. Some believe the list of users that helped populate MySpace was acquired by hidden spyware inside Intermix's Web toolbars. The case was settled out of court for $7.7m (£3.9m).

What MySpace says about you
The MySpace demographic varies from 11-year-old school children to 35 year olds who have never quite grown up. Strongly influenced by alternative music, they're united in their homemade haircuts, abhorrence of popular fashion and fondness for obscure electropunk. Typical MySpace users treat their profiles like a sandbox: a place where they can escape the real world, find themselves and make friends.

The users find salvation in badly animated GIFs, music that auto-plays their voices and taking 'sexy' camera phone profile portraits in front of dirty mirrors -- all common modes of expression. The number of friends in a user's list is a self-esteem barometer. Anyone will do, but their top five friends usually consist of anyone who's shunned pop culture, is partial to facial piercings and is in a grunge rock band.

What's the story?

Slashdot is a well-respected science and technology news aggregation Web site. It lists user-submitted news stories with a bias towards geeks. Each story is vetted by a moderator before being posted, at which point visitors can leave their opinions in Slashdot's highly active forums. It was created in September 1997 by Rob 'CmdrTaco' Malda, who still runs the site.

The first Slashdot submission was recorded on 31 December 1997. By 18 August 2004 it had recorded 10 million posts. During this time its users helped create a unique subculture that was responsible for the propagation of several Internet memes. Among these were Al Gore's spurious claim to have invented the Internet, Chuck Norris' refusal to use email because he comes from the cowboy generation, and countless hyperlink-related 'pranks' involving the Goatse phenomenon.

Slashdot's core audience is thought primarily to be Linux users. Contrary to popular opinion, however, over half of its visitors use a Windows PC. Approximately a third use some form of Linux, with 10 per cent using Mac OS X.

Did you know?
Before Slashdot was Slashdot, it was known as 'Chips & Dips'. The site was launched in July 1997 but less than three months later it was renamed. The name Slashdot was allegedly chosen to confuse those poor souls who pronounce the full URL of the site ("h-t-t-p-colon-slash-slash-
slashdot-dot-org"). You've got to love geek humour.

What Slashdot says about you
Slashdot's tagline is "news for nerds", so no prizes for guessing what type of people visit the site. The average male Slashdot user probably looks a lot like our model -- but has more acne and bigger glasses. Users are 23 years old but look twice their age and steadfastly refuse to accept the fact that Windows is actually not a bad operating system.

Far from being lovable dorks, the Slashdotters have a vicious streak. They hunt like spiders, awaiting the arrival of an article from their victims -- usually a hapless news reporter. The second moderators accept a story, they pounce -- pedantry, suspicion and anonymity their weapons of choice. 

What's the story?

Wikipedia is a free online encyclopaedia that can be edited by anyone. It was developed in January 2001 as a "feeder project" for Nupedia, which was written by highly qualified, expert contributors. Its conceptual origins are disputed (see below) but the main players were Jimmy Wales, founder of Nupedia, and Larry Sanger, his editor-in-chief.

Nupedia's expert editors were reluctant to be associated with user-generated content, so the project was given its own URL (www.wikipedia.com). Like many Web sites, Wikipedia was given prominence after a series of appearances on Slashdot in March 2001. This encouraged many more participants -- the number of articles grew from 1,000 in February 2001 to 40,000 in August 2002. The 2 millionth English language article was posted in September 2007.

Did you know?
Wikipedia is a veritable font of disputed content -- for every user that posts information, there is another to contest its accuracy. Ironically, Wikipedia itself cannot decide who actually founded the company. In 2001, its official personnel page stated that Wales and Sanger were co-founders. Wales, however, has claimed it was he alone who founded Wikipedia. He has told The Boston Globe "it's preposterous" to call Sanger a co-founder. We wonder what the Encyclopaedia Britannica thinks about all this.

What Wikipedia says about you
The average Wikipedia users are university students with too hectic a lifestyle for their own good. The users are in search of a quick fix to their long-standing problem of not doing enough prior research. When all the late nights have taken their toll and essay deadlines loom, they can confidently lean on Wikipedia like a crutch of knowledge.

Occasionally the Wikipedia users are pranksters. When not trying to add themselves to the lexicon, they're modifying entries to gain notoriety. For example, the Wikipedia entry for Windows was once altered to read:

A thirty-two bit extension and graphical shell to a sixteen-bit patch to an eight-bit operating system originally coded for a four-bit microprocessor which was written by a two-bit company that can't stand one bit of competition. -LW"

In January 2007, Microsoft unsuccessfully offered cash to change certain Wikipedia articles. Unbelievably, the above wasn't one of them.

What's the story?

Flickr started life as a multi-user chat room called FlickrLive, which allowed users to chat and exchange photos. As the site evolved, the chat room aspect was shelved and more emphasis was placed on photo management and sharing. The service was developed by Canada-based Ludicorp in February 2004 and had a core team of just nine staff. But don't let its size fool you; Ludicorp had an ambitious corporate philosophy. In its own words, Ludicorp's goal is not to raise capital or to make a profit -- "the goal is to kick ass".

On 20 March 2005, Ludicorp and Flickr were acquired by Yahoo. Five days later Ludicorp updated its Web site to tell visitors it was time to "pop the champagne corks!!" Flickr was migrated from servers in Canada to servers in the US and no updates have been posted on Ludicorp's Web site since. The Ludicorp team (presumably) migrated themselves, perhaps to sunnier climes, with digital cameras in hand and cash firmly in pocket.

Did you know?
The Flickr service originated from tools designed for a massively multi-player online game called Game Neverending (GNE). The game was in development between 2002 and 2004 but proved too ambitious a project and was scrapped. We're not sure anyone would have played it anyway -- it was based on themes of social interaction and object manipulation, but there was no way to actually win at GNE, nor any way of telling whether you were playing it successfully.

What Flickr says about you
The average Flickr user is a lover of life. They are never without their camera and waste no opportunity to capture the moment. They travel often, absorbing new cultures as they go. Their goal is primarily to create a digital record of their adventures, so that by the time they're older, they'll have access to an unlimited supply of photos with which to bore and embarrass their grandchildren at family reunions.

Some might say the Flickr user has a dark side -- they can be show-offs, and often brag to their less financially fortunate friends about their adventures. "Look at me standing in the shadow of the Louvre!" is a common cry. "Don't you wish you could be as beautiful and happy as I look standing at the top of the Eiffel Tower?"

For the most part, though, they live for the moment and are tolerant and embracing of new people and cultures. All in all, Mr and Ms Flickr are sweethearts.

What's the story?

eBay was founded in September 1995 by computer programmer Pierre Omidyar. It was rumoured that Omidyar founded the site to help his fiancée trade Pez candy dispensers, though this was later denied in Adam Cohen's book The Perfect Store, published in 2002. The site was originally known as AuctionWeb but was renamed eBay in September 1997. Omidyar based the new name on that of his consulting firm -- Echo Bay Technology Group.

The first item sold on eBay was a broken laser pointer for $14.83 (£7.38). Omidyar was so astonished he contacted the winning bidder to ask if he understood that the item was broken. When the buyer explained "I'm a collector of broken laser pointers," Omidyar knew he had created something big. He later renamed the site 'brokenlaserpointerBay'. Only joking.

eBay went public in 1998, making Omidyar and president Jeff Skoll instant billionaires. The site has since acquired various smaller Web companies including PayPal, Skype, Stumbleupon, Gumtree, shopping.com and even a stake in Craigslist, the popular classified advertisement site.

Did you know?
A student from Coventry University once sold a single cornflake for £1.20. A man from Arizona sold an air guitar for $5.50. A man once tried to sell the whole of New Zealand for a starting price of $0.01AUD. Our favourite auction, however, is the June 2005 sale of British radio DJ Tim Shaw's Lotus Esprit sports car. His wife listed it with a Buy It Now price of £0.50 after she heard him flirting with model Jodie Marsh on air. The car was sold within five minutes.

What eBay says about you
eBay users are entrepreneurs. They grew up watching the Antiques Road Show and were inspired by the fact people can make a living selling useless, broken and even potentially dangerous goods to gullible members of society.

eBay users have a language all of their own. 'New' means 'worn only once'. 'Improved' means 'didn't work the first time'. 'Reliable' means 'we made it work long enough to ship it' and 'futuristic' means 'there's no other reason why it looks the way it does'.

What's the story?

YouTube was founded in February 2005 by three former PayPal members -- Chad Hurley, Steve Chen and Jawed Karim -- in a makeshift office in a garage. They moved to more appropriate offices following a $3.5m investment by venture firm Sequoia Capital, and an additional $8m investment by Roelof Botha, partner of the firm and former chief financial officer of PayPal.

YouTube was famously acquired by Google for $1.65bn in stock on 9 October 2006. The Wall Street Journal reported that Chad Hurley's share was worth $345.6m. He received 694,087 Google shares directly and another 41,232 shares in trust. Steven Chen and Jawed Karim received 624,366 shares and 137,443 shares respectively, valued at $326.2m and $64.6m.

YouTube has enjoyed immense success since its launch. During December 2006 it was one of the fastest growing Web sites -- even outpacing MySpace for growth. According to Hitwise.com, YouTube attracts up to 65 per cent of the UK online video market.

Did you know?
YouTube was once sued by Universal Tube & Rollform Equipment Corp because its Web site, utube.com, has been frequently overloaded by the high number of visitors unsure of YouTube's correct spelling. Universal Tube requested that the youtube.com domain be transferred to them but the judge ruled the defence's claim had no merit or underlying justification.

What YouTube says about you
YouTube users are voyeurs. It's likely they grew up watching episodes of Beadle's About or America's Funniest Home Videos but always hated the talky bits in between people falling over. They visit YouTube regularly to gorge themselves on painful-looking movies, laughing maniacally with each crunch of bone. Lips 2 Da Floor is their anthem.

But it's not all about seeing people being disfigured -- the typical YouTuber also has a soft side. They'll happily while away a weekend watching all 4,093 entries of 'cute kitty yawning', and always find time to follow the latest happenings in the world of lonelygirl15. But mostly they'd rather just watch you break your face.

What's the story?

'The Facebook' was founded in February 2004 by Harvard University student Mark Zuckerberg, with support from friends Andrew McCollum and Eduardo Saverin. The site was inspired by traditional paper facebooks -- university publications distributed at the start of the academic year to help students get to know each other.

Membership was originally restricted to Harvard students but the site slowly opened its doors to anyone with a US college or university email address (.edu). It later dropped all restrictions, allowing anybody with Internet access to sign up.

In May 2005, the company raised $12.7m in venture capital and later bought the domain name facebook.com from Aboutface Corporation for $200,000. It then dropped 'the' from its name, sat back and watched the masses flood in. By December 2005, Facebook had attracted as many as 11 million users.

Did you know?
It is possible to increase the size of user photos that are shown during a people search. All you need to do is alter a URL parameter. Right click your image of choice, copy the image location, paste it into a browser address bar and alter the 's' in the filename to an 'n'. Now you can stalk strangers without straining your eyesight!

What Facebook says about you
The typical Facebookers are what you'd get if YouTube and Flickr went halves on a baby. Yes, the site was created to help university students connect and have a good time, but connecting and having a good time generally involves unruly, drunken behaviour, which is inevitably caught on film and posted for your entire friends list to see.

Most Facebookers have mastered the skill of anonymous stalking. They're loathe to admit it, but they'll happily waste hours peering into the lives of people they hardly know, assimilating every last piece of personal information they can -- particularly if their victim is good looking.

To them, Facebook is the equivalent of breaking into somebody's home while they're away, reading their diary, trying on their underwear and (through the Facebook wall) scrawling graffiti everywhere.

What's the story?

Twitter is a social-networking site that allows users to micro-blog -- a form of blogging where each update is less than 140 characters in length. It began as a research and development project inside Odeo Inc, which is responsible for the Odeo podcast recording and sharing application.

Twitter is widely recognised as the first site that allowed users to send short updates to friends via SMS, instant messenger, email or from the Web -- the aim being to communicate exactly what you're doing or feeling at any given moment.

Relatively little is known about its founders, Noah Glass and Jack Dorsey, except for a well-documented appearance at the South by Southwest Web Award ceremony. Dorsey gave a playful acceptance speech, which went as follows: "We'd like to thank you in 140 characters or less. And we just did!"

Did you know?
US presidential candidate Barack Obama has a Twitter page, on which you can find out exactly what he's doing at any given moment. At the time of writing he was enjoying an ice cream social with residents of Sunapee, New Hampshire. How he has time to run his election campaign with all that Twittering, we have no idea.

What Twitter says about you
If you've ever been friends with somebody that has a constant compulsion to talk, you're probably familiar with the average Twitter user. Whereas typical bloggers communicate their views every day or two, Twitterers insist on relaying every waking moment of their life. It doesn't matter if they're eating a cheese and pickle sandwich, using the toilet or contemplating whether to install Linux on their iPods, the Twitter user will let you know about it.

Most normal human beings would find it difficult to communicate their thoughts on such a regular basis. They'd also be driven slowly insane dealing with constant updates from friends documenting the mundane. But not Twitter users. They get a release with every 140-character micro-blog. To them, the world is a better place now everyone knows they're slightly hungry.

The average Twitter user is likely to have low self-esteem and feel insecure. They counter these feelings by reaching out to everyone they know, and creating situations where they can be the centre of attention. Twitter users are probably a danger to themselves and to society.

What's the story?

The site you see before you is the result of hard work, dedication and a ludicrously overblown love for technology. It launched on 18 May 2005 with a small team of crack journalists, eager to emulate the success enjoyed by its US cousin, CNET.com.

It currently employs ten editorial staff, or 'word monkeys' as they like to be known. They are Nate Lanxon, Rory Reid, Andrew Lim, Ian Morris, Richard Trenholm, Kate Macefield, Nick Hide, Jason Jenkins, Michael Parsons and Mary Lojkine. Rupert Goodwins, who works for sister site ZDNet.co.uk, often contributes to the Crave Podcast and once worked for a purveyor of weapons of mass destruction.

The site offers thousands of up-to-date product reviews, news, videos, a podcast and a burgeoning downloads section where you can download free and free-to-try applications.

Did you know?
One of the job requirements for working at CNET.co.uk is having a rock 'n' roll lifestyle. We've partied with the Pussycat Dolls, rubbed shoulders with famous TV presenters and are forever smashing up inanimate objects in five-star hotel rooms. Some of our favourite activities include playing with model aircraft, dressing up in spandex and scaring the general public with things that look like bombs.

What CNET.co.uk says about you
CNET.co.uk attracts a wide variety of users but they almost always have one thing in common: they're gorgeous. Oh, and they like technology. Sure, they use MySpace, Facebook and once, misguidedly, even created a Twitter account (but they're sorry for that last part).

They're the best sort of people to be around. They're highly educated, well-travelled and they possess the sort of qualities every mother tries to instil in her child. They'll one day go on to broker world peace, cure the incurable and are the very reason we wake up for work in the mornings. They're great and we love them all. Even the ones who think we sold them something and ring us up to complain.