Are you a Fox, Hedgehog or Something Completely Different?

social media energise 2.0The recent video we posted that looks at whether the Internet is re-wiring our brains reminded me of a post we wrote a while back that looked deeper at this subject. In that article we referenced a great wee online test which asked the question: ‘Are you a Fox or a Hedgehog or something completely different?’. As well as being fun to do (albeit a bit time consuming as it took 20 minutes to complete) this test raised a number of important issues that merit more discussion.

Professor David Nicholas, Dr Ian Rowlands and Dr David Clark (University College, London) have been deeply involved in understanding Web Behaviour for the last 20 years, however, the changes to the Web and the emergence of Social Media has made them update and re-evaluate their understanding of this area.

One result of this quest for knowledge led them to the development of an interesting online experiment which then featured on a BBC TV programme called the Virtual Revolution. The Web Behaviour Test was until recently available for anyone to complete. Unfortunately, this is no longer the case. It included a series of usage questions, memory tests, search tests and games to find out more precisely, how WE use the Web.

What They Found

energise 2.0 social mediaThe researchers have segmented web users (you and I) into eight different Web Animals typifying a variety of observed behaviours as shown below:


Web Bear

  • Slow-moving – Web Bears like to browse the internet at a leisurely pace – just like real world bears who like to take their time over things.
  • Solitary – Like real bears, Web Bears tend to be solitary animals. Your results show that when you are looking for information, you are less likely to use social networks or other sites whose content is created by its users, preferring instead to go it alone.
  • Adaptable – Web Bears are highly adaptable multitaskers, able to do several things at the same time. Real-bears are also very flexible, particularly in their diet, and will eat fish, insects, salmon and even scavenge in human refuse for new sources of food.

Web Elephant

  • Slow-moving – Web Elephants like to browse the internet at a stately, methodical pace – just like real-world elephants who rarely see a reason to rush things.
  • Social – Real-world elephants and Web Elephants are both highly social. Real elephants are able to keep track of their own extended family trees and may even mourn love ones. As a Web Elephant, you often use social networking sites to keep track of your friends of family and are happy to rely on information from sites whose content is created by its users.
  • Adaptable – Real-world elephants owe their adaptability to their large brains and versatile trunks. As a Web Elephant you are similarly adaptable and are well-suited to carrying out several different tasks at the same time.

Web Fox

  • Fast-moving – Web Foxes are great at finding information quickly, just as real-world foxes are always ready to pounce on an opportunity.
  • Sociable – Foxes are highly social animals, maintaining complex relationships with the other members of their social group. When you browse the web you are also a social creature, often using social networks, or other sites whose content is created by its users, as sources of information.
  • Adaptable – Web Foxes are highly adaptable multitaskers, able to do several things at the same time – just like real-world foxes who can rapidly change their behaviour to suit their environments.

Web Hedgehog

  • Slow-moving – Web Hedgehogs are careful internet users, taking their time to find the right information – just as the real-world hedgehog carefully searches out insects and berries.
  • Solitary – Hedgehogs lead mainly solitary lives and are happiest foraging for food of their own. In the ecology of the Internet, you also prefer to go it alone, rarely relying on information on social networks or other sites whose content is created by its users.
  • Specialised – The hedgehog relies for protection on its highly specialised ability to roll into a spiky ball. Similarly, your test suggests you are a specialised web user, best suited to concentrating on one thing at a time rather than attempting to multitask.

Web Leopard

  • Fast-moving – Web Leopards are adept at getting information from the internet very quickly. Your speed is a trait you share with real-world leopards, which are among the fastest land animals.
  • Solitary – Leopards live alone, fending for themselves in isolated home ranges. Similarly, the Web Leopard likes to go it alone when looking for information, rather than rely on social networks, or other sites where the users create the content.
  • Specialised – Web Leopards are best suited to performing one task at a time rather than multitasking. The real-world leopard is similarly specialised, being perfectly adapted to silently tracking its prey before pouncing.

Web Elk

  • Slow-moving – Web Elks take their time finding exactly the right morsels of information – just like the real-world elk who carefully browses for shoots and leaves to eat.
  • Sociable – Real-world elks are social and stay in herds to protect themselves from predators. When you browse the web you are also a social creature, often using social networks, or other sites whose content is created by its users, as sources of information.
  • Specialised – Web Elks perform best when they focus on one thing at a time, rather than trying to multitask. Just as the real-world Elk is perfectly specialised for its environment, you have learned that while the web makes it possible to multitask, it’s not always the best approach.

Web Octopus

  • Fast-moving – Web Octopuses surf fast – just like real-world octopuses which use a form of ‘jet propulsion’ to escape predators.
  • Solitary – Real-world octopuses are independent animals and only rarely interact with each other. Similarly, when you are looking for information you tend to go it alone rather than rely on social networks or other sites whose content is created by its users.
  • Adaptable – Octopuses are highly adaptable and show a range of sophisticated behaviours. Your results show you are also able to keep track of several different things simultaneously, without your multitasking adversely affecting your performance.

Web Ostrich

  • Fast-moving – We can tell from your results that you are speedy surfer – one of the characteristics of the Web Ostrich, whose real-world counterpart has an impressive top speed of 45mph.
  • Sociable – The web is a social place. You take full advantage of this when you search for information by using social networks and other sites whose content is created by its users. Real-world ostriches are also highly social, even keeping eggs in each other’s nests to share the burden.
  • Specialised – The real-world ostrich is a true specialist, highly adapted to survive in hot, dusty African grasslands. You might not be at risk from lions when browsing the web, but you are still very focused. From your test we can tell you do best when you concentrate on one task at time, rather than several things at once.

So which Web Animal best describes you? Do you find information fast or take more time? Do you use your network to crowdsource information for you or trust your own instincts? Do you multitask or take each task in turn? Are you a Fox Or Hedgehog Or Something Completely Different?

We will look at some of the more immediate implications of this changing view of how we use the web in a forthcoming post.

We would welcome your comments.



About Alan Stevenson

Over the last fifteen years I have split my time almost equally between Developing Digital strategies for public and private sector clients and helping organisations visualise, specify, plan and optimise technology-based solutions within their organisation.
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