Houston: Social networking groups are no more an exclusive domain of teenagers or youngsters as it was a few years back, but now it is catering more for all those who are older but still young at heart.
The phenomenal growth of Facebook, Twitter and other social networking sites in the past year has come in part because of a surge in adoption by older members, with a national poll released Friday providing a surprising new measure for how fast baby boomers and seniors are adopting online social networks to bridge generations and geography.
A new study from the Pew Internet and American Life Project says the number of social networking users ages 50 and older nearly doubled in the past year, continuing a trend of strong growth that was first spotted last year.
In fact, for adults 50 to 64 years old, the use of social networking sites have jumped by 88 per cent in the past year, the study found. For those 65 and older, it has doubled.
The younger generation remains the biggest users of Facebook and other sites.
But the report shows that seniors currently make up the fastest-growing group.
"It`s surprising to see just how fast they are growing," said Mary Madden, senior research specialist and author of Pew`s study.
The Pew Centre points to several factors that contribute to why facebook is no more for kids anymore.
Using Facebook to find old friends and colleagues isn`t unique to any one demographic, but Pew says roughly seven out of ten people have used social networks for this purpose.
Roughly half of adults ages 50 and over have been contacted by someone from their past through a social network.
As people retire or change careers, social networks can be a way to stay in touch or get support.
Pew notes that Internet users with chronic diseases are more likely to blog or participate in online discussions, and older folks are more likely to have these diseases.
Put those two factors together, and you`ve got a strong argument for social networking as a way to find communities of people with similar experiences.
Pew says older folks may use social networks to connect with their progeny, despite results that "can sometimes be messy".
The group doesn`t provide hard data to support this claim, but it should seem like common sense to anyone whose parents use Facebook.
Pew doesn`t mention the prevalence of social games such as Farmville as a reason Facebook attracts older users, but it seems obvious when you look at the demographics of players.
According to a recent study of social gaming sponsored by publisher PopCap, 22 per cent of social game players are ages 50 through 59 -- the largest age bracket -- and 16 percent are ages 60 and older.
Facebook, a service that launched in 2004 for undergraduates at a few elite universities, may turn out to be a unique way to bridge the generation gap, said Mary Madden, author of the Pew report.
She said social networks are one of the very few places -- either online or offline -- where parents, teenagers, grandparents, friends and neighbours regularly communicate.
"I think just having a shared understanding of how these spaces function, and the role they play in younger people`s lives, I think that can be a pretty powerful conversion starter," said Madden, a senior research specialist for Pew.
"Certainly, older adults have a very long way to go to catch up to young adults, and e-mail is still at the centre of their daily communication patterns, but I do think that the trickle-up effect of younger relatives (bringing in older members) is quite powerful.
Still, not everyone wants to accept a "friend" request from Mom, Dad or Grandma.
Pew`s findings come from a nationwide telephone survey of 2,252 American adults who were interviewed on landlines and cell phones, and have a margin of error between two and three percentage points.
While the Pew report found that social network use among seniors 65 and older doubled in the past year, not everyone is jumping aboard.