Earlier, while reading some blogs, I felt that most of the online behavior is nothing short of exhibitionism & voyeurism.
Recently I came across a research article by Harvard Business School Prof Mikolaj Jan Piskorski, who did some empirical research on this topic. Here are some excerpts from that study:
"People just love to look at pictures," says Piskorski. "That's the killer app of all online social networks. Seventy percent of all actions are related to viewing pictures or viewing other people's profiles."...
Another draw of photos (and of Social Networking sites in general) is that they enable a form of voyeurism. In real life there is a strong norm against prying into other people's lives. But online enables "a very delicate way for me to pry into your life without really prying," the researcher says. "Harvard undergrads do it all the time. They know all about each other before they meet face to face. 'Oh, you're that guy that did that internship in D.C. last summer.' "
Piskorski has also found deep gender differences in the use of sites. The biggest usage categories are men looking at women they don't know, followed by men looking at women they do know. Women look at other women they know. Overall, women receive two-thirds of all page views.
"This was a very big surprise: A lot of guys in relationships are looking at women they don't know," says Piskorski. "It's an easy way to see if anyone might be a better match." Again, online networks act as cover.