In October 2007, Gartner, the respected technology research company, made what seemed to be an outrageous claim: by 2011, 80 per cent of the world's internet users will have an avatar. Avatars, graphical representations of ourselves that mark our presence in the digital world, are often associated with the excessively busty and brawny constituents of Second Life. In this virtual social world, there are never-ending opportunities to be hyper-human, with enhanced pout, pert or pret-a porter; and the idea that everyone from the local drycleaner to the children's headmaster would be brandishing such augmentation as they slew their way around the internet seemed, frankly, implausible. Yet, a year later, observers of the internet might not unreasonably riposte: 'What, only 80 per cent?' Why the shift? Increasingly, the word avatar is being used to describe something much more essential to users than a game or virtual world character. In this, the era of the social web, in which we are linked to ever-expanding and interconnecting people networks, users are choosing easily identifiable graphical images to mark their presence.