RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK – If you are wondering why Facebook is valued at $15 billion after Microsoft took a minor stake, consider these findings from a new survey:

1. Among 18 to 24 year olds in the U.S., 78 percent say they have created a digital identity at a social networking site such as Facebook or MySpace.

2. Overall, more than a quarter of Americans are taking part in the latest online rage.

However, just because they use the sites is not a certain sign that you can believe all you read about these digital profiles. According to the survey, 68 percent of the social networking sites say their digital IDs are simply a means of identifying themselves.

Measuring just how popular social networking has become is just one of several interesting findings in the survey conducted by Zogby International (a well-known political polling organization) and 463 Communications in Washington, D.C.

While the percentages of people using MySpace and Facebook weren’t surprising to me, another finding was: Nearly a quarter of those survey said that the Internet could become a replacement for a significant other.

Among singles, the percentage was even higher – 31 percent.

I find those significant other results to be amazing. But maybe I’m too much of an old traditionalist. As much as I love the Net, I don’t see it replacing my family and pets (two crazy cats and “grand dog”.)

Even 18 percent of people who identified themselves as “very conservative” went along with the Net-as-significant-other idea.

By the way, the poll sample wasn’t small, either. The Zogby-464 survey included 9,743 respondents from across the nation.

If you want to read more about the survey, check out the Web link with this column.