Thursday, April 23, 2009

Getting Face-to-Face with Facebook


Stuff happens on the Internet at a fast and furious pace these days, and sometimes it’s hard to keep up. If you haven’t yet had a chance to catch up with the Facebook phenomenon, this Facebook primer is for you.

What is Facebook?
Facebook is a popular Web site that for many people today defines online social networking. The lure of Facebook and other social networking sites is that they provide a way for people to easily stay in touch with each other and keep up with changes in their lives.
Facebook reports it currently has more than 175 million active users worldwide. And it’s not just for teenagers and young adults — many use Facebook to market their business or organization. The fastest-growing Facebook demographic is now people 30 years and older.

Signing Up
The first time you visit you are prompted to sign up and create a new account. It’s free — no credit card is required. On the sign-up page, you’ll also see that Facebook offers a separate option for creating a page for a business, band or celebrity.
After you create an account, you will receive a confirmation e-mail that includes a link to the registration wizard, which guides you through the entire Facebook registration process. During the registration process, Facebook encourages you to join one or more networks to discover more about the people around you. Facebook networks are based on a workplace, region, high school or college.

(© Dimitri Vervitsiotis/Getty Images)

Connecting With Friends
Creating an account is the first step, but the real fun comes from connecting with other Facebook users you know.  Adding other users as Facebook friends allows you to share your lives online.  In Facebook, this takes the form of posting messages, personal photos and videos, interesting Web site links and “status updates” — quick blurbs describing what you are currently doing, thinking or feeling. Facebook also lets you send e-mails to friends and engage in real-time chat (instant messaging).

The Facebook Friend Finder offers three ways to find other Facebook users to establish friendships with:

  1. You can have Facebook search your e-mail contacts. If Facebook can match any of your contact e-mail addresses to existing Facebook users, it sends friendship invitations to those users. This feature works only with widely used e-mail domains, however.
  2. You can enter a name in the search box and have Facebook display all Facebook users with that name. You can filter your search by former high school classmates, former and current college classmates, and former and current co-workers.
  3. You can have Facebook search for other Facebook users from among your instant message contacts by importing your AOL instant messaging (AIM) and Windows Live contacts.

(© Getty Images)

You can also have Facebook help you make new friends by suggesting people who are friends of your current Facebook friends.
When you invite people on Facebook to be your friend, they must confirm their willingness to establish the Facebook friendship. After the friendship is established, you can see each other’s Profile page.

Your Facebook Pages

Facebook features and options are spread across your Home, Profile, Friends and Inbox pages.  Here is a brief description of each.

  • Home: This page has the latest updates from your friends, including status updates, photos and links that are posted by people in your network.  Facebook provides ways to filter the information you see on this page.
  • Profile: Here you can see and edit your personal information on your Facebook account and view your Wall. The Wall is a public writing space where you and your friends can post messages that anybody visiting your Profile page can see.
  • Friends: Updates from people in your friend network appear here. Again, you can filter the information that is shown.
  • Inbox: Your Inbox page is where you receive and send private messages in Facebook.

Adding Photos and Videos
Adding photos and videos to your Facebook account is a great way to add personality to your profile.  It also allows you to share your pictures with all of your Facebook friends.  Uploading photos and videos is easy. Here are some ways to do it:

  • From your computer: The bar at the bottom of each Facebook page includes Photos and Video buttons. You can click these to take you to pages where you can upload photos or videos on your computer’s hard drive.
  • Plug-ins: You can upload photos to Facebook using third-party plug-ins downloaded from the Internet.  For example, if you use a Macintosh computer with iPhoto installed, you can download the Facebook Exporter for iPhoto to send pictures directly from iPhoto to your Facebook profile. The same type of plug-in is available for Windows Live Photo Gallery.
  • Photo-sharing sites: If you are accustomed to using photo-sharing services like Flickr and Picasa, you can sometimes link your uploaded photos from these sites to your Facebook profile.  All that this requires is that you download the Facebook application associated with your photo-sharing site.  This allows Facebook to search and display the images on your Facebook profile.

You should know that a controversy surfaced earlier this year regarding a “terms of use” change that apparently maintained that Facebook owned the rights to any photos, videos or other content you uploaded — even if you deleted your Facebook account.  Facebook has sincedenied that was the intent of the change and says that users’ content will not be shared if they leave Facebook.

Getting Acquainted With Applications
Facebook encourages developers to build applications that run on the Facebook platform.  As a result, there are many Facebook add-ons that allow users to interact with each other in fun and interesting ways.
One of the most popular applications is SuperPoke, a spinoff of Facebook’s Poke feature.  SuperPoke offers a fun way to get a friend’s attention by, for example, sending a couple of high-fiving sheep characters their way. When you SuperPoke someone, an icon shows up on your friend’s Wall indicating he has been hugged, smiled at or whatever poke you choose.

Other, more practical Facebook applications include:

  • Causes: This helps you start or join the causes you care about.
  • We’re Related: You can build your family tree by finding relatives on Facebook.
  • Birthday Calendar:  You’ll get reminded about birthdays that you may otherwise forget.

To see all the applications available, click the Applications button on the bar at the bottom of a page and then click Find More.

Is Your Information Secure?

Putting so much personal information online evokes privacy concerns.  However, you can filter what information is public and what information only friends can see.  To do so, you select the Privacy Settings option from the Settings drop-down menu at the top of each page. From there, you can manage privacy settings that control who can see your profile information, who can search for you, and more.

Facebook on Your Phone
If staying connected to your Facebook friends is important, even when you are away from your computer, consider a  smartphone. Most smartphones are equipped to run the Facebook Mobile Application. With Facebook Mobile, you can send messages, upload photos and enjoy the functionality of Facebook while away from your computer.

Facebook Trends
If Facebook users find something interesting, they often share it with their friends. One of the most notable recent trends is the 25 Things About Me craze.  It’s a Facebook survey distributed virally among more than 5 million Facebook users, offering the opportunity to write 25 random statements about themselves and invite others to do the same.  Popular chain letters like 25 Things About Me start in the form of Notes, a Facebook application that allows you to share information with friends through written entries.  You can then tag friends whom you want to see the note, encouraging them to comment and create their own note.
So that’s Facebook in a nutshell. The best way to get to know the social network, of course, is to set up an account and begin playing with the features. There are literally millions of Facebook users out there waiting to be your friend!

© Ian Cooley

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