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The Online Mom provides internet technology advice and information to help parents protect their kids, encourage responsible behavior and safely harness the power of technology in the new digital world. Social networking, photo sharing, video games, IM & texting, internet security, cyberbullying, educational resources, the latest on tech hardware, gadgets and software for kids 3-8, tweens and teens, and more.


A quick look at the social networking phenomenon

By Xander Rothaus

Since 2005 I have been a member of the social networking phenomenon Facebook. For the uninitiated, Facebook was created in February 2004 by Mark Zuckerberg while he was still a student at Harvard University.  It quickly expanded to become the favorite site for college students to check out, connect and coordinate with their peers. At first, the site was only open to individuals with a college email address but it rapidly grew to include high school students and then anyone with a desire to join in the networking fun.
Since opening up, Facebook has been translated into twenty languages with a reported sixty more on the way and now has a global membership of over 130 million users.  But, what is Facebook? Facebook is a website that allows users to set up a detailed profile of themselves – contact information, likes and dislikes, names of friends, pictures, employment record, interests, affiliated organizations…almost any information they are prepared to divulge to the outside world. After a user has set up his or her profile, Facebook provides ways to search out other people by name, interest or affiliation and communicate in both public and private ways with them. 

How Is Facebook Used?

There are four main ways that people use Facebook: finding people, communicating, creating interest groups, and sharing pictures. One of the greatest things about Facebook is the ways it allows you to find and keep in touch with your classmates, fellow workers and friends – old and new.

I attended four different schools scattered throughout New York state during my kindergarten through college years. While providing me with a great opportunity to meet lots of people and learn how to make friends fast, it also left me with lots of acquaintances that disappeared over the years. Some moved away, some changed schools, others I just lost touch with over time.  That all changed with the advent of Facebook. Soon after finishing my profile I started getting contacted and “friended” by people I hadn’t seen in years.  (When someone wants to be added to your list of “friends” they send you a friend request that you may either accept, decline, or ignore.)

Searching For Lost Friends

Facebook makes finding old friends easy because you can search for them in so many different ways. Not only can you search by name but also by school, places you’ve lived, interest groups, and particularly through mutual friends who you are already connected with. Even though I have been on Facebook for years, I still find old friends or new ones all the time.

The new friend aspect of Facebook has been essential to its success among young people. After meeting someone in class, at a social gathering, or through mutual friends, it’s more than likely that there will be a friend request waiting for you on Facebook the next day. It’s so much easier to find someone on Facebook than look them up in the yellow pages.  Plus – and this is one of the biggest hooks – Facebook is seen as a less personal way to communicate.

New Ways To Communicate 

Being friends with someone on Facebook establishes a new line of communication. Often times, this is seen as a less intimate form of contact than giving the new acquaintance your phone number or address. In fact, making that first post-meeting contact with a new friend through a social networking site has now become the norm. However, communication through Facebook is not limited to informal friending. Once your Facebook friendship has been established, you have a variety of ways to continue the “dialogue”. Facebook allows direct communication in both public and private ways via wallposts and messages.  

As the name implies, wallposts are messages left on a user’s "wall" that are open to any other friend who cares to view them. These messages are used mostly for witty banter, quick questions and, more commonly, leaving a more traditional greeting like happy birthday. Since wallposts are public, most of the messages left on them are benign and, often, amusing.  My wall currently boasts quick hellos from college friends and a picture of a panda that my friend Hannah thinks I bear more than a passing resemblance to! These messages also pop up in the Newsfeed section, broadcasting them to everyone you are linked too.

For longer correspondence and more intimate conversations, Facebook provides messages. Messages are the email of Facebook. This function provides a platform for private communication between two or more people. Unlike wallposts, these messages cannot be viewed by anyone and are not broadcasted on the Newsfeed. Messages are also the way most Facebook groups communicate with their members.

Facebook Groups  

This brings us to one of the most popular features of Facebook: Groups. Facebook Groups are collections of people focused around a shared interest. These are usually an idea, a cause, a college, or just a humorous phrase or concept like, "I bet I can find 1,000,000 people who hate the Dallas Cowboys!" Groups have become a wildly popular way to spread a message to all your friends and acquaintances and easily garner support for your chosen cause. While many groups revolve around causes like ending world hunger, animal rights and environmental protection, one of the most common groups is the "I Need Your Phone Numbers” group, created when someone loses their phone in a tragic dropped-in-the-pool or left-in-a-cab accident.

Snap It And Post It  

Last but by no means least is one of the most popular uses of Facebook – picture sharing. While being able to send messages to each other or posting funny remarks on friends’ walls are great ways to stay connected, the picture sharing aspect of Facebook has added another layer of depth to online communication. Being able to see my friends’ pictures was a great way to stay connected when many of them were living and studying abroad. In particular, pictures became very important when two of my best friends, Bryan and Louisa, recently taught English at a university in Hangzhuo, China. Their emails were full of funny stories about their students, nights at the karaoke bar, and culinary experimentation but it was the pictures on Facebook that really brought their experiences to life.

Since its inception in 2004, Facebook has revolutionized the way people interact online. Through Facebook, people are able to hunt down old and new acquaintances with just a few mouse clicks. Despite some hiccoughs along the way with privacy and security issues, Facebook just keeps on getting more popular and adding more features to stay connected.  It’s truly become the #1 resource for people of all ages to network and keep friendships strong across the years and across the globe.

Xander Rothaus is a writer, computer and gadget enthusiast, avid sailor, and all round techy guy. He recently graduated from Hamilton College with a degree in Political Science and hopes to continue to offer advice and consult on tech products and web services. Xander currently lives in Westchester, NY with his two teenage brothers and three dogs.

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