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
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.
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
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 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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.