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From the Actrix Online Informer May 2009

by Rob Zorn

Finally facing Facebook

Not being a great one for social networking or dangling my private life 'out there' online, Facebook is something I have been avoiding for some time. But an Actrix customer emailed the Forum requesting an article, and it has become very popular (to the extent that you can now get served court papers via Facebook), so here we are. I've spent the last couple of weeks fiddling about on Facebook and confess I've enjoyed it more than I thought I would.  I probably won't spend all day chatting with friends and posting pictures of my latest exploits, but it was fun to search for and make contact with a few old school friends I haven't heard of or from for many years (you don't need to know how many).

But let's start with some background. Facebook is free and anyone can access it and start an account. Users can join networks organised by city, workplace, school, and region and can also add friends and join existing groups. Once you have a friend or join a network or group you can send messages, share photos, and post stuff to your 'Wall' that your friends can see and comment on. There are also quite a few extra little applications you can add that let you interact with others in enhanced ways (like throwing sheep at them, for example, or challenging them to quizzes).

There has been some controversy about Facebook. It has been banned intermittently in countries like Syria and Iran and many workplaces block it to discourage employees from wasting company time. However, a recent Australian study suggests surfing the Internet for fun and using social networking sites like Facebook during office hours actually increases productivity. Meanwhile, Facebook makes its money through advertising. You can sign up at www.facebook.com.

Creating your profile

Creating your profile is the first thing you need to do once you have opened your account. This is easy and takes just a few minutes. It's up to you how much information you put about yourself here. Unless you change your privacy settings only people you accept as friends will be able to see your profile, but my advice would still be to err on the side of caution. It takes a little while to figure out who can see what, so wait until you're comfortable before you add too many details about yourself. In other words, stick with the default settings.

You probably should include what schools or universities you went to and where you work as these are the most frequently used ways others will find you. Facebook makes it easy to do that. It's also optional as to whether you want to add a photo. If you want to, click the picture icon to the top left to invoke the photo upload tool.

Finding friends

Facebook is a pretty lonely place without friends, and the whole system is designed to help you network around in a viral way. You can see who your friends' friends are, for example, but you can't interact with them unless you first send them a friend request. This helps people keep things private but it also helps you find others. By perusing your friend's list of friends you can find other friends the two of you have. Facebook will also make suggestions to you about people you might want to add – such as someone two of your friends are also friends with.

Finding friends from your past is pretty easy. You can search for them by name, or if you join a group, such as one dedicated to your high school. You can peruse the list of people who are in the group and then see who they're friends with, even if you don't contact them. It all adds up pretty quickly, and the more friends you add, the more your viral network grows.

Another way to make contacts is to use the Find Friends feature (under the Friends tab along the top). This uploads your address book and reports back to you on what email addresses you have that are also registered with Facebook. You need to provide your email address and password to use this feature which makes me a little uncomfortable. Even though Facebook promises not store your password, I think it's good practice never to share your password for any reason. Your call on that one!

Once you have some friends you can communicate with them in various ways: by sending them email messages through Facebook, by posting to their "Wall" or by live chat. If you don't want to be friends with someone, simply ignore or decline their friends request. To my knowledge, there isn't a general problem with being pestered by nutters and perverts wanting to make friends with you, but I guess it could happen. If someone contacts you that you're not sure about you could send them a message asking more about who they are before you add them as a friend.

Privacy

The Wall is a space on your Facebook where you and friends can post messages only you and mutual friends can see. Your Wall is visible to anyone who is able to see your profile, so you may want to think about your privacy settings. By default these are set so that no one can see your profile or your Wall except people you have accepted as friends. This is sensible in that you can't control what others put on your wall. You can delete things from it, but you may not know something's there that needs to be removed until it's too late. Now I'm sure all your friends are decent and trustworthy, so I'm just suggesting this as prudent practice. If you want to live fast and loose, you can change your privacy settings to let everyone see everything, but I wouldn't!

Features

Facebook has a number of additional features. It's not my purpose here to write a user manual, so I'll introduce them briefly and you can explore them if you're inclined.

Along the bottom of the Facebook interface you'll find a number of buttons that let you do things. Photos can be posted to your Wall or they can be put up in albums organised around a theme. You can also upload videos if you have them that will play on your Wall similar to the way they do at YouTube. The photo album feature is a great way to share what's been happening with friends or relatives overseas.

Events allows you to organise an event such as a birthday party, and then post it on your Wall. You can then send invitations to all or some of your friends via Facebook. There are also Notes and Links tools which seem to be just different ways of adding content to your wall.

To the bottom right is a feature which shows which of your friends are online. You can use that to initiate a private chat just like you would with MSN and similar chat programs.

The groups feature is quite an important one. It shows you all the groups your friends have recently joined and lets you search for existing groups or set up a new group of your own. Groups have a Wall that all members can post to, or you can set up individual discussion forums. if you're looking to connect with old friends, look up a group dedicated to a school you attended. There are lots of these where people reminisce about their high school days, discuss their memories of teachers and ask whether anyone knows what may have happened to so-and-so.

Applications

The applications button is down to the bottom left, and the options here are almost limitless and mostly pretty silly. Click the Applications button and then click 'Find more' in order to access the full list. A lot of the applications are games you can play with others, such as word games, and there are lots of quizzes you can take to find out your IQ or other useful stuff like which Mr Men character you are or what your name really means. Superpoke lets you send various types of pokes to other Facebook members, and this is where you can throw sheep, give someone a roundhouse kick, or hand them a yellow snow cone.

There are some more 'useful' applications, however. Check out Causes, for example, which lets you join and start causes for things you care about. The Facebook toolbar for Firefox lets you integrate Facebook into your browser, and there are a number of tools there to help with genealogy building. You can organise and select applications according to various categories. That should help you zero in on the ones that are most useful to you.

I'll close with one further word of caution: Apparently it is reasonably common for prospective employers to check Facebook pages to find out about a person they are thinking of hiring. They shouldn't be able to see much about the person unless they've been accepted as a friend, but there are quite a few stories about people missing out on jobs because of something they were seen to be doing or saying online. Then there's this story about a Swiss woman who was fired for being found on Facebook while she claimed to be too unwell to be in front of a computer.

Be sure your sins will find you out!

 

Copyright 2009 Actrix Networks Limited | Contact: editor@actrix.co.nz