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Social Networking and Facebook

Visalia Direct: Virtual Valley
March 2009 Issue
Feb 2, 2009

Social Networking and Facebook

The “Mommy Revolt” on Facebook earlier this year was evidence social networking has gone mainstream. Members of the social networking site were upset when Facebook employees deemed photos of mothers nursing inappropriate. It was a case of original intent versus user desires.

The mothers ended up forming a Facebook group of angry nursing mothers and their “fans.” I’m not sure anyone would claim not to be a fan of motherhood. Facebook certainly didn’t like being perceived as “anti-mom” and soon relented. These women had learned to use Facebook’s social networking features against the company.

Facebook’s executives have said they don’t want to lose any “mature” and “responsible” users. The problem is, users have a way of not being serious all the time.

No matter what a company might intend when it creates a Web site, visitors tend to determine how the technology will be used. And so, what was originally a site dedicated to career connections has become “MySpace for grownups.” Employers are starting to discover how addictive social networking can be, with workers using Facebook throughout the day.

For the last few years, I’ve had to make sure students with computer access don’t use class time to update MySpace profiles. As most parents and teachers know, students no longer pass notes in class — they post messages to MySpace for friends to read. MySpace is the most popular Web site among Internet users under 25, according to The Nielsen Company (formerly ACNielsen).

How did Facebook become so popular?

Facebook makes it easy to use their service throughout the day. Any device that can connect to the Internet can access Facebook. You can update your “status” via a cell phone, a Blackberry, or iPhone. I was stunned to realize how many teachers I know update Facebook during the school day. We’re as hooked to social networks as our students.

What’s truly amazing is how new Facebook is. In only four years, the system went from a few hundred users to 150 million.

In February of 2004, three Harvard students decided to create an online “virtual yearbook” for students at the university. The idea was simple: let other Harvard students post information about themselves, as well as photos, to create a social and career network. The system was overwhelmed due to popularity among students.

An investor offered to help the young men behind Facebook expand their concept to Stanford, Columbia, and Yale. Dustin Moskovitz, Chris Hughes, and Eduardo Saverin had created the ultimate social network. Unlike MySpace, which was founded to promote independent performers, Facebook appealed to the “educated elites.”

By the end of 2004, there were one million users registered on Facebook. The system lets members create a virtual résumé of sorts, encouraging you to enter as much of your educational background and employment history as you might want to share.

By May of 2005, venture capital flowed into Facebook. Less than year after its founding, the system was expanded to support students attending more than 800 colleges and universities. The career networking gave way to more and more personal uses. Finally, Facebook membership was offered to high school students by the end of 2005.

Once all someone needed to join was any e-mail address ending in “.edu” it was clear Facebook was going to change. And change it has. Instant messaging and gaming features were added in late 2007, leading to even more users. There are more than 50 million active users in the United States and 150 million registered users worldwide.

In 2008, Facebook began allowing any adult to join. Employers have been quick to open accounts. With so many users, it is little wonder employers and law enforcement are skimming Facebook.

That’s right: it’s not only your friends reading your Facebook profile. Even the Department of Homeland Security checks Facebook, according to recent news reports.

I suppose people don’t care if Homeland Security sees Cancun vacation pictures or reads personal confessions, but you should care what a boss sees.

Q&A: Facebook

Q: What is Facebook?

A: It is a “social networking” Web site designed to help former classmates and colleagues remain in touch. You can join online fan clubs, special interest groups, and even political movements.

Q: Who can join Facebook?

A: Facebook membership is free and open to anyone. Originally, you needed an educational e-mail address (one ending with “.edu”). Facebook is in the process of expanding.

Q: I read it used to be for “rich kids” from Ivy League schools.

A: It did start at Harvard, before spreading to Stanford and Columbia. Facebook was definitely about making the right connections.

Q: Why did it start so small?

A: The system started small for technical reasons. It takes a massive amount of computing power to operate the Facebook site. In fact, Facebook has the second largest database installation of its kind, with 700 employees maintaining the service. Only Google has a more complex network.

Q: Do employers use Facebook?

A: Absolutely. Surveys have found that between 30 to 40 percent of employers search both Facebook and MySpace profiles when considering an applicant. What you put online could cost you a job — or help you land a better position.

Tips for Using Facebook

Limit who can see your online profile to those you list as “friends.” Never leave your profile visible to “everyone.”
Only add real friends as “Facebook friends” to protect yourself. People are using Facebook to run scams. Clue: “I don’t know you, but you seem really interesting!”
Avoid sharing embarrassing photos or comments, even if you limit access. Former friends have been known to redistribute photos and e-mails out of anger.
Think like a potential employer, just in case. Don’t post what you wouldn’t want your boss or coworkers seeing.


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