Facebook: a frenzy of friend-making

30 May

May 30, 2007

By Geoff Meeker

Last year, the buzz on the Internet was all about Second Life (www.secondlife.com), a virtual world where people assumed anonymous identities and created second lives online.

This year, all the talk is about facebook (www.facebook.com), an online community where you are anything but anonymous.

If you haven’t heard about facebook, then you must live in a monastery, cut off from all outside contact. And even then, some other recluse is probably waiting for you to post your profile so they can ‘friend’ you.

Facebook has much in common with myspace.com (where everyone creates their own personal web page), except that it has a more highly evolved social networking function. You join facebook much the same way you join other online communities, by creating an account with a personal profile and a password.

The key difference is that, on facebook, you should use your real name in order to make it work (it is common to join other groups under anonymous handles). Once you’re ‘in’, you start searching for other people you know, or haven’t seen in a long time. And, with a current membership of more than 20 million (two million in Canada, almost 30,000 in St. John’s), there is a pretty good chance you’ll find someone.

Many people have amassed hundreds of friends. You can send private notes to each other, post messages to all at once or jot notes on someone’s “wall”, a public bulletin board in each person’s profile. People do converse with each other, but the quest to find and add new friends seems to be a driving force behind the site’s growth.

I joined facebook, created a very basic profile and poked around somewhat tentatively. However, I am extremely busy with work commitments and have heard that the site can be highly addictive, so let’s just say that I’m not inhaling at this time.

However, I did connect with someone who knows facebook and loves it all to pieces. Christine Hennebury is a freelance writer and arts activist in Mount Pearl. In an email exchange, she said an acquaintance invited her to join facebook back in March. She did. Another friend added her as a friend, and it snowballed from there.

Hennebury says facebook is relatively private, in that strangers have to become friends before they can view your profile. Every time you sign on, she says, there is a news feed that highlights what has changed in your friend’ profiles since your last visit.

“I like how you can connect with people you haven’t seen in a long time without having to have an awkward conversation,” she said. “Imagine that you suddenly think of someone you haven’t seen in 10 years, and you’d like to know how they are doing.  It would be weird to look them up in the phone book, give them a call out of the blue and start chatting. On facebook, you could search for their name, look at the pictures to make sure it was the right person, add them as a friend (including a little reminder of who you are) and then that connection is re-established. If you do meet in person, you can just pick right up from there.”

Hennebury has lost count of the many connections she has made on facebook. A friend has directed her toward freelance writing opportunities, she stays in touch with a cousin and his wife in Korea (“Somehow sending a one line email seems foolish, but a one line wall post is just fine,” she says), has re-established contact with friends from school and university, and is even planning a high school reunion thanks to a group started on the site.

Hennebury also uses a facebook group to promote the Association for the Arts in Mount Pearl, which she chairs. “We’ve attracted 10 to 15 new members through the group and we use facebook to promote our events. For example, we did an evening of readings in April and I sent an invite to everyone on the AAMP list so I could keep track of who could come.  And I set it up so anyone on the list can invite anyone on their friends list. So it is a really effective and inexpensive (free!) way to promote things to an audience who would be automatically interested. I have a group of women writer friends and we meet on a regular basis for coffee in real life, but we have also started a private group on facebook so we can ‘hang out’ more often.”

One of those friends is Tina Chaulk, local writer and author of the novel “This Much Is True” (Jesperson). At the urging of friends, she also joined facebook recently. Chaulk was too busy last week for an interview, but was kind enough to let me quote from her blog entry on this subject.

“I signed up this past weekend and haven’t left the computer since,” She wrote on May 1. “No, I am kidding. I can see how people get addicted though. When you find a friend you can click to see his list of friends and if you find someone you know in that list then you can click to see her list of friends and maybe there is someone you know there so you click… you can see where I am going here.”

Chaulk says the most extraordinary facebook moments happen while browsing other people’s friend lists,  “and finding that they know someone I didn’t realize they knew. So, an old high school friend you haven’t seen in years, might know someone you worked with last year. Facebook is interesting and I’ll definitely drop in at least every day, but I hope I won’t get addicted to it. There’s enough to take up my time now.”

For the same reason, I am going to keep my facebook time to a minimum. But feel free to leave a message on my wall, if you happen by…

Geoff Meeker is public relations consultant who has always had a soft spot for technology. He also writes a blog about local media, at meekermedia.blogspot.com.

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