My sister became a grandmother in January. After her phone call from Winnipeg, I received all the details, including photos, from my niece that day. How? Because I'm her "friend" on Facebook - that favourite social place on the Internet.
In the past, baby announcements were expensive (photos and postage) and slow (snail mail). So, if you weren't close - no photos for you! In contrast, Facebook allows my niece to post pictures viewable by her "friends" and we can see them as soon as they’re uploaded - even halfway across the country.
For those and other reasons, about 500 million people have joined Facebook. Have you?
Half a Billion Served
Facebook allows users to communicate cheaply and easily over the Internet, yet somewhat privately, since only "friends" - people you have invited to come into your private area - can view them. Keep in mind these privacy settings have to be set by the users. This is rare: for example, my work primarily involves blogging, where whatever you say is public to everyone on the Internet. By controlling who sees what, Facebook makes it simple to share relatively safely.
For the newbie, joining Facebook is straightforward: visit their main page and enter the usual information of name, email and password, plus gender and birthdate (what you enter is up to you!) Then, your account just needs to be filled in with whatever details you wish. For example, many use their Facebook account to discuss their daily status, post their thoughts, comment on their friends’ statuses, share pictures, connect with friends old and new, or in my case, to see my niece's photos.
It's as you add more of the personal information that privacy becomes important, and so Facebook users must manage their accounts accordingly. Understanding these settings is vital to enjoying Facebook safely.
Public yet Private - On the Internet?
In Facebook, each section of your account can have a different level of visibility: "Friends," people you've approved as your friend; "Friends of Friends," people who are friends of your "Friends" or "Everyone," the whole world of the Internet (a fourth option, using a person's name, is less useful but does give you finer control). If my niece sets her photo album to "Friends," then I can see it, but not friends of mine (which would require the "Friends of Friends" setting). But if the proud Momma set it to "Everyone," then anyone can look at her baby pictures (not advisable).
Security is an important topic because the lack of it can be damaging. Many of the stories of people losing jobs over Facebook photos or comments involved wrong viewing levels. In one example, a U.S. teacher complained about her students, a parent saw the (accidentally public) comment, and she was fired.
The easiest solution: simply ask yourself whenever you put something online if you’d be embarrassed if EVERYONE saw it. If so, think twice.
Facebook for Business and Social Awareness
Despite privacy concerns, as my new great-niece proved, Facebook is a boon for social interactivity - so much so that businesses have embraced it: many companies have their own Facebook accounts. The social aspect of Facebook allows them to contact customers in a non-traditional way; add to that the rich detail of their personal information, and companies that previously had a hard time reaching people can now "zero in" on exactly who they want.
This same narrow-yet-vast audience also makes Facebook a great place for like-minded people to hang out, especially for special interest groups. Having worldwide exposure allows groups to finally reach enough members to accomplish goals. For instance, at 5,000 members, the group on Rare Chromosome Disorders would be too spread out to form local chapters - but online, they are formidable.
Facebook appears to be here to stay. And while not for everyone, if you do decide to use Facebook, be cautious, and you should have few problems. Now, go out there and "friend" someone!
Email questions and comments to Dave at firstname.lastname@example.org
MAY 2011 SENIOR LIVING MAGAZINE VANCOUVER ISLAND
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