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A Beginners Guide To Facebook For Users

A Beginners Guide To Facebook For Users

Since it launched in February 2004, the social networking site Facebook has soared in popularity. Touted as a "social utility that helps people communicate more efficiently with their friends, family, and coworkers", Facebook's ranks have swollen to over 800 million users worldwide.

A Beginners Guide To Facebook For Users

Something For Everyone

But what is Facebook and why is it so popular? The answers depend upon who you ask, since the site's significance varies from user to user. For one person, Facebook is a way to stay in touch with the grandchildren. For another, it represents an untapped reservoir of revenue. And for yet another, the site presents an opportunity to share ideas and support universal causes. All of these revolve around the need to connect with people.

Facebook's popularity as a social networking tool is partially due to its demographic. While a site like MySpace typically appeals to teenagers, Facebook's demographic has long been college students and professionals. In fact, Facebook reports that its fastest growing demographic is 35 and older. With that demographic comes a far-flung group of friends, family, and business contacts, and the ability to maintain connections with those people. As the world becomes more mobile, social networking sites like Facebook make it easier to stay in contact.

A Beginners Guide To Facebook For Users

Another reason the site is so successful is that it allows you to stay in contact with acquaintances, those people on the periphery of your social life. Combined with user-updatable "status" reports, Facebook's news feed (a tool that broadcasts the latest information from your friends' pages) allows you to stay loosely connected with acquaintances, people you may contact only once or twice a year. By simply maintaining partial contact with acquaintances, you're able to expand your social network, creating more opportunity. This is precisely what happens when freelance professionals go to events to talk with others; the more people the freelancer knows, the more windows of opportunity that open.

How It Works

If you're not familiar with social networking, it's likely that Facebook will be confusing at first. Remember to not get overwhelmed by all its features; move along one step at a time. Before you start, keep in mind that Facebook has a strict age policy; no one under the age of 13 is allowed to create an account. This restriction is part of Facebook's safety guidelines. (We'll talk more about safety and security issues a little later.)

Account Types

It's important to know that there are two types of accounts, both of which are free. Most people set up a basic user account. However, some companies, schools, bands, etc. may want to create an account to advertise their presence. These are called "pages", and they can be separate from an individual user account. To create a basic user account, enter the information that Facebook requires, such as your name, email address and password. Later, you'll have the opportunity to add more detailed information about yourself.

A Beginners Guide To Facebook For Users

Privacy Matters

Once your account is active, take a serious look at the security settings for your account before you start adding friends. The sheer number of security settings may seem daunting at first, but we strongly advise that you review all the account, privacy, and application settings for your account. There will be more than a few pages of options, but take the time to review them all. One of the strengths of Facebook is its wide variety of ways to protect user information. The majority of this can be changed by selecting the "Settings" link located in the dark blue navigation bar at the very top and then navigating to each category. (See the image below for a look at the Facebook navigation bar.)

A Beginners Guide To Facebook For Users

Build Your Network

Now that you've updated your privacy settings, you're ready to build your network of friends! Facebook makes this very easy. Merely select the "Friends" link located in the dark blue navigation bar at the top. You can search for friends and acquaintances by importing your e-mail address book or your list of contacts in AOL Instant Messenger or Windows Live Messenger. Additionally, you can search for classmates or coworkers or even search by name alone. Once you submit your request to become a friend, the recipient will be notified. They have the option to accept or reject the request.

A Beginners Guide To Facebook For Users

Remember that friend requests are a two-way corridor. You will eventually receive friend requests from other people. These requests may come from people you know, people you don't know, or people you know but wish you didn't. Keep your privacy and safety in mind when you make decisions to accept and reject friend requests.

Checking In

After you've added friends, you can easily follow what they are doing on your home page through the use of "feeds", processes that automatically update news about your friends. Facebook now has two ways to view the happenings of your friends: the news feed and the live feed. Facebook's news feed orders new content in a way that's most relevant and interesting to you. The live feed lists new content in chronological order.

A Beginners Guide To Facebook For Users

Additionally, you can hide content in your feeds that you aren't interested in seeing. Simply move your pointer over the update to reveal a "Hide" option in the top right corner. Selecting this will hide the update and all related content. This is useful for hiding updates related to Facebook's many third-party games and quizzes.

The Wall

Facebook also provides you with a "wall" to manage. Think of your wall as a personal corkboard of sorts. Attached to it are your status updates, notes, links, and other things you've posted. Your friends are also able to post messages to your wall. Messages posted to a wall may not be private, so be aware. You can find your wall by selecting the "Profile" link in the navigation bar at the top. Your profile shows your wall first by default.

For sending and receiving more private messages, use your inbox. Select the "Inbox" link at the top to view and send messages, much like you would with e-mail. From here, you're also able to view updates from any fan page you are subscribed to.

Fan Pages

Speaking of fan pages, the process of joining them is easy, but finding them can sometimes be tricky. The easiest way to search for fan pages is by using the "Search" box in the navigation bar at top. For example, if you really love chocolate chip cookies and want to share recipes or communicate with other fans, type "chocolate chip cookies" (without the quotes) into the search box and press the Enter key.

A Beginners Guide To Facebook For Users

The result of this exercise will be 80 different pages dedicated to the savory sweet. This usually results when someone doesn't like the way a page is run, starting a new one. This practice is generally not advised, however. In this case, it may be best to look through some of the more popular pages and join one or two that look active and interesting. To join, look for the "Become a Fan" button at the top of the page's home screen.

Things to Consider

Facebook's popularity has grown tremendously since 2004. The ability to add photo albums, label people in photos, play games, and create and comment on fan pages has fueled its popularity. But with so many ways to share personal information on Facebook, it's important to understand how that information may be used.

Once immersed in Facebook's many features, it's easy to see the advantages of the site. You can easily stay in contact with the people you choose, learning more about them in the process. Collaborations can be started. News and academic ideas can be shared with friends. Public and private events can be organized. You can locate and interact with fans of chocolate chip cookies, Brad Pitt, or skiing.

Yet, there are also disadvantages to all of that information sharing. You may socially spread yourself too thin with the addition of more friends and acquaintances. An embarrassing or incriminating photo a friend took of you at a party may get posted with your name attached. Former work colleagues or classmates may search for and find you, whether or not you want them to. Current and potential employers may mine your profile. Even the police may try to use Facebook information against you in a court of law.

Play Safe

With these advantages and disadvantages come questions about safety, security, and privacy in the world of Facebook and other social networking sites. Since Facebook often changes its policy about how third-party content providers can interact with your information, it's best to review its most recent position.

Aside from setting your privacy settings as detailed earlier, it's a good idea to only accept friend invitations from people you know and trust. By adding someone as a friend to your Facebook account, you are allowing them access to potentially see more information about you. While it's against Facebook's terms of use, some people may use a fake name. Thankfully that doesn't happen frequently, but be sure you know who you add to your friends list.

Another source of concern is Facebook's third-party applications. Facebook, like many websites, makes money in a number of ways. One source of revenue for Facebook comes from outside developers who create new content for use on the site. Common third-party content includes quizzes, games, and advertisements.

In many cases this sort of content may access your profile information to provide more relevant content. However, you typically must give permission and will receive a message asking for your consent. Realize that if you choose to take the quiz or play the game, you will give up some of your personal data to that application. Make your decision with that in mind.

Finally, it's worth considering the content that is added not only by you, but also by other Facebook members. In the explosive world of social networking, there may be unforeseen consequences to adding photos, stories, and other material.

Your friend - or even a stranger - may post a picture of you with an alcoholic beverage or something worse. Unless the photo violates the terms of use, there is little that can be done to have it removed. A story of unflattering or even illicit activities about you may get detailed in a friend's note, leading to an uncomfortable situation. You have to consider these things when dealing with social networking.

Facebook is a public site, despite any privacy settings you may apply to your account. While your privacy settings may go a long way towards protecting your personal information from unwanted scrutiny, there is potential for that information to go outside of your control. By educating yourself, you will be better prepared to avoid embarrassment and have a great experience on the site.