FACEBOOK – What IS IT?

If you have to ask, well you are just not part of it. Come eh – Get with it eh?

The following is my latest article for my TECH column in First Monday magazine:

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FACEBOOK: What Is It?
by Gregory West

Gregory West is the Editor for “SCUG Report”, a monthly for the Sarnia Computer Users’ Group. SCUG is a non-profit computer/technology help group that is open to the public for Newbies and Geeks. For more information: http://www.scug.ca. Gregory can be reached at editor@scug.ca.
Are you on Facebook? If not, you are vastly becoming the minority.

Almost everyone on the planet is using Facebook these days. Well, not quite everyone; according to research, and “more than 3 million users become fans of Pages each day” [i]  and those numbers are multiplying. This new tech hype is known as “Social Media”, and at the forefront of this medium is Facebook.

Recent statistics [i] demonstrate the massive usage of Social Media.
More than 150 million active users
More than half of Facebook users are outside of college
The fastest growing demographic is those 30 years old and older

Since day one I have been on the Internet, give or take a week or so, and have watched its social development, so to speak. Many things spurred Internet popularity, and certainly quickened corporations to finally jump on board the Internet ship to the future. One of the first online social medium communication devices was ICQ, used mainly as a chat feature, however later users learned ICQ could transfer large files between computers that email programs restricted (and still do). Online chat was the forerunner of these communication devices and now have exploded into extremely useful and most popular text messaging and live realtime communication and file sharing; file sharing now used by not just individuals, but also businesses have jumped on board and use file sharing and text messaging to communicate with employees in the field and around the planet.

What exactly does Facebook offer us humans?

First of all, it is a great place to upload and store for free, you photos, videos, and various information that you so choose. Others can easily check out your profile and view your uploaded media files. Friends can post messages on your Facebook page which is referred to as your: “WALL”. This wall is visible to all who view your site; in other words the “wall” is an electronic communications board sending instant communication worldwide. However, Email is quickly becoming “old school” when it comes to communications. “It takes too long”, is the common complaint by many.

Of course, if privacy is an issue, you can easily send a “private” message to others and it will show up in their “private” inbox, as is done with Emailing.

You can set privacy settings for your own Facebook page wherein by default are quite strict. For instance, “ Facebook allows each user to set privacy settings, which by default are pretty strict. For example, if you have not added a certain person as a friend, that person will not be able to view your profile. However, you can adjust the privacy settings to allow users within your network (such as your college or the area you live) to view part or all of your profile. You can also create a “limited profile,” which allows you to hide certain parts of your profile from a list of users that you select. If you don’t want certain friends to be able to view your full profile, you can add them to your “limited profile” list. [www.sharpened.net]

Many people have said they have “hooked up” (online through Facebook) with people they went to school with over 40 years ago. As well, you can do a search to see if anyone you know is also on Facebook and then you can send them a message. Just last month I received a message from someone I went to High School in Toronto, 40 years ago. I can barely remember this person, but we both know all the same people. We are now communicating through Facebook.

The new communication, social media, is exploding into something great, a magnetic force that is bringing the “Global Village” closer with each mouse click. Social media will be a way of life for all who are connected out there in cyberspace.

POPULAR FACES who use Facebook: [v]

Barack Obama –                3,733,612 supporters online (and rising daily)
Sarah Palin –                    433,661 supporters online
Hillary Clinton –                184,831 supporters online
Arnold Schwarzenegger –              53,751 supporters online

And on the Canadian of the border we find other Facebook users:

Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his family
Dalton McGuinty Premier of Ontario
Margaret Atwood a Canadian author
Don Cherry from Coaches Corner

So, how did this all begin and where did the concept of Facebook originate?

According to Wikipedia, “Mark Zuckerberg founded Facebook while he was a student at Harvard University. Website membership was initially limited to Harvard students, but was expanded to other colleges in the Ivy League and Stanford University. It later expanded further to include any university student, then high school students, and, finally, to anyone aged 13 and over.” [ii]

Although, this concept of a social medium is nothing new. Sorry, Net Geners you did not invent it. One of the first mentions of this type of worldwide communications was first popularized by Marshall McLuhan in 1964 where McLuhan stated: “Today, after more than a century of electric technology, we have extended our central nervous system itself in a global embrace, abolishing both space and time as far as our planet is concerned.” [iii] McLuhan made famous the sayings: “the medium is the message” and “global village”. [iv] Forty four years  back he was right on the mark.

However, today we are seeing the foresights of McLuhan’s studies bear their fruit. the online social medium is here to stay and will become a very strong and united voice, not only in gossip and sharing of photos, but as a strong worldwide voice on politics, war, and the health of the planet, and its inhabitants.

REFERENCE SITES USED (and for more on Facebook and Social Media):

[i]    http://www.facebook.com/press/info.php?statistics
[ii]    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Facebook
[iii]     http://www.livinginternet.com/i/ii_mcluhan.htm
[iv]    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marshall_McLuhan
[v]    http://www.facebook.com/pages/?browse&ps=151

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