A newbie's guide to Facebook

We examine the fast-growing social networking site and detail its offerings from a business and personal perspective

There's a lot of buzz about Facebook, but what is it, exactly? What does it do? Can anybody join? How much does it cost?

In this article, I'll give you the basics of joining Facebook and what you can expect to find there. I'll explain the opportunities and services available for businesses and for individuals, based on my experience as a newbie who recently joined.

Until I became a member, I didn't really know what Facebook was. A friend of mine had told me that he met his fiancee on Facebook. Another friend said she gets together with her friends from all over the city on Facebook every Thursday from 7 to 9pm. Then I overheard a colleague at work say that he'd been looking for his high school girlfriend for years and, just recently, found her on Facebook, living in Scotland with her deceased husband's family.

All these things left me confused. At first, I believed Facebook was an online dating service, then I thought it was a chat room and then a worldwide phone directory. Then another colleague told me that members could advertise anything imaginable -- from skiing to skydiving to skeet shooter's clay pigeons -- on the Facebook Marketplace, for free. That sold me. I signed up that very day.

About Facebook

Facebook was launched in February 2004 by a young Harvard student named Mark Zuckerberg. It started out as a sort of virtual campus hangout for Ivy League students, but quickly expanded from the university to the universe, and now anyone 13 or older can join.

It's growing quickly across the globe (250,000 people become members every day) with new sites in Spanish, German and French.

It's also gaining on the more established social networking site MySpace. Forrester Research analyst Jeremiah Owyang says, "We predict that the total registered users of Facebook will eclipse the total amount of MySpace users in Q4 of 2008 but, even with that said, MySpace and Facebook will coexist, because they both serve different purposes to different audiences."

According to Owyang, Facebook is more of a lifestyle site. That is, like the college campuses where it was launched, Facebook has become a central networking hub where its members can connect and share, in spite of their busy lives. Its largest, growing audience is the 35+ crowd. MySpace tends to attract the younger social surfers who are more media conscious and therefore flock to MySpace's "bands and brands" multimedia options, which include various forms of artistic self-expression.

Joining Facebook

Joining Facebook is, literally, as easy as 1-2-3.

  • 1. Go to Facebook.com and create a UserID (your e-mail address), password and birth date (all three are mandatory fields). Notice that the Sign Up dialog box on the home page says: Sign up for Facebook. It's free and anyone can join. (So, that answered my questions about who could join and how much it costs.)
  • 2. Next, type in a security code (a Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart or CAPTCHA; you know, one of those strings of jumbled up, curvy letters that look like shorthand on a roller coaster).
  • 3. Then, Facebook says: You will get an e-mail shortly telling you how to confirm your account. The e-mail provides a link back to Facebook that, when activated, takes you back to the program to begin the ride.

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Julie Sartain

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