A newbie's guide to Facebook

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

First things first

There were so many features available, I wanted to hurriedly search through them all so I could determine which ones might apply to me and my interests.

I quickly noticed, however, that until you join a network (centered around your city, job, high school or college), and complete a profile, you can't really get much information.

So I went back to the home page and started over.

If you follow certain steps in order (right after you join), Facebook attempts to identify your circle of friends and colleagues by asking you to list your local city, place of work, college, high school and various e-mail accounts such as Gmail, Yahoo and Hotmail.

If all your connections are in one area, just select the Find Friends button. If your job is one state, college in another and high school in another (as in my case), Facebook takes the information you provided and selects the top three areas, then prompts you to choose the place you identify with most. At this point, you are then invited to "join a network."

Find friends

Once you join a network, select Find Friends and, in seconds, Facebook generates pages filled with people in your area. My network in Salt Lake City has more than 75,000 members. So I started browsing randomly through hundreds of screens of happy faces, all of which display names, network, city and a series of options you can choose, such as send message, poke (which is the Facebook way of tapping someone and saying "hi, what's up, thinking about you."), view their friends or add their friends to your own friends list. You can also use the Sort Method box to narrow your search by sex, age, relationship status, political views and so on.

The best thing about this method of "finding friends" is that you can browse through hundreds of member profiles anonymously. You can see what old friends and colleagues are doing -- such as looking up an old sweetheart or finding out what happened to an old college professor -- without committing to anything. Curiosity, however, doesn't always result in personal contact, because, like so many others in this country, I work all the time. But when I read that an old friend of mine had lost her mother to cancer, I did send her a message and a Facebook gift. Now I find that I surf my "friends" network several times a week.

Another great benefit is the option to "Browse All Networks," all over the world. You can't join them all, because Facebook only allows full access to one network at a time, although you can change networks twice every 60 days. But even without full access, you can search for friends in other cities or countries, see postings of local events, browse the local marketplace, join groups and read the local discussion boards or bulletin boards. That's a lot of access for a network visitor.

My favorite feature, however, is that I can access Facebook from my BlackBerry, which means I can check messages, listen to new music and view my friends' photos from just about anywhere, even on the plane when I'm traveling (which means I'm having fun instead of stressing about air pockets and downdrafts).

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