How do you use Facebook
November 14, 2007 8:27 AM   Subscribe

Can you help me understand the power of Facebook or other similar social networking platforms? I think I understand it at some level, but I feel like I must be missing something, so please tell me how you use these systems, and why they're better than other more traditional communication tools.

The other night, I was listening to a recent This Week in Tech podcast, and they were going on and on about the power of Facebook and how the battle for the internet advertising dollar was shaping up to be between Facebook and Google. I get that there needs to be a certain amount of hyperbole in any lets sit around and talk about anything show, but they really did make Facebook sound like a powerful tool -- particularly because of the applications that you can integrate into it.

I'm much older than most of Facebook's users, and I didn't have any school e-mail addresses back when they were closed, and once they opened up, I didn't see much point in moving over to yet another social network -- particularly since none of my friends are over there. But, the podcast made me think that I should at least check it out to see what I was missing, and after setting up a stub of a profile, I still don't think I understand what's missing.

I'm not sure why posting something on a wall (or comments on myspace), is preferable to e-mail. If you're planning an event or something it makes sense because people you didn't think to invite might be able to include themselves too, but generally e-mail just seems like a better tool for most of what's done in comments, so what am I missing there?

I thought the applications would be more about productivity, but most of them just seem to let you hug your friends or send them gingerbread men. I guess that's cute for a second, but it seems like it would get old fast. Some of the games could be fun, but outside of that, is there something I'm missing there?

I know I'm from a different generation than most of the users, and I know it would be more useful if everybody (or even anybody) from my circle of friends was on there, but outside of that, I really want to understand the appeal, and I just don't, so please tell me how you use it and why it's better than other tools like e-mail or IM or whatever.
posted by willnot to Computers & Internet (47 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I use it to keep tabs on people I went to school with: who's moved, who's gotten a new job, who is married/engaged/broken up, and so on. Most of these people I don't keep in touch with over email or phone, but it's easy enough to click "accept friend request" and now have a way to see what they're up to.

The "wall" feature is similar: most of those people I probably wouldn't send an email to or call them on their birthday, but if Facebook reminds me that it is, in fact, their birthday, it doesn't take much work to post a Happy Birthday message.

So it's not really a substitute for the people I'd be emailing or calling anyway; it just adds the number of people I keep up with who I'd otherwise probably not talk to at all after we graduated.
posted by olinerd at 8:31 AM on November 14, 2007

why they're better than other more traditional communication tools.

It's not about the communication tools- it's about the network. Having all your friends (old friends, new friends, friends you haven't seen in a million years) in one place where they are easy to contact is what makes Facebook so appealing. If you have no friends on the site, then it's useless, but once it becomes the default site for all of your friends, that's where the power is. And the fun games and dobops are a fun way to waste time online.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 8:31 AM on November 14, 2007 [1 favorite]

It's not about the communication tools

You know, let me revise that statement, it's not exactly true- Facebook is the cleanest, most user-friendly social networking site by far, and I believe that's a large part of its success.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 8:38 AM on November 14, 2007 [1 favorite]

For me facebook and myspace started as a convenient way to keep contact with my adult children (one's on one site and two are on the other.) It started snowballing from there.

It's an easy way to keep up with people without a whole lot of effort.
posted by konolia at 8:39 AM on November 14, 2007

A few scattered thoughts:

Facebook is you, online. This is obviously very appealing to many, many people.

If you are so inclined you can post almost everything that's ever happened to you through photo albums, education, work info, and places of residence.

You have a list of groups that you've joined that can help people understand who you are.

Your status tells everybody how you're feeling (when you last updated it, anyway).

Your conversations are public if you want them to be.

Facebook "creeping" (browsing random profiles of either friends or people in your networks) is a popular hobby or activity when a few people get together.

Facebook lets you tell everybody about all of the cool things about yourself that can't just be worked into normal real life conversation (without sounding like a braggart).
posted by davey_darling at 8:40 AM on November 14, 2007

Network Effect.
posted by Leon at 8:46 AM on November 14, 2007

Echoing olinerd and ThePinkSuperhero, but I also have some of my own stuff.

I don't really use Facebook in the same way the TWiTs seem to. I'm a college student, so I use Facebook to easily keep in touch with my friends from high school and to communicate with friends from my university. Plus, it's fun to see what other people are up to through statuses, pictures, wall posts, etc.

It's better than email because you can see people's profiles and statuses and pictures and other information. It's better than IM because you don't have to be online at the same time.

Finally, Scrabulous is absolutely awesome, despite the fact that I get a lot of error messages.
posted by dondiego87 at 8:47 AM on November 14, 2007 [1 favorite]

I think one of the things that happens after a decent chunk of your friends sign up is that you use it as yet another site of procrastination. I find that this has helped me keep in better touch with my friends because it puts sending them messages and updates into a routine I do between tasks rather routinely. I don't think, "I'll e-mail her when I have something to say."
posted by advicepig at 8:50 AM on November 14, 2007

Best answer: Agreed that a lot of the apps are silly and worthless and I ignore most of them but the real value of FB is only appreciated when you have a network of friends that also use FB regularly. It is the ability to publish and consume these little bits of data from people (I'm dating someone new, I'm on a trip, try out this restaurant, I'm sad about x) that make it value. At last count I had ~40 facebook friends that are a mixture of very close friends, the extended tier of friends of friends (i.e. acquaintances), random internet celebrities and people I knew from high school and college. The real value isn't from my 3 or 4 super close friends, we already tell each other most everything. The real value is in those other groups where I learn more about these people then I normally would and thus build better bonds when ordinarily I might only see them once a month.
posted by mmascolino at 8:59 AM on November 14, 2007

Remember that one friend that lived where you went to high school and you'd call them up and ask who got married, who broke up, who went to what college, who does what job, etc.? That friend is Facebook now.

It's nice because you just want to see how someone is doing, when e-mail, phone, and IM creates an expectation of a long conversation. (And maybe even romantic interest).

Facebook has a great interface, no doubt about that. I had to be dragged kicking and screaming on to MySpace, and that was just because someone else made a profile for me.

Some people check Facebook more than their email. With some people having an ISP email, a university email, GMail, Yahoo, Hotmail, and maybe 2 or 3 more, Facebook is a common communicator.

The most peculiar thing about Facebook is the Wall. Many people, myself included, use it to talk to friends. But its public and strange to follow (one side of the conversation is posted on each person's page, though there is a "Wall-to-Wall" feature that helps clear things up.) I think it's useful for posting inside jokes, Happy Birthday, or other random things that would just seem strange in an email and too succinct for a IM or call. Facebook does have private messaging though.

It also is very good for planning events and parties, since it has a decent invite/RSVP system.

You can post links, notes, or videos, which allows for a simple "blog" like feature that has an instant audience of your friends and your community. It's not a good platform for daily posting though, and it's not public.

The privacy options are decent, and let you have a public profile and one for your friends.

Applications are pretty much for playing games with your friends. The Rock Paper Scissors one is fun because I'm somehow good at it.

But yeah, it's really about your friends being on there.
posted by ALongDecember at 9:01 AM on November 14, 2007

I'm 30. I joined facebook over the weekend. I asked myself the same questions you did and I'm still a little puzzled by it. Probably won't be sending anybody gingerbread men anytime soon.

BUT . . . already I found out that a guy I went to high school with in California is now in New England and is friends with the guy I sublet my apartment to over the summer -- in Buenos Aires.

Neither of these guys is my best friend and so I would not have come across this connection easily. And I think that's one thing that makes Facebook interesting -- these "weak" connections that you accumulate through life occasionally add up to something.

Most of my "strong" connections -- friends I talk to on the phone and via email all the time -- are still not on facebook and may never be. But I may actually try to persuade them to join up. I am at least beginning to appreciate its utility.

For what it's worth, I'm not even a highly social person. I'm definitely more introverted and the sort who has a small group of close friends rather than a mountain of acquaintances. But I still find it amusing.
posted by veggieboy at 9:04 AM on November 14, 2007

why it's better than other tools like e-mail or IM or whatever.

It is, clearly, better suited to the low-effort maintenance of a certain kind of pseudo-friendship which wouldn't provide sufficient impetus for being kept up via email. My worry is that real friendships transported onto Facebook seem to start to become more pseudo as a result. Increasingly I think there are just two kinds of people - the kind who derive some benefit from having small amounts of information about people they almost never see and don't even pretend to care about all that much, and the people who don't see any point in that. Maybe it's generational.
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 9:06 AM on November 14, 2007 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I don't think I'm alone in saying that I get a tiny little blip of endorphins when somebody posts on my wall or comments on something, same as I get when the New Email icon shows up. It's easy to get addicted to that, though embarrassing.

As for why this is better than just plain email, I get the impression that many people feel better about themselves when their communication is made public. You could be discussing the hottest indie bands and flirting with the best-looking people all day in private email, but nobody else would ever know how awesome you are. Have those conversations on various "walls" instead, and suddenly everyone in your network will think you're popular and intelligent and <whatever else is good in your social circle>. Aside from the easy contact with not-so-close friends, this passive-aggressive bragging seems to be the big draw of social networking sites.

And once you're into social networking sites, why is facebook better than the competition? I would argue that the clean interface counts for a TON... As does scrabulous. :)
posted by vytae at 9:06 AM on November 14, 2007

minority view: like all fads, facebook and myspace will run their course. they are the product of three things: advanced technology, unprecedented leisure time and the unprecedented solipsistic vanity of today's younguns. when you're over a certain age, you can't comprehend the benefits of telling total strangers your favorite bands, who all your friends are or how much liquor you consumed at the party (including pictures). additionally, our culture has blurred the distinction between customer and product; because the revenue in this model comes from ads on your page, you are effectively being packaged and sold to the advertisers. online is cool, but meatspace still rules.
posted by bruce at 9:09 AM on November 14, 2007

I didn't have any school e-mail addresses back when they were closed, and once they opened up, ....

Please clarify--who was closed and why, and when and how did they open back up? thanks.
posted by JimN2TAW at 9:14 AM on November 14, 2007

facebook used to be closed to everyone but american college students. they opened up to everybody a couple years back.
posted by davey_darling at 9:15 AM on November 14, 2007

Most of my friends are on Facebook, a large chunk of the people I went to school and university with are on Facebook, some of my ex-collegues are on Facebook. I decided to join when I got two invitations, on the same day from two friends in completely different social circles.

The thing that I haven't seen mentioned when this has been discussed here before, although it might just be my experience, is that few of my friends have ever got involved in other online communities before. They aren't here, they don't digg or blog, they maybe look at flickr once in a while, and twitter is what giggly little girls do... but they are on Facebook. I don't know why it has attracted them over others, but I'm sure the reason most of my friends joined was because their friends were there too.

Prior to Facebook, probably the only online way most of my friends 'networked' was through email.

Why is it better than email? I'm not sure, but the event invitations are a lot more useful in Facebook than email. And through the groups I've managed to get back in contact with people from my undergraduate degree and we're all going to meet up soon. We didn't mean to loose touch, but somewhere along the way we did.

It's a very informal way to keep in touch with people. I've seen people here dismiss that idea by saying things like, huff-duff I've kept in contact with all my friends, why would I need a web page to do that? Well, I went to 5 schools, 2 unis, had about 7 jobs, and lived in about 10 different places, I've been on numerous camps, seminars, conferences and archaeology digs.... and along the way I've met lots of wonderful people, but keeping track of them all, let alone maintaining good friendships with that many people is hard, as much as I have good intentions. Facebook makes it a lot easier.

Plus I get to see what my sister does on her nights out, and then I get to grass on her to Mum. Ha ha ha.
posted by Helga-woo at 9:17 AM on November 14, 2007

I think people use the Facebook comments instead of email because it's easier than Verizon's crappy webmail, or whatever other crappy webmail their ISP provides. It seems like hardly anyone uses an actual email client these days, and I'll bet most of the younger folks don't even know what one is. And even for those who have a reasonably non-crappy email interface, it's still easier to just use Facebook if you're already on the site, wandering through people's profiles and such--you just hit a button, as opposed to heading over to your webmail and logging in, etc.
posted by equalpants at 9:19 AM on November 14, 2007

Another example of pseudo-friendship is people you meet while travelling. You have a very tenuous connection that can easily just wither away, but you still want to maintain that connection at some level, so you can meet up again in the future if the opportunity ever presents. The "old way" is to send an email out every 6 months or year catching up, and hope for some kind of response. The "new way", Facebook, you don't have to do anything at all. You have their current contact details at your convenience, and you don't have to work at it.
posted by smackfu at 9:20 AM on November 14, 2007

Speaking from the perspective of a person having a bad day: it's a shared illusion of interpersonal engagement that lets you amp the pleasure centers in your brain relating to social connectedness without any of the pesky downsides.

And you can see how your exes aged!
posted by Your Time Machine Sucks at 9:22 AM on November 14, 2007

That last bit sounds so childish...

I'm 27, she's 24, and our Mum's wonderful.
posted by Helga-woo at 9:22 AM on November 14, 2007

Facebook is fulfilling the promise given us by the idea of personal webpages in the early 1990s. A web presence, even for those who are technologically clueless. It's an online contact manager linked to personal webpages linked to multimedia linked to calendaring, games, and special interests. Sure, you can do all those things better individually with other online or offline applications, but no one has put them all together in such a complete package so far.
posted by blue_beetle at 9:22 AM on November 14, 2007 [1 favorite]

I'm 38, and I'm with the original poster - I don't "get" Facebook either. My question is a bit more specific, though:

I use it to keep tabs on people I went to school with: who's moved, who's gotten a new job, who is married/engaged/broken up, and so on. Most of these people I don't keep in touch with over email or phone

If you don't keep in touch with them over email or phone, why do you care about their movements and activities? I don't mean that in a snarky way, I'm genuinely curious.

What is it about Facebook that makes people care about people that, in real life, they don't care about enough to keep in touch with?
posted by pdb at 9:25 AM on November 14, 2007

Those networking sites are only valuable insofar as you know people who are on them. If you don't know anybody who uses Facebook, it's going to see boring.

However, if you talk to someone who's graduated college in the past few years, it's probably an entirely different ballgame...some people use it for practically everything: photo sharing, email, IM; it's all there in one integrated platform, and all their friends are on it. That's where the value is.

There was a recent article in Wired talking about Twitter, which is a similar type of social app, basically trying to explain this. If you sign up for it by yourself, and you're just checking out the profiles of people you don't know or barely know, it's going to seem stupid and banal. But if you're on it with all your close friends, it may still be stupid and banal, but it's going to be a lot more fun.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:30 AM on November 14, 2007

If you don't keep in touch with them over email or phone, why do you care about their movements and activities? I don't mean that in a snarky way, I'm genuinely curious.

I'm genuinely curious, and Facebook satisfies that curiousity.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 9:32 AM on November 14, 2007 [1 favorite]

If you don't keep in touch with them over email or phone, why do you care about their movements and activities? I don't mean that in a snarky way, I'm genuinely curious.

The fact that we now have the ability to reconnect with people who would otherwise have disappeared makes us want to reconnect, or makes us feel that finding old acquaintances is somehow necessary.

Also, morbid curiosity. It's like a high school/camp/college reunion every day in the news feed.
posted by hopeless romantique at 9:36 AM on November 14, 2007

What is it about Facebook that makes people care about people that, in real life, they don't care about enough to keep in touch with?

I think there are two responses to that:

One, your question seems to imply that you don't think that keeping in touch with someone via Facebook "counts" as much as keeping in touch with them via some other method. I think that's the first point where users of social networks are going to disagree with you. You can do a lot with these services that you can't easily do via traditional methods, at least not easily.

Two, Facebook makes it easier to keep in touch with people. The effort involved in keeping in touch with people via traditional methods means you only use it for a very small circle of high-value friends. Most people probably wish they did a better job of it, and kept in touch with more people, but it's time consuming for both parties involved.

Social networking sites lower the amount of effort required to stay plugged into someone else's life; it means you can keep in touch with a bigger circle of people. It lowers the effort-barrier to remaining friends when there's a lot of geographic distance involved (i.e. when you aren't constantly running into each other). Also, you can share your life on a social networking site in a way that doesn't thrust it in the face of others. I wouldn't ever email everyone I know a few hundred pictures from my vacation; it would just be obnoxious. But I don't feel bad about putting them up on Flickr, because they only have to look at them if they're interested. I think the same thing goes for Facebook and other social networks. It lets people keep in touch with you, to whatever extent they want to.

Obviously, if you're not the kind of person who constantly says to themselves "man, I wish I did a better job keeping in touch with those people from [whatever]," then social networking may not have much appeal. But I think their success shows that a lot of people do feel that way, and are looking for ways to keep connected with others that they've met at one point and want to maintain a friendship with, but don't feel connected enough to, or have enough in common with, email/call/write regularly.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:43 AM on November 14, 2007

Best answer: The best analogy I've heard about Facebook is it's like being in the same room with a bunch of people you know, some you know better and others just casual acquaintances. While you're having a conversation with one person, you're able to overhear bits and pieces from all the other conversations that are going on. I've heard it described as "ambient awareness" or "ambient friendship".

For people who prefer to focus on the few deep friendships/relationships and stay in constant contact with them, these social networks won't have much value. But for people who are generally interested in what's going on with the people they've met or worked with, it's great having a "command center" of sorts for doing that.

Going back to the analogy above, if you're at a social event and prefer to pull away from the crowd with the friends you know then social networks aren't for you. But if you like to stay in the crowd and like to invite others or yourself into conversations, then a social network is what you want.

but they really did make Facebook sound like a powerful tool
It is powerful but it's not for everyone. And I'm with you on the applications - I think all the hype about the power of applications is pretty bogus when you consider what's most popular. That said, the most basic "applications" like The Wall, Photos (w/ tagging), Groups, and the News Feed are nicely done.
posted by junesix at 9:43 AM on November 14, 2007 [1 favorite]

What is it about Facebook that makes people care about people that, in real life, they don't care about enough to keep in touch with?

Reasonable question. I agree with hopeless romantique that it's a good stand-in for a high school reunion. I know my last reunion was a waste of time compared to the scant four days I've spent on facebook.

Smackfu has a great point above too, which is that it's great for travel buddies. A guy I know spends a few months a year in my town and he's great to hang out with, get drinks or dinner or whatever. We're not so close that we need to email each other all the time, but I like knowing what's going on with him and it's great when our paths cross.
posted by veggieboy at 9:47 AM on November 14, 2007

I signed up for facebook right before I came to college. This was mostly because all of my high school friends use it instead of IM and e-mail and I wanted to stay in touch. I also use it to help me connect names and faces for all the people I've met since I got here because everyone has a picture on their profile.
posted by martinX's bellbottoms at 9:52 AM on November 14, 2007

One, your question seems to imply that you don't think that keeping in touch with someone via Facebook "counts" as much as keeping in touch with them via some other method.

Not quite. my question had more to do with keeping track, v. actually keeping in touch. If the people you "track" on Facebook are people that you actually keep in touch with on a fairly regular basis (like veggieboy's travel buddies example), that makes perfect sense; if, however, all you're doing is watching what someone you went to high school with 20 years ago is doing, and never actually instigating contact, then I start to wonder what the point is.

Hopeless romantique came close to what I'm thinking:

or makes us feel that finding old acquaintances is somehow necessary.

I guess I just don't see it necessary to find someone I had a friendship with so long ago that, if Facebook weren't around, I'd have no idea how to go about finding. It seems that if I still wanted that person to be in my life, they would be, facebook or no.

But then, I'm an old fart, internet-world-wise, so I should probably just go back to throwing beer cans at kids in my yard...
posted by pdb at 9:58 AM on November 14, 2007

What is it about Facebook that makes people care about people that, in real life, they don't care about enough to keep in touch with?

These are people who might move to my city, I might move to theirs, we might end up in each other's fields and could find each other jobs... one way to see if someone can help me out is to contact my high school or college's alumni office. Or I can check Facebook, and keep tabs on the gossipy relationship stuff while I'm at it. :) It's not that I dislike them, it's just that I don't have a reason to keep in touch regularly, bu that doesn't mean I won't want to talk to them eventually.
posted by olinerd at 9:59 AM on November 14, 2007

Best answer: Facebook is kind of like that table you and your circle of friends would congregate between classes at school, or that bar you'd hang out at after work. You might have conversations with people, but you also picked up a lot of information via friendly gossip and by overhearing what someone was saying on the other side of the table.

Facebook (and things like it) are like that, but without strong ties to time and place. People can absorb social knowledge without being at the same place, and without having to be online at the same time.

Most importantly, by decoupling things from time and place, a new property emerges. Rather than having to hang out one place to keep up with friends from College, another place for your extended family, another place for people from your book club, and another for friends from your rugby league, you can just go to one place.

Now, the financial value is less clear, but it generally revolves around advertising. In theory a social network will "know" enough about your personal context that ads can be placed that will be relevant and interesting to you. In addition, there is hope that somehow these social networks will be able to make money when one of their members ends up recommending a product to another memember (for example, you rave about some movie on facebook and facebook gives your friends an opportunity to buy tickets to the next showing of that movie).
posted by Good Brain at 10:04 AM on November 14, 2007

What everyone else said, and Facebook is also like a magical address book. There were people I googled regularly for years and never could find, usually because they'd gotten married and changed their names. And now they're on Facebook, and I can find them, or they can find me. I've reconnected with people I'm sure I never would have seen again otherwise.

It's been lovely to rekindle some old relationships, get outpourings of apologies from ex-boyfriends;-), or simply catch up. You can take the connection to any level you want. Facebook really gives you a natural way to build on an old acquaintance, because you realize hey, this person is ever so much more interesting and mature than they used to be. Or if all you want to do is find out how they are and what they've been doing with themselves, you can do that and leave it at that.
posted by orange swan at 10:11 AM on November 14, 2007

I use Facebook for keeping in touch with my "third-tier" and below friends -- aquaintences, old college friends, cousins, etc. As someone pointed out above, it has replaced the yearly or so mass email to the large group of people with whom I don't regularly communicate.

About 80% of my close friends are on FB, but I still call and email them, rather than make the more superficial contact that FB is about. Everyone's of course, MMV.
posted by gaspode at 10:13 AM on November 14, 2007

I know a lot of people say they have no interest in finding people from their pasts - a sort of "they're gone, let them stay gone" sort of spirit. Perhaps it's just a matter of how full your social/emotional plate is. Mine isn't, and so I welcome the chance to improve on my social life. Others have full lives, and have no interest in more social networking.
posted by orange swan at 10:15 AM on November 14, 2007

It's a high-tech alumni association for me. After college all of my best friends scattered around the country, and facebook makes keeping in touch with them much easier. Instead of taking the time to tell 50 people that I have a new job, I just post it to my page, and then everyone who cares knows about it.
posted by chrisamiller at 10:16 AM on November 14, 2007

Glad you asked this question. I actually have a FB account, and I haven't gotten around to putting anything up, or looking for anybody. I was wondering what use it was ever going to be to me.

FB is cool, yeah, but it's just not relevant for me these days. I think I'm at a point where I'm much more interested in what's going on in my "immediate" life (my wife and our home, events in my town, my hobbies, the friends I can hang out with in person) than keeping in touch with my "long losts" and out-of-town friends.

One indication of this shift: I was really active on MySpace a few years ago-- finding my old friends, posting my news and reading theirs, etc. But now I check my account about once a week, rarely read my friends' posts, and never post any of my own.

And honestly, after getting into MeFi, the quality here is just so much better. Way more interesting, stimulating, and grown-up (MeTa excepted, of course). Of course, I'm 33, so I'm way out of the younguns' social networking loop.
posted by Rykey at 11:21 AM on November 14, 2007

Best answer: Slate just had an article about how young people don't really use e-mail anymore. That's why I tend to use facebook -- not for the apps, but for the fact that I can connect to people a lot easier. E-mail is how I talk to my teachers, make moving plans, etc. -- it's far more formal than most of my communications with my friends are. Plus some of my friends never check their e-mail (truly), and others don't even have a real e-mail address outside the one the university gave them. But everyone's on facebook. Why waste time tracking someone's e-mail address down (made more difficult by the fact that e-mail addresses often have no correlation with the actual name) when you can just type their name into the facebook search engine?

It also helps keep me updated on minute facts that I should know about them, like their new boyfriend's name, their birthday, where they went for winter vacation & when they went, but don't. If it's important it'll be on facebook, and thus accessible. That way I don't have to avoid contact because I can't remember what classes they're taking.

The apps are a good time-waster. I can play with them in the library between class, in class on my computer, or before I start homework. I don't even use most of them beyond anything that helps me talk to my friends.
posted by lilac girl at 12:49 PM on November 14, 2007

For example: I lost track of a good friend after a super tense fight at a really stressful time in our lives. When things relaxed and I really missed her and wanted to catch up and patch things up, I couldn't find her because we didn't have any common friends left and her name is too common to be google-able. She found me and poked me on facebook. She lives in the UK now and I know I'm going to be there next spring, so I wrote on her wall that I'd love to see her then. Then, one of our mutual friends (whom I'd shared a suite with in college but also lost touch with as geography, interests, and stressful times drew us apart) saw what I wrote on her wall, and wrote on my wall that she was now living in the UK and would love to meet me when I'm there. We weren't best friends but we had a roommate closeness and I'm excited to see her again. All of this is only because of facebook. And this is just one example.

I don't think it's a fad that will go away, any more than e-mail went away, though it's possible that someone will come up with a better implementation of the same idea.

Nothing is for everybody and I have friends who've really given facebook a fair try and aren't interested. Fair enough. But I dislike the implication that we who do like it are shallow or have shallow relationships. Please!
posted by Salamandrous at 12:57 PM on November 14, 2007

There's just a certain efficiency to Facebook that I can't get from e-mail. I'm living overseas right now, and while I do maintain e-mail contact with maybe four or five close friends, there are dozens of other friends and acquaintances I want to remain in contact with, without having to write the same thing over and over again. Facebook allows me to see what all these people are doing, and let's them know what I'm up to, in one convenient location. Even if I don't have much to say, we can maintain a conversation and regular contact. Twitter is the same way.

That said, you're always going to feel like something's missing if your friends and family aren't part of your online network.
posted by lunalaguna at 1:54 PM on November 14, 2007 [1 favorite]

One way to think about it is that Facebook is "one to many" communication - it allows you to broadcast information and updates about yourself. Unlike with email CCs, though, the recipient can control when they get your info, and there is no social requirement to respond.

Lots of things follow that model (blogging for example) but none pull in all the elements of social networking the way dedicated sites like Facebook do.
posted by DarlingBri at 2:30 PM on November 14, 2007

There are a lot of people with whom friendships in real life have actually grown or been maintained thanks to Facebook.
There are people I can invite to and get togethers via Facebook that I probably wouldn't call or don't even have the phone number of (I hate talking on the phone anyway, though).
Even the close friends I would normally call I can invite or keep in touch with via Facebook instead of having to play phone-tag with our busy schedules and email is almost too formal.
There are people I've met at a convention that I've kept up friendships with via Facebook entirely.
I find MySpace far less functional. It's much more garish and honestly, full of trashier content.
Email is boring and too cumbersome compared to the ease of Facebook.
I don't believe my friendships are shallower, in fact, many of them are deeper, or would barely exist at all if not for Facebook.

Also- For those who think that wanting to know about the lives of long-lost acquaintances that you normally wouldn't have bothered keeping up with is a "generational thing," my mom has me use my Facebook and MySpace to brief her on the lives of some of her high school friends. My boyfriend's mom has his sister use hers to keep her posted on their cousins. We are in our 20s. Thankfully for me and my boyfriend, our moms do not have accounts of their own. ;-)
posted by fructose at 2:56 PM on November 14, 2007

i agree w/pretty much what everybody's written above, but i also wanted to reply to one of the OP's comments: "they were going on and on about the power of Facebook and how the battle for the internet advertising dollar was shaping up to be between Facebook and Google."

the podcast was probably talking about the new advertising scheme from facebook. basically, it's going to to send messages like "your_friend_dan bought a phillips norelco 100000xxl shaver and really liked it." that's going to be huge, because even if you're not best friends with dan, you might think "oh, dan knows his razors" or something and be swayed to buy it.

silly example, but (hopefully) you know what i mean.
posted by be11e at 5:42 PM on November 14, 2007

It's much easier to keep track of your stalking quarry when you don't have to keep up with number or address changes of any kind. Or so I hear.
posted by notashroom at 7:52 PM on November 14, 2007

I'm slowly getting more into FB and what I find it's good for is keeping track of two types of friends. My really good friends that I want to communicate with all the time. Why not use email or the phone? I'm overseas, and we're not the type of guys that mail each other every day. Before we all starting using FB we might have written a nice long email every few weeks but now we send each other little messages almost daily. The status thing is also a quick way to see what my buddies are up to. Also, we play scrabulous which is really fun and unlike a Wii game or something, the difference in time zones doesn't get in the way.
The other type of friend I want to keep touch with is old work friends that I want to know what they're up to and yes, maybe keep some work options open in the future. They get the scaled down profile where my good friends get full access.
posted by m3thod4 at 11:41 PM on November 14, 2007

I've found Facebook useful for three things:

- Getting back in touch with people I haven't seen in a long time, or keeping in touch with people I don't normally see.
- Finding out what shows people I know are in (I have friends who are performers)
- Scrabulous. Enough said.
posted by davetill at 6:29 PM on November 15, 2007

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