And I have to say my first impressions have been good. Facebook has been fun and interesting, although by no means instantly essential to my life, nor something I want to make full use of.
For the uninitiated, Facebook is one of the internet’s many networking sites, which apparently has its origins in high schools and colleges in the USA. You set yourself a profile, giving as much personal information as you like, and you designate people as “friends” who might be acquaintances, colleagues, or of course actual friends. You can interact by leaving messages on each others’ public “walls”, send private messages, upload pictures, and set your “status” so you can describe what you’re doing, where you are, what you’re thinking etc, in one short sentence. Anyone who you’ve allowed to be your friend can see what sort of updates you have made.
Now all that is interesting. I’ve found it fascinating seeing how many of my friends have Facebook pages, what sort of things they are getting up to, and who else they count as friends. On a few occasions, I’ve been intrigued to see a couple of my friends actually know each other separately from me.
But what makes Facebook gripping for many is all the add-ons you can have. You can put a fishtank or a garden, and friends can give you fish, gnomes or other strange “gifts”. Add-ons can be seasonal – you can add Hallowe’en-type tools that allow you to “bite”, “gore” or do other spooky-type things to your friends. You can even download a tool that allows you to throw sheep at your friends.
Quite why, I don’t know. A reminder to a friend that you still exist? Some sort of bizarre flirting ritual? Who knows. Personally I’ve downloaded very few of these frivilous and piontless tools, and blocked most of them.
One tool I have downloaded, though, is the “Friend Wheel”. It puts all your friends in a big circle and draws a line between those friends who know each other. It’s a fascinating representation of the circles and networks you’re a part of, how many of your friends know each other (or alternatively, know none of your other friends).
Another thing Facebook has been good for has been reigniting communication with people I’ve not been in touch with for a while. Nobody has become my friend that I had lost touch with (which many Faceheads told me would happen), but there have been a few people I’ve not been in touch with for ages (but still had contact details for if I’d really wanted) who it’s been nice to catch up with.
As for privacy, Facebook looks good. I can restrict access for my “friends” to my profile to the barest information if I want, and nobody who I have not accepted as my friends can see anything other than the fact I have a page, and cannot see any details about me. Undiscerning people, however, who take any old person on as their friend, do leave themselves open to a bit of stalking however, and so care should be taken who you have as a friend.
Talking of which, I am standing at 134 friends – a mix of friends in Inverness, Glasgow and Aberdeen, a few relatives, the occasional work-related contact, and a few folk I’ve met on my travels around the world. And if that sounds like the tally of someone who’s treating it as a popularity contest, I have actually ignored the occasional request from people who, being honest with myself, are not really friends or acquaintances in any real sense.
One bit of “fun” I do allow myself is what I call “Facebook roulette”. Everyone has, as standard, a corner of their page dedicated to their friends, where you can see how many friends a person has, how many of them you have in common, and a random selection of six friends’ pictures. What I like to do, each time I visit my page, is have a look at who the random six are. Usually they contain at least one or two who know each other but I get a buzz of excitement if I get six friends who are all strangers to each other.
Which if nothing else, reassures me that I do have lots of different friends in lots of different places.
Which is nice.