Facebook features extend site’s reach into daily life

By Melissa Hardman

Contributing Writer

The social networking site Facebook turns five years old next Wednesday, and that’s all the time it has needed to make itself a staple of the lives of college students all over the world, including at Tech.

Facebook was founded on February 4, 2004 by Harvard student Mark Zuckerberg. Since being introduced at Harvard and then other Ivy League schools it has since expanded to all college campuses, later all high schools and then finally to anyone with an e-mail address.

A 2006 study conducted by Student Monitor revealed that Facebook was the second most popular thing among college undergraduates, following the iPod. An extremely high percentage of Tech students use Facebook, and even if you are one of the few who does not, chances are your life is still affected by it in some way. If you sit at the back of any lecture hall, several computer screens display Facebook rather than the notes students should be taking.

Many parties and special events use Facebook Notes to handle invitations because of the quickness and efficiency in doing so. Many on-campus clubs and groups have Facebook pages which often have essential information and dates. Since the addition of the Chat feature, many users now use Facebook for online chats rather than AOL or MSN instant messenger. Considering the ease of communication it allows and the fact that almost everyone has an account, Facebook wall posts and messages have replaced a lot of phone calls and face-to-face interactions.

A large percentage of Facebook users log on multiple times per day. Why is this social networking phenomenon so addictive, and could it end up costing us conversation skills? Since it seems to be here to stay, can it become a more productive way to keep informed about world news and issues, not just the news of our classmates?

As a social networking site Facebook is intended to help people build networks of friends and coworkers. It was originally created to replace the paper booklets known as “facebooks” that were distributed among new students and faculty to help them get acquainted with people on campus. As it has evolved, it has grown to include a number of ways to post information and interact with other users.

People are drawn into the excitement of gaining friends, sending messages and viewing pictures posted by acquaintances of trips and special events, which leads to the many hours people spend on Facebook monthly. As people add friends, they often learn information about these people that they would only learn from spending a certain amount of time in conversation with them.

While this can be helpful in learning about new friends, it also eliminates one-on-one time spent getting to know another person. The chat feature can be a great way for long distance friends to keep in touch, but at the same time can be counterproductive when people in the same area chat on Facebook rather than getting together in person and spending time on their mutual interests. Additionally, some students feel the level of information provided by Facebook is becoming excessive, since the News Feed shows information about whose wall a user has posted to, who they have become friends with, changes in their relationship status, and other updates.

As Facebook integrates itself into the daily lives of so many, the applications are updating to increase the level of interaction possible. Marketplace allows users to post classified ads that will be seen by people in their network. Video allows homemade videos to be posted on profiles.

There are applications in which people take quizzes and answer questions about friends, including the Honesty Box in which people can post anonymous opinions about friends. Facebook Mobile and Facebook for iPhone allow the flexibility of checking posts and messages from anywhere.

Facebook is moving beyond being merely an outlet for chatting and gossip, with the addition of the CNN Breaking News application. The application is a page that lists a few sentences of top breaking headlines, with the option of clicking “read more” and following a link to the complete article on the CNN website. Currently boasting 12,480 daily monthly active users, this application represents a movement by Facebook users towards being informed citizens.

Considering the cultural impact Facebook has already made, could it one day become a trusted news source, as well as a resource for business and official correspondence? Recent occurrences suggest that not only is it possible, it is already happening in other countries.

In December 2008, courts in Australia ruled that court summons served on Facebook were legally binding, and there is evidence that in Iran Facebook has been used to organize opposition movements.