“Just Find Me on Facebook”

Yet Another Online Community Makes it Big. Especially at Universities, New Acquaintances Will Say:

I don’t know how it happened. I’m not even sure what happened. There I was, all by myself trying to sign up for Facebook, the most talked about new internet community, when I found myself in a new dimension, trapped in my own computer, no longer master of myself. Forgetting my obligations, I decided to explore what it was exactly that I had missed up until now.

And so I found Kelly Sebena online, a student of Webster University from St. Louis. Friends like her were one of the few logical reasons to get this service. The Internet has no borders, and she was more than happy to show me around.

Facebook was originally named “thefacebook” and was founded by Harvard undergraduate student, soon to be dropout, Mark Zuckerberg in February of 2004.  Originally only meant as an internal internet community site for Harvard students, the site quickly expanded to include all other Ivy League Universities, and then, as the popularity spread, all other American Universities were added to the network. The site reached the 1 million user mark in December of 2004, not even a year after its creation.

The expansion continued, and soon the new frontier was other English speaking universities around the world.  American high schools joined the list, and eventually the founders decided to completely remove the restrictions and allow anyone with a valid email address to join.  Previously, the service had been restricted to people with a valid “edu” email address.

So what is it that makes Facebook special? Like most internet sites already existing on the internet such as MySpace and Hi5, Facebook is above all user friendly. Everybody is given a small space to upload their own content, pictures of themselves, videos, and given the ability to make friends.

Unlike MySpace and Hi5, however, Facebook does not allow you to customize your personal site, but rather requires a strict design code, the same background in which everything has a certain place.  One new inventory which Facebook alone has is the possibility for members to search for other members based on favorite books, artists, activities and the like.  Once you enter an activity onto your profile page, it automatically links you with other people, within your network (school, country, town, etc) and other friends, who have entered the same information.

To say that most people seem to have Facebook might not be much of an exaggeration as the network is constantly growing.  Many Webster students have an account on Facebook.  I checked with Sebena about the popularity in America, and she, although she had no exact figures, guessed that up to 90% of the students that she knows of have an account. In a 2005 interview with Techcrunch, Chris Hughes, of Facebook, set the number at 85%.  That was two years and four million users ago. Today, the overall estimates lay at around 18 million worldwide.

At Webster in Austria the numbers are high, but not that high. A survey conducted on 25 randomly selected Webster students in Vienna found that 12 had already signed on with Facebook, out of which most seemed to be actively using the service.  In fact, out of the 25, the average daily time spent online turned out to be a little over 3 hours, of which half the time was spent on internet community sites, email services or other forms of instant messaging communication.

But the answers were diverse, and most people don’t spend more than 2 hours online, some only up to 10 minutes, while others spend up to 7 hours.  Furthermore, many people purposely avoid signing up for community sites such as Facebook, as they realize that the probability of them leaving the system–once inside it– is small.

A particular student mentioned in the questionnaire that “if I had all of the services offered I would be doomed.  I used to be a member of multiple networks, but I deleted all when it got dangerous.  I would do nothing but stay online and talk to my friends.”

Not the only response of the kind, this promoted the question into how addicted people think that they are. The answers vary, and the average score of the same 25 people that were asked was five on a scale of one to ten, (ten being addicted), while you found examples of both extremes.

Internet addiction on a worldwide level, whether it is surfing, checking your email, or simply being online for the sake of being online is becoming, as a number of psychologists label it, a “pandemic.”

First mentioned by Ivan Goldberg in 1995, the internet addiction disorder is now a widely-discussed phenomenon.  The stories range from people losing their life savings on online casinos, people getting divorced as the men watch porn while the women meet for “cyber sex” in online chat rooms, to people quitting work in order to stay home and play online computer games.

The Chinese are doing something to combat this. Being the nation with the second largest  number of internet users, after the USA with an estimated number of 100 million people. The internet café business has reached the most remote parts of the country and it is also, quite logically, a profitable business. After the number of people who stayed online instead of going to sleep increased as well as the number of people with anxiety problems and abnormal stress symptom levels, grew, in 2005 China became the first government in the world to sponsor an Internet rehabilitation clinic in Beijing.

People admitted to this clinic above all thank the people who help them get some sleep, something which they somehow forgot to do while being online.

In addition to the “normal” stories of abuse, pornography and the like, another disturbing reoccurrence online has been harassment, prejudice and threats committed, which in many unfortunate cases has also been the way in which pedophiles have hunted their “prey.”

Whether a coincidence or not, Facebook does not allow these kinds of harassments.  Unlike other sites, on Facebook it is impossible to view a person’s site unless you are either part of their network or their “friend.” This is one of the best features of Facebook, according to Webster student Iva Cek. Not thrilled about the idea of being subjected to vulgar remarks by strangers she is happy that she can stay out of reach of such people.

Cek acquired Facebook only a little over a month ago and is already finding it useful.  She already had MySpace and Hi5 which at first made her reluctant to sign up for Facebook with the assumption that a third internet community site is hardly needed.  As the requests kept coming from friends that she should sign up, she gave in.

“Facebook has been a pleasant surprise for me.  I like it more than Hi5, particularly Facebook’s easy search engine which allows me to find my old friends that I have not spoken to in years.” Obviously one of its strengths, the Friends Finder on Facebook allows people to easily search for friends by high school, university or work, a field which most people fill out.  In such a manner, reconnecting with her old friends came as a pleasant plus.

She is not addicted though, she assures me, and logs on only when she is notified of a message or upload through her email inbox which she checks daily. “The design,” she says, “is much better on Facebook.

The standard white code makes all sites readable, you know where to search for information, it is organized, and no flashy images or music appears when you look at people’s profiles.  It allows me to read what others have written.”

There are other advantages. Space for one. Unlike MySpace where photo space is limited, Facebook allows you to upload an unlimited amount of photo albums.  You also no longer have to wonder about who are on the pictures, you can simply “tag” them.  By tagging a picture, you identify a person in a picture which anyone can see, and when you roll your mouse on the picture, when close to the face, the computer tells the name of the particular person pictured.  Neat, don’t you think?

And although there are ads, they are not nearly as large nor as flashy as on MySpace.

By the beginning of the morning, I had myself reconnected to several friends long unheard of.  They are all doing fine, or so they say.  Remembering that there is a real world out there, I quickly turned of my computer, and came back to what seemed like heaven.

There were sounds of people, smells of nature and the warmth of the sun as I exited my apartment to start a new day.

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