BitDepth 611 - January 22

I've spent months fraternising on social networking websites. Here's what I've picked up.
Hanging out on the web

My lame Facebook profile.

Several months ago, I signed up with every social networking website I could find. In short order, my memberships with Hi-5, MySpace, Wayn and Facebook were active. I then added a few other "kinda" social services like Plaxo and Twitter to the mix. Sign-up on all these services is free.
Most social networking sites are a way for friends to keep in touch. They offer basic messaging services, groups for like-minded members of the network to congregate in and activities to keep you occupied. It is, in other words, pretty much like a Sunday School party, because most of these services frown on cussing and aggressive behaviour.
Within a few months, it became clear that for most Trinis, any social networking site other than Facebook is a non-starter.

To date, my presence on Hi-5, MySpace and Wayn have each attracted the attention of one member of my family and several young ladies who are offering friendship that seems rather familiar and potentially expensive.
There are 27 people listed as friends on my Facebook profile, each of whom found my profile and sent a friend request using the built-in messaging software in each page. I've never met four of them and see or keep in touch with touch with eight of them with some regularity (at least once a month).

Facebook's success is hardly surprising. It's the liveliest of the social networking sites that I signed up with, with a host of "applications," software that extends the basic interface of the service with jokes, video and different methods of virtually reaching out to your circle of friends and being reached by them.
This is where Facebook excels and can even become addictive. It's also where it becomes a bit annoying.

The point of Facebook is the facilitation of an online experience of friendship, and even a basic member page offers interesting ways of keeping in touch with other Facebook members. But the explosion of improvements on the base features of the core Facebook experience is driven by the need for each participant to install the new Facebook application on their page to even read some communications.

Just to be polite and social, I've installed five of these additions to my Facebook page, which to be frank, is pretty conservative.
I've visited pages that apparently go on for miles, scrolling down foot after foot with Facebook add-ons.
I polled some of my Facebook buddies to find out how they use the network.
Of the respondents, all cited regular invitations from friends to join the network as their initial reason for signing up. Most respondents have joined within the last ten months, gathering more than 300 friends on the network and some have crossed the 500 mark.
These Facebook users claim to use the service for no more than an hour each day, but there's a tone of recovering addiction to most of these reports.
Dale C points out that you can't leave Facebook. You can deactivate an account, but everything that's already there remains there. 

The system is also designed to keep you on Facebook. I've tried to move a few friends off the Facebook e-mail system to direct e-mail, but many keep sending messages using the site's notification system.
My own motivations for keeping up with Facebook have now gone beyond pure research. I've been using my page to flog my own website, particularly with Web Clix, an application developed for the site that creates a screenshot of your blog or website and posts it along with a link on your profile page.

Gillian M enjoys the Facebook experience and uses it to issue invitations to small performance events that she stages. Lisa Marie N uses her profile page to promote her blog and multimedia production company.
The cavalier and generally amusing tone of Facebook don't make it a great tool for business and corporate users may wish to post a profile as a place holder and do their contact management on Linked in or Plaxo.
While Facebook makes managing groups easy and allows users to "maco" what other people are up to, most don't seem to be using the network as a springboard to the wider web. The site does little to extend the experience of users comfortable with the buffet of features and entertainments available on its pages.

That's a shame, because Blogger pages are also free, but they demand a bit more savvy to customize and leverage. The payoff of a more traditional web presence is the knowledge that creating them fosters in those who create a blog or website about Internet standards and methods and that experience can lead to opportunities that Facebook isn't designed to support.

My biggest concern after spending six months tending to a Facebook page is that it really is a web page on training wheels, but it's so comfortable and distracting that it tempts most of its users to stay in Internet kindergarten.
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