Facebook was founded by Mark Zuckerburg and his college roommates and fellow computer scientists in 2004. That’s right – seven short years ago there was no such thing as Facebook and even its former main-competitor, MySpace, was only in its infancy. The site was originally designed to connect students of Harvard (and was then called Facemash – it bore little resemblance to the Facebook of today), but gradually expanded to include surrounding US universities, and finally anyone (over the age of 13) in 2006.
And the rest is history. In November 2010 Facebook was valued at $US41 billion (more than international auction giant eBay).
If you’re not already on Facebook, if you’d like to use it a little better, or if you think you’re a whiz with nothing left to learn, read on.
First thing first: if you’re under 13, bad news. You can’t join Facebook, which actually makes good sense. There are plenty of issues regarding privacy, appropriateness and security that make children under 13 simply too young to be on the Facebook social network. The creators of Facebook know it and parents should know it too. There’s no telling, really, how long things posted on Facebook will stick around so it’s best for kids stay away from Facebook until they’re old enough to understand what’s appropriate online, what’s not and what can go wrong. If there is an absolutely pressing need for some kind of online social interaction for under 13s, there are plenty of great kids’ social networks to choose from (see the October 2010 issue of NetGuide for Esmé Putt’s Young Person’s Guide to Social Networking).
But let’s assume you’re old enough to take the plunge and join the sometimes icy waters of the world’s biggest social network: Facebook.
Where to begin?
Surf into www.facebook.com
Type in your name, email, desired password, sex and birth date.
Visit your email account and verify your account by clicking the link that Facebook has sent you.
Facebook will now offer to scan your email account and find Facebook members who are also on your contact list. This is a convenient way to connect with friends you are in communication with regularly, but it’s likely that your email account will also contain the addresses of people whom you’re not actually friends with (people you’ve been in contact with after a TradeMe purchase, for example). Be sure to add only those people who are actually your friends. Alternatively, you can just skip this step entirely and simply add friends manually by conducting a search in Facebook itself.
Next, Facebook will ask you for a little background information. You’ll be asked to enter details regarding where you went to school, where you’re employed et cetera.
You’ll be taken to a page that will display the profiles of people with similar information. If you recognise someone you now have the option of adding them as a Facebook friend. Again, you can skip this section entirely if desired.
Finally, you’ll be asked to enter your current city location. Once you’ve added this detail sign up is complete.
Now’s your chance to tell the world a little bit about yourself.
Now click ‘Profile’ in the top-right corner of your Facebook homepage, then click the ‘Edit Profile’ box below that.
Fill in any boxes you want and click ‘Save Changes’. Note: here is your opportunity to set what shows on your profile to random strangers. If you want your birth date or sex to show publicly, you can set that here.
After you’ve saved your changes, see the other options on the right hand side of the page – here is where your profile gets more personal. The first tab allows you to add a profile picture. Although especially privacy-conscious folk might be hesitant to add a picture of themselves, this is actually quite an important step in Facebook. If you’re going to be conservative with the rest of your personal information, potential friends will need a picture so that they know they have got the right person before sending you a friend request. If you don’t put a picture up, they’ll have no way of knowing if you’re the John Smith they remember from high school or not. This step is not mandatory, however, but know that if you don’t upload a picture the obligation is on you to make the connections with friends and family, because it’s unlikely that they’ll be able to find you. Alternatively, you can upload a generic or funny image from elsewhere.
The ‘Featured People’ tab allows you to specify your relationship to others on Facebook. State here whether you’re in a relationship or not and what kind of a relationship it is. You can also add family who you’ve ‘friended’ and specify your relationship to them. This section is also optional.
The next tab is Education and Work. If you skipped the education and work information while you were signing up, you’re given the option here again.
Next up is the Philosophy tab. Here you are free to add your religious and political views, people who inspire you and your favourite quotations.
The next three options - Arts and Entertainments; Sports and Activities and Interests - direct you towards groups that you have something in common with. When you enter information into these categories, Facebook will automatically generate suggested groups for you to join. Arts and Entertainments wants to know your favourite music, movies, books and television shows; Sports covers the games you play, your favourite teams and athletes; and Activities and Interests lets you tell the world a little about what you do for fun. Again, these steps are optional.
Finally, your contact information. If you’re a business person looking to make contact and stay in touch with potential customers, fill out this section in full. If you’re using Facebook socially, think carefully about what information you want out there before filling in these panels. When you’re finished, click ‘save changes’.
Click ‘View My Profile’ to see how everything looks.
Next comes the most important Facebook settings of all. Privacy.
Facebook is not without its controversies, most of them surrounding the very contentious issue of privacy.
The simple fact is that Facebook takes an active interest in trying to get you to share as much information online as possible online. The more you put out there, the better for Facebook and its advertisers.
Understanding Facebook’s security settings, however, is crucial to using the network safely.
If you’re a typical Facebook user (i.e. you’re not a business looking to maximise exposure for your brand through a Facebook account) a good rule of thumb is to set your privacy controls to the most conservative setting. All of your Facebook friends will still be able to see your activity, but random surfers will not be able to visit your account and check out your Christmas photos or read your updates*.
If you want to share more of your profile with anonymous surfers, that’s fine, and there are plenty of options in your security settings you can use to achieve this, but here’s how to set-up your profile for maximum privacy as easily as possible.
- Click ‘Account’ in the top right hand corner of the page and from the drop down menu and select ‘Privacy Settings’. Click ‘View Settings’.
- The first option is ‘Search for you on Facebook’. If you want to be the one that does all the ‘friending’, set this to ‘Friends Only’. This means ,however, that others will not be able to find you by doing a Facebook search. If you are open to being contacted by long-lost friends, set this to ‘Everyone’. If you only want contact from those already in your real-life social circle (and if you’ve already added other friends from this group) then set this to ‘Friends of Friends’.
- ‘Send you friend requests’ is an extension of the above steps. If you leave this set to ‘Everyone’, you increase your chance of being asked to be friends by random strangers (although you are under no compulsion to actually become friends with them), but again, this will allow long-lost friends to track you down. Alternatively you can set this to ‘Friends of Friends’.
- ‘Send you Messages’ is the same deal as the above – think you can handle a bit of spam in your inbox? Then set this to ‘Everyone’. If not, select ‘Friends of Friends’ or ‘Friends Only’. Note: setting this to ‘Everyone’ leaves you open to the sort of scam email that you find in your regular email account. That means bait-and-switch scams, bad links et cetera. If you loathe spam email, set this to ‘Friends Only’.
- ‘See Your Friend List’. This allows certain people to go through your friend list looking for people that they may also know. Your friends, however, are your business, so feel free to stop people from snooping through the connections you’ve made. You can customise this option even further by only allowing certain people to browse your friends list, but not others.
- The final three options, ‘See your education and work’, ‘See your current city and hometown’ and ‘See your likes, activities and other connections’ allows you to restrict or allow access to your other content. It’s recommended that you set these to the most conservative setting – ‘Friends only’ or ‘Customize’ to avoid any anonymous party – non-friends, employers et cetera - from finding out more about you than you’d like to share.
- Next, click on ‘Privacy Settings’ again (from the top right hand dropdown box) and click ‘Custom’, then ‘Customize Settings’ at the bottom of the page.
- Set the first option, ‘Posts by Me’, to ‘Friends Only’. This means that your general Facebook activity is only viewable by people you have decided to become friends with. For all the other options in the ‘Things I share’ category, the most conservative setting (i.e. the most secure) is ‘Only Me’, but feel free to go through and decide what you’d like to be visible and to whom. Either way, do not leave these on the default – there’s a lot of information here about you that you would do well to share conservatively. Take your time and think about each option.
- Scroll down to ‘Things others share’. The first option is ‘Photos and videos I’m tagged in’. Best practice here is to click ‘Edit Settings’, ‘Customize’ then ‘Only Me’, and ‘Save Setting’. This is an important step. Facebook’s new layout now puts photographs of you, photographs that other people have uploaded at the top of your homepage. Making these setting changes will prevent any unwelcome party snaps from coming back to haunt you at a later stage.
- Next option is ‘Can Comment on Posts’. Best setting here is ‘Friends only’. This means your friends can interact with the stuff you write on your wall.
- ‘Suggest photos of me to friends’ may or may not be an option for you (it uses Facebook’s facial recognition technology), but if it is, either disable it or set it to ‘Friends only’.
- The next three steps – ‘Friends can post on my Wall’, ‘Can see Wall posts by friends’, and ‘Friends can check me in to Places’ can all be disabled without concern.
- The last section, ‘Contact information’ should all be set to ‘Only Me’ by clicking ‘Custom’ in each box (although if you want your email address to be visible feel free to set it differently).
- Click ‘Back to Privacy’.
But you’re not done yet. There are two more areas you should know about.
- Under ‘Apps and Websites’, click ‘Edit your settings’. Next turn off platform apps. This will prevent Facebook from sharing your information (and your contacts information) with certain businesses and websites.
- Next click ‘Info accessible through your friends’. Turn all of these off.
- ‘Game and app activity’ – ‘Customize’, ‘Only Me’.
- ‘Instant Personalisation’ – ‘Edit Settings’, then turn off ‘Enable instant personalisation on partner websites’.
- Finally ‘Enable public search’ allows people to see your profile via search-engine activity. This one is your call, however; if you’re going for maximum security, switch it off.
- Click ‘Back to Privacy’.
Finally, if you’re having issues with a stalker, annoying non-friend, or simply have had a falling out with a former friend and want to eliminate them from your Facebook activity, click ‘Edit your lists’ under ‘Block Lists’. This allows you to effectively ban people from participating in your Facebook experience. You can also customise it for specific behaviour. For example, if you keep getting invites or application activity updates from a friend, but you don’t want to block them outright, you can edit specific behaviour here.
*Note. It’s best not to take assurances of ‘privacy’ on Facebook too literally. This is the internet and, almost by definition, content is still accessible under certain circumstances. If you’re really wary about whether what you’re about to post is the kind of thing you could deal with if exposed in public, err on the side of caution. It’s better to assume that everything you post will be public at some stage and be proved wrong than to hope for best and have one of those off-colour posts or photos find their way into the public domain.
Other general security behaviour:
- Careful when clicking links (especially the shortened variety) that friends put up. Viruses can spread through Facebook and this how they do it. If in doubt, don’t click it.
- If you’re using Facebook on your mobile, disable Facebook Places. Broadcasting where you are 24/7 is begging a burglar to rob you, or a stalker to stalk you.
- If you keep getting bothered by people wanting to use Facebook’s chat function when you’d rather not, or if you want to conceal the fact that you’re online, click the chat button in the bottom right hand of your browser, then click ‘Options’. Click ‘Go Offline’ to disable the chat feature.
A Note on Facebook Stalkers
There’s a lot of coverage in the media about Facebook stalkers. Even Mark Zuckerburg himself has been on the wrong end of obsessive attention in recent times, so it’s well and truly a fact that no one is immune.
So how do you protect yourself from Facebook stalkers?
Unfortunately, there is no magic bullet for dealing with unwanted attention on Facebook. The only way to keep the creeps out of your Facebook is by using best practice when networking - only add people as friends when you actually are friends with them in real life, verifying those friends by asking them questions that only genuine friends would know, and by deleting bothersome ‘friends’ who don’t enhance your Facebook experience. Also, pay judicious attention to those privacy settings. If you’re encountering unwanted attention on Facebook go through the recommended privacy settings above and tighten up your security where necessary.
Pro Tip: Every now and then you may come across an app that promises you the ability to ‘manage’ stalkers in some way. If you receive a message that says "I just saw who CREEPS around my pics the most here on Facebook. You can see who stalks you too!” or "I’ve just seen who checks me out the most here on Facebook!” ignore these messages. These are scams attempting to trick you into installing malicious Facebook applications. Do not click the links in them. There is no way to know who has been looking at your profile and any message that offers you such a service is fake.
For more information go here: tinyurl.com/4whmg2n
So now you’re up and running and have taken care of the most pressing issues. Next comes behaviour.
Social networking is, by definition, social. And while using technology as a medium in which to conduct your social life, it brings with it a whole new collection of awkward moments, social faux pas, and general potential for embarrassment.
So here’s how to grease the wheels of friendly online behaviour and avoid any unnecessary cringe.
- Don’t post embarrassing stuff about other people. This goes for both posts on other people’s walls, and embarrassing photographs of your friends. Many people use their Facebook account for both work and personal reasons. Late-night photographs can be devastating when taken out of context – so exercise a bit of respect and be sure to ask first if you think there’s potential to upset.
- Don’t get offended if your friend request goes unanswered. People use their Facebook account for different purposes. Some use it exclusively for work. Some use it for anything but. Either way, don’t be offended if someone doesn’t want to reciprocate.
- Control your app use. No one cares about your Farmville. Keep it to yourself by disabling default broadcasting of your activity.
- Political/religious rants. Facebook can be a great place to start political debate. But before you do, remember contentious issues are...um, contentious. Don’t go nuts if a friend disagrees with you. Likewise, if someone’s posting their positions on issues that you don’t agree with, it might be a good idea to stay out of it and let them vent in peace.
- Relationship status – so the girl you’ve liked for years has recently changed her relationship status to ‘single’ after years of ‘in a relationship’. Just before you swoop in, remember one thing: sometimes people die. Get all the facts before you make any romantic moves.
- Facebook is a great way to catch up with long-forgotten friends. Some friends however, are best left forgotten. If you receive a friend request from a former flame, and especially if you’re currently in a new relationship, tread very carefully. Sure, it may be perfectly possible to move on and be friends with former partners, but there can’t be many good reasons for keeping it secret from the current one. Keep it open and honest, and best of all, simple.
- ‘Unfriending’. One of the best features of Facebook is actually a lack of feature. When you unfriend someone, they don’t receive notification, so there’s a good chance they may not even notice. If someone’s becoming a drag or if you’ve just been too click happy when it comes to adding friends, don’t fret too much about it, just delete them.
- Use good grammar and spelling when you post. Because the web is messy enough as it is.
Facebook profile pages are great for representing people but not so good for representing associations, interests or ideas.
Enter ‘Facebook Groups’, a special kind of page designed to bring like-minded people together. Anyone can create a group and a group can be about anything. Love the Bee Gees? Interested in Star Trek chess? Want to start a Book-of-the-month club? Make a group. Invite your friends to join and voilà! You’re now the head of a Facebook group.
Here’s how you do it.
- Go to tinyurl.com/5smssy and click ‘Create a Group’. (Alternatively you can click the ‘Create Group’ link on the right hand side of your profile page).
- Enter a group name.
- Select an icon from the drop down menu on the right that is appropriate to your group. (This step is optional).
- Click in the text box below and start typing the name of a friend. An automatic prompt will open showing you the name of friends whose names begin with that letter. Click the names of those you’d like to invite.
- Select the privacy option you require. ‘Closed’ means that others can see the group but only join if invited. ‘Secret’ means that only invited friends can join and only those friends can see the group. ‘Open’ means that anyone can see the group and anyone can join.
- Once your group is created, you can set up a group email address by clicking ‘Edit Group’ and adjust your personal settings (controlling appearance, email notifications etc) in ‘Edit Settings’.
- For more options around groups (sending messages to the members of a group, removing members, deleting old groups etc) go to tinyurl.com/6jys78f
Hacks and Apps
There are a plethora of options when it comes to expanding your Facebook experience.
From working with pictures to communicating with your whole social network, there’s always someone working on a way to make that action quicker and easier.
Here’s Facebook’s official application directory. From business apps to funny apps, to apps that educate while they entertain, there’s something for everyone here: tinyurl.com/4gs55vr
Apps are of course, optional add-ons. If you’re a casual user, you’re probably enjoying the Facebook experience just fine, making status updates and reading others’ posts. If you’re a power-user, however, and want to add even more functionality to your account, here is a selection of our favourite Facebook apps, including some of the coolest (not to mention strangest) apps and hacks to supercharge your social networking.
- Make a Facebook badge to share on the web: www.facebook.com/badges
- Access all your Facebook info directly of your desktop: tinyurl.com/lofnqa
- Schedule your Facebook updates automatically: sendible.com
- Transfer photos from Flickr to Facebook: tinyurl.com/3ykrkn
- Download photos from Facebook with Firefox: tinyurl.com/469xsk5
- Get rid of annoying ads with this handy bit of script: tinyurl.com/4uqnnb
- Send your blog posts to your Facebook account automatically: tinyurl.com/bepacc
- Get updates from Facebook directly to your email: nutshellmail.com
Looking for something a little more absurd? Try these:
- The Vibrating Hamster app: tinyurl.com/2okhpj
- Which Metallica song are you? Wonder no more! tinyurl.com/4jp9dyd
GETTING OUT OF THE GAME
Facebook is a great tool, no argument there. There are a multitude of reasons for not wanting to be on it, however. Maybe you’ve had a bad experience and it’s soured your experience. Maybe you’re finding yourself spending too much time on it. Or maybe you just feel like being ‘off the radar’ for a while and reclaiming a little bit of anonymity.
Whatever your reason, if you’ve changed your mind about that Facebook account and want to call it a day, here’s how you go about deleting your account.
- Sign in at www.facebook.com
- Click ‘Account’ in the top-right-hand corner.
- Click ‘Account Settings’.
- Scroll down to the bottom of the page and click the ‘Deactivate’ link on the ‘Deactivate Account’ line.
- Select the reason most appropriate for your cancellation of your Facebook page.
- Choose whether you’d like to receive friend requests, ‘join this group’ offers or other activity from Facebook.
- Click the ‘Deactivate’ button.
- Now your Facebook account is deactivated.
Note, however: your account is deactivated, NOT deleted. If you attempt to sign in to Facebook, it will reactivate your account and you will be sent a reactivation email containing a link offering to reinstate your account. For more info (from the official Facebook source), go to tinyurl.com/4oexooq