Facebook has been transforming for me, and when I extol its virtues (or did, before the recent interface overhaul disaster), people ask me about the benefits.
Depending on the individual, the benefits may be none at all; it matters what type of person you are. Facebook serves little purpose if those on your friends list are your current friends. You probably don’t need Facebook to keep in contact with them (though that is, in part, what the kids seem to use it for). Someone might occasionally write a status update that interests you, but generally you can pick up the phone or you’ll run into the person to find out more than you would on Facebook.
Facebook instead serves to connect you with those who you don’t see, particularly people from your past. This is why the benefit is dependent on the type of person you are: if you don’t want to connect with people from your past or wax nostalgic, there is no benefit.
To those of us who do treasure the past and who can turn on an old friendship like a lamp with a new bulb, it’s hard to fathom that some people have no desire to do what we do. I wrote about this in my piece Reune. I may not understand it in a deep way, but I have observed it many times. Some people get no joy from reminiscing, and state categorically that they are in touch with those they want to be in touch with. There is nothing wrong with feeling that way. But those who do won’t get Facebook.
Facebook is helpful—more like a godsend—for connecting with old friends. Once you are on Facebook (the signup is self-explanatory), you can search for individuals with whom you want to connect. After you “friend” a few people (click Add as a friend to do so), it starts getting easier to find more friends. One way is to look at your friends’ friends lists. But you’ll also find that, once you become friends with people, their friends will notice the new friendship and will friend you too.
Another way to find friends is through the Friend Finder. Look to the right of your home page. You may need to scroll down to see it. Under the heading Connect with Friends, you’ll see the friend finder. When you click on the friend finderlink, you’ll come to a page where you are offered people you might know (because they are friends with friends). Scroll to the bottom of that page to see the most valuable part. If, when you registered, you filled in your high school and year of graduation and/or your college and year of graduation, Facebook offers you a link to find classmates from your school and year. I went to college at a school where I had 4,000 classmates, so that is not very useful for me. But the link to find high school classmates is quite useful. At the moment, 96 of my high school classmates have identified themselves such that they can be found this way. You can also use the year dropdown at the top of the page if you want to find friends who graduated in other years. This works much the same as Classmates.com, but it is free and easier to use.
Once you have friends
Once you’re on Facebook and have friends, what can you do? What is private? What is public? I often get questions from friends: Can anyone read this? Here are some guidelines:
E-mail (anything written from and to your Inbox, which you access at the top of the page) is private between the parties in the conversation. While Facebook has a lovely interface for threaded e-mails if you’ve included multiple people in an exchange, it is easy to forget that others are in on the conversation. If you received an e-mail that was sent to multiple parties but want to write back to the sender only, do not click Reply All, which appears near the message; click Reply, which appears under the name of the person you want to reply to.
Instant Message (IM) chats, are private between the two parties. To start one of these sessions, click on Online friends at the bottom off the page. Anyone who is online appears in a list. Click a name to start a chat. No one can see the conversation but the two of you.
Status updates, wall posts, and comments are public. While you can fine-tune some of your privacy settings, for the most part anything you write on a wall (where it now says “Write something”) or in anything that is presented to you as a box to write in stands an excellent chance of being readable by anyone in the world. You can block individuals, and that will—for the most part—prevent them from reading anything you write. To block people, put your mouse over Settings at the upper right of your page, drag down to Privacy, and then click. You will see the interface to blocking people at the bottom of that page. Easy-peasy.
Explore the privacy settings, in any case. All aspects of my profile are private, meaning it can be seen only by friends. I do allow for it to be found by searching, as I want people to be able to find me.
If someone writes you a Facebook e-mail and you respond to them, Facebook explains that they can see parts of your profile for 30 days. I think it’s just your info, but read the fine print.
Photos are generally public, but you can set the privacy on each album. You can set the privacy so that your photos are seen by individuals, by friends, by friends of friends, or by everyone. I tend to set the privacy on a per-album basis. You have the option when you create the album: go to your profile, click Photos, click Create Album. One of the options is Who can see this?. It is set to Everyoneby default, but look at the dropdown menu for other options. For fine-control, use Customize. You can edit this setting after the fact, it’s just a bit trickier to find. Go to your photos, click the album, and click Edit Photos or Organize Album. Then click the Edit Info tab to get to the privacy settings.
Adding photos is a big part of Facebook, whether you’re sharing photos of your family or from your past. One of the difficulties grownups have with this is they don’t know where their pictures are on their computer. Don’t feel bad; you’re not alone. I wish I could help with this, but it is hard to explain, as I don’t know where your pictures are.
Facebook has a great interface for uploading photos. Go to your profile, click Photos, and click Add Album if you don’t have any albums yet. (If you do, you can probably figure out how to add to existing albums on your own.) It’s pretty easy and self-explanatory what to do next. The nice thing is, Facebook displays any pictures it finds in the current folder. If you don’t know where your pictures are, I recommend playing around with the navigation on the left and see if your pictures show up in the area to the right. Look in Desktop…see if any folder names look familiar and click those. Look in My Documents; see if anything shows up. In My Documents, look in My Pictures…good chance they’re in there. Or, if they’re on a CD in your drive, click on My Computer and you should see your CD. Click on it to see the contents.
Once you can see your pictures, just click the checkbox for whichever ones you want to upload. You can also rotate them before you upload. When you hover your mouse over any of the pictures, you’ll see the rotation arrows. Click on them to rotate your picture clockwise or counterclockwise. When you’re ready to upload, click Upload.
Once a photo is uploaded, you can tag it. If you tag it with the name of one of your Facebook friends, that person will be notified that there is a picture of them, and that picture will appear in the person’s list of pictures of themselves. This can be a boon or a curse. You can also use this approach let people know there’s a picture you want them to see, although there are other methods, such as Share. People can remove tags of themselves if they don’t want to be tagged. They can also tag your photos, though if they are not your friends, you may need to give them permission to tag. You’ll be notified of such requests, though where, I can’t guarantee with today’s interface. I think it’s at the top of your page.
Be prepared for the fact that some of your friends may freak out over old pics, but most people seem to take great joy in looking at old photos.
Pokes, gifts, drinks, etc.
You may occasionally get poked or be offered gifts or other things that make no sense to you. I confess: I ignore 99% of those. I don’t understand the notion of virtual gifts. But feel free to play with that if you wish.
Oh dear. I’m running out of time and space and I haven’t gotten to notifications. By default, Facebook lets you know about anything that’s happened to you on Facebook by e-mail. How annoying. I turned all of those off. To do that, go to Settings and then Account Settings at the top of your page, just like you did for the privacy settings. (Good idea to poke around in here.) Click the Notifications tab. Turn off whatever you don’t want, and then click Save Changes.
So how do you know what is going on with your profile if you turn off e-mail notifications? In the lower right corner of your page, a little red box appears with a number in it. The number tells you how many notifications are waiting for you. You are notified when someone comments on your status, writes on your wall, suggests a friend, asks you to be a friend, tags you in a photo in or a note, or when someone comments on something you have commented on. Among other things. Click the red box and you’ll see the list of things Facebook wants to notify you about. I found this a bit tricky, because to be taken to the right place, you have to click on the correct link. For example, if it says, So-and-so commented on your photo, you have to click on the word “photo” to be brought to the comment. Play around with it; I’m sure you’ll figure it out.
You’ll know there are new e-mails waiting because a number appears next to the word Inbox at the top of your page.
That is my little tutorial of the Facebook rudiments. There are many other tricks and tips, which I’ll perhaps cover in a future column. Let me know if you have any questions.
Oh, and no, you do not need to accept friend invites from people you don’t know.