What is....Facebook?

How many times have you been in a meeting, or on a train or in a crowd or at a party, and someone starts talking about some social-web-internetty-media-thing-a-ma-bob like it's the second coming of you know who and you have no idea what they are talking about? It might as well have been a new laundry detergent in Croatia.

Me too. I don't pretend to know everything or even a lot of things or more than the next guy. What I do have going for me however is a want, no need, to know about things. New things and in particular, techie things.

So here's something new. I will endeavor to explain, in as few words as possible, stuff. Stuff like Facebook, Twitter, DropBox etc. If you have questions, feel free to ask.

I am going to try, in the spirit of these little tech chunks, to keep this a very brief overview. Let's see how that works out shall we?

Image from Facebook.com

At it's most basic level, Facebook is what we call a social network. There were several others before it, Friendster and MySpace to name two, but none have ever achieved the usage numbers that Facebook has.

Let's talk about what a social network is before we go any further.

Dictionary.com defines a Social Network thusly;

  1. a network of friends, colleagues, and other personal contacts: Strong social    networks can encourage healthy behaviors.
  1. an online community of people with a common interest who use awebsite or other technologies to communicate with each other andshare information, resources, etc.: a business-oriented social network.
  2. a website or online service that facilitates this communication.
Facebook is "a website or online service that facilitates this communication". "This communication" being sharing information and resources online. It s a giant community bulletin board where people communicate, reconnect, share views etc. It is the grandaddy of all social networks.

Users can only share with certain people if they wish or can share publicly. There has been some concern lately about just how much Facebook uses personal data such as interests, friends and photographs for advertising and making them available to third parties. There have also been cases where Facebook has been used for less than honorable purposes for example meeting underage kids with intent to do something bad and using Facebook to bully classmates or other people (called cyber bullying).

Users can create pages for a special interest or groups to invite and gather like-minded people together. There is realtime chat, both text and video as well as the ability to post messages on other people's home pages. Users can also post comments on your posts and, with the click of an icon, "Like" things that you post.

It is this ease of communication that causes many educators and administrators angst. The pro Facebook argument goes something like this; "If you want to communicate and collaborate with students you should be doing that where they live: and that is true. Here's a great post from Online College on 100 ways to use Facebook in the  Classroom

Some would argue that now, at the end of 2014, that many students are moving away from Facebook to other applications. I am one of those people. I have a 20 year old daughter and she, along with many students with whom I work with in theater, all confirm the move away from Facebook as the one place to post news and communicate. 

Still, Facebook is great for connecting and sharing with friends and family. It's also a great place to connect with colleagues and other like-minded folks. You just have to invest some time working your settings so that they best reflect your privacy threshold.

I have used it to reconnect with friends I haven't seem in 40 years. I have also written in a prior post about how Facebook eased the emotional pain at the end of my mother's life. That post is here.

Humans are social animals and social networking is right in our wheelhouse. We have an instinctive need to socialize. Facebook gives us the tools to do so. We just need to be careful.