Sunday, January 10, 2010

What the Heck is a “Facebook”?

This blog post is a reprinting of an article that I wrote and was published in the November 2009 issue of the Connecticut Freemasons Newspaper.

You have probably heard something about Facebook either in the news, from an email, or you might be on Facebook already. However, you might have been left wondering “What is Facebook?” and “Why do I need to know about it?” Since this is a tool that many people are using sometimes on a daily basis, perhaps we can shed some light on the subject and help you figure out “What the heck is a Facebook anyway?”

Let’s start off simple; Facebook is a web site that people use to network socially, that is, leave messages with their friends that all their other friends can see. A user logs into Facebook and has the ability to post, either publicly or privately, information about themselves such as photos, notes, their taste in music, or even events they are attending. A user can then become a “friend” with anyone who is already on Facebook. This might be a family member, a coworker, a friend, or a Masonic brother. “Friending” is the act of declaring a social connection between two people and allowing them to see each other’s personal information. Becoming a friend is a two-way street, both users must agree to the friendship and confirm it. Therefore, if you don’t know someone and they request to become your “friend,” you can simply reject the request. Once someone is your friend on Facebook, they can see all the interesting stuff that you post. For example, here is a link to my Facebook profile, check it out and you can see what a Facebook profile looks like - I left it public for anyone to see, not just my “friends” on Facebook.

Two important features of Facebook is the “status” field and the “news feed.” A user has a “status” field, where they can type a short note about what they are doing at that moment. Updating your Facebook status is similar to another internet phenomenon, twittering, which allows users to post short little messages to the public. For example, a lodge member who is about to attend a Halloween party hosted by the Fellowcraft Club may post “I’m going to the Fellowcraft Club Halloween Party. Hope they play the Monster Mash!” This “status” is then prominently displayed on the users Facebook page for his friends to see. The feature is also broadcast to his friends’ “news feed.” The “news feed” is an activity aggregator, which gives a listing of all the recent updates that have occurred on your friends' pages. Most users check the “news feed” regularly as a way to see what their friends are up to. Therefore, another brother may see the status update about the Halloween Party in his “news feed,” become aware that this party is happening, and decide to come down to the lodge and bob for apples. Another useful feature of Facebook are “fan pages.” A “fan page” is a Facebook page that is not specifically for a person, but for a product, a place, or an organization. Becoming a fan is sort of like becoming a friend, except when you become a fan of an organization, it is a one- way street. A user chooses to become a fan of a page and there is no confirmation needed from the “fan page.” Once a user is a fan, the page can then post status updates and notifications to the users news feed. Photos, events, or even videos can be posted to the page, for fans to explore. The Grand Lodge of Connecticut has a fan page on Facebook and you can check it out by following the link on the Grand Lodge website.

Next month, we’ll have an article about what resources for Masons are available on Facebook and how lodges use Facebook to help the craft stay connected.

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