Facebook, a perversion.

I've long said this, and I'll say it again, Facebook is but a mere phantom of what it used to be.

I know where this is going, and what I will sound like when I get there (inevitbly far before I ever get there), but I think I need to risk it - for my sake.

My first exposure to Facebook was visiting a good friend of mine at University of Michigan my senior year of high school. This was back in early 2005. At the time, Facebook had literally JUST made it to U of M. Facebook was initially founded by students at Harvard, and slowly brached out to include students from other ivy leagues. Shortly thereafter it began to include other schools in the Big Ten (Michigan). During my visit to Michigan, we met some people while out one night and then the next day Facebook was introduced to me, "Lets see if they're on Facebook..." This is back when not even everyone at the select schools that had Facebook, back when the front page of Facebook listed the schools that it included, were even on it. This seemed so cool. As long as you went to Michigan, you could essentially see everyone else's Facebook that went to Michigan. At this time you needed to have an e-mail address from one of these schools that Facebook listed on the front of it's site to be able to have access... I wasn't in college yet.

While applying to schools, a certain college, which I shall not name, immediately accepted and gave me an e-mail address. Though I hadn't accepted my admission nor wanted to go there, I was able to use this e-mail address to get my first Facebook account. Now I could "Facebook Stalk" too... I enjoyed Facebooking and it's entertainment for a while, waiting anxiously for my other e-mail address to come.

Once I did finally have an e-mail address for Michigan, I switched over and then I started meeting people that went to Michigan. I could literally search and find ALL of the people in my class that were going to be going to Michigan and thumb through them all. You could also narrow your search using things like gender, sexual orientation and the like, and find ALL of the people willing to disclose this information. By all I mean that in many catagories there were only say 50 people in all of Michigan that you'd look through. This was really crazy to me. People would start talking to me that I'd never met before. Everyday there was some new amuzment, "OMG this group of girls from NJ, who I don't even know, friended me. They're messeging me and everything..." This was a large part of the summer before I went to school. When I did finally get there, I met people that lived in my dorm - I'd already been talking to them all summer though. Or I'd see people at a club that had been talking to me for months and be like, "Hey. James right?" So random, yet so cool to a kid looking to make new friends at a new school.

My freshman year is when Facebook added the ability to post pictures. Wow this was amazing. And of course, only college students were on Facebook, it was no big deal to have pictures on there of whatever, only friends were going to see it, only friends at Michigan for that matter. We all were using Facebook in what seemed a very protected space, one in which parents, family members, borthers and sisters were not allowed.

Slowly Facebook added more and more colleges, ever smaller and random. This was the first round of random friending that occured. People from highschool you handn't talked to were starting to get on Facebook. Then they added high schools, this is when people's younger siblings started friending. All the while, privacy settings and making sure you were aware of what was visible to whom became more and more of an issue. At least for myself, Facebook was initially a place where I was friends with only the people that were actually my friends in the post high school world, or at least people who only knew me as who I was in college. One of the advantages of going away to college, in my opinion, is the ability to define your own identity and choosing who you surround youself with. Suddenly whatever identity you've made for yourself, or that you ascribe to in the college setting is now supposed to fit in with the pre college life (siblings, people from home, from high school). For many this may not be an issue at all, but it certianly is for other poeple. Someone who is completely out in college and when new relationships are established this is very clear, but hasn't nessisarily gone around and told every other person with whom relationships were already estabilished, for example, might find this uncomfortable.

Soon after that, you didn't even need to be in high school to be on Facebook. Now not only could kids in middle school or younger potentially join, but now parents, relatives, everyone could be on Facebook. I resisted this change very strongly. I would simply decline friend requests from siblings, or anyone that didn't exist in the college setting. I certianly didn't think it was appropriate to be friends with my little sisters or younger cusins for example.

Eventually I broke down and accepted that these people were on Facebook. The first step for me was to allow the friend requests, but provide limited profile information - in some cases basically zero. Later I began to limit it less and less. Now my friends on Facebook inlcude just about anyone you could imagine, family, friends from college, high school, grade school, work, and even bosses. What was once a comfortable semi-private place is now a only slightly less public than a billboard. Any status update or picture is essentially visible to not only my whole social network, but assumedly everyone.

Whenever I go to post something I think about my audience. For the most part, at least recently, I decided I'd rather just use Twitter. On Twitter I know exactly who my audience is. This comes at a cost though, I know that I'm excluding people, friends, that I would want to see what I'm posting. However, as soon as I think, "I should tell people on Facebook to start following me on Twitter." I imidatily think, "well... there are a lot of people on Facebook I don't want to follow me on Twitter." In most cases though, I've decided against using the bloated Facebook network, at the cost of leaving some friends out of the loop.

So what's the solution? Well, I can't honestly say I don't know, but I would think it'd look something like smaller micro networks that include only the people in the part of your life that your in, and then larger networks to cover the rest. Something like a small network, with only your closest friends or perhaps with only people in the same part of life, where you can be more comfortable and then a separate place where you're just 'friends' with everyone. This model fails though, when you talk about people moving on or out of these established networks. For example, now that I'm out of college, I would fit into the catagory of people who I would have told you shouldn't even be on Facebook.

LinkedIn seems to be an attempt at addressing this problem. You can use LinkedIn for only proffesional connections. The problem is though, that people were already using Facebook as a sort of multipurpose tool, so the true benifits of LinkedIn and Facebook as separate entitites are lost. What needs to happen is some sort of structuring of these different social graphs. Some sort of diliniation needs to be in place if the true benefits of these social networks, benifits that I saw my first years of college, are to be maintained. Otherwise, people will, or at least schould, become more and more uncomfortable with what Facebook is evolving into. Honestly, how many articles have you seen or read about Facebook affecting student's job search or getting fired?

I don't honestly believe that people are any more crazy or wild than they used to be, I think that the work force, the pool of college students, is much the same as it as 10 years ago; it's just that people are documenting it in a more public way. Either employers need to realize that more, that their prospective employees aren't really different despite what they find on Facebook, or the users will have to start 'protecting themselves'. Unfortunately, I don't see the former being the case anytime soon.

I think we'll soon see a shift somehow. My hope is that it will be to a collection of social networks, each with a more clear purpose and audience. For now though, I think we're left to make these networks and define these audiences for ourselves. I am going to stick with Twitter, and leave Facebook to figure itself out.