Facebook

Over the winter holidays, I finally gave in and signed up for Facebook. I’d been resisting, since I figured I didn’t need another time suck in my life. But then I got to thinking about all my dear Boston friends that I hardly keep in touch with anymore, and how when you re-initiate contact you’re catching people up with the same basics every time before you get to the interesting parts (“I’m coming over!”) and so…I took the plunge.

My first impression: the interface was really bad! There’s no help that I could find, and no one bothers to define what the difference is between a profile and a “wall,” nor why your home page is not your own wall. There are things called “applications” that come with dire disclaimers that they access your personal data. The whole wall metaphor itself is weird—it makes me feel like I’m doing graffiti when I write my friends. And the metaphor breaks down when a one-on-one public conversation is called, not a tête-à-tête, but rather a “wall-to-wall.” Huh?

About those friends. It is fascinating and addictive to dig through your past and find people you knew once, long ago, and see how they’re doing now. Some look just like they did, many look older; some are doing what you would have guessed, some are off the beaten path. My personal chuckle is that I got back in touch with my best friend from the fifth grade, whom I hadn’t been in touch with since the fifth grade. Fun!

But who is a friend? People seem to be wrestling with this more lately, as talk of un-friending becomes more prevalent. People I can’t place at all? Not my friends. People I was friends with and we lost touch? Definitely friends. People I knew but wasn’t friends with and still appear to have nothing in common with? That’s the hard one. In the interest of fostering community, building bridges, and getting myself out of my comfort zone, I tend to err on the side of accepting these folks as friends. (Incidentally, these conundra get far worse on LinkedIn, where the assumption is that you know people profesionally. How do you respond to those with whom you’ve had little, if any, work interaction? How professional can you keep your network there when other people are looser in their standards?)

I like how the various social networks seek to appeal to users by emphasizing their interoperability with social apps (though not with direct competitors: I don’t see LinkedIn or MySpace on Facebook). I’ve set up Facebook to automatically pick up my Google Reader shared items and my Picasa pictures—and I’d be lying if I said that didn’t make me feel more responsible for putting up good content more regularly. I’ve also tried to make Facebook pick up my blog entries, but it seems to suck the content in and manage comments locally, whereas I’d like there to be a link to my blog entry instead.

After my initial infatuation, I am now falling into the pattern where I’ll check Facebook roughly daily. The home page, which is supposed to have a feed of all my friends’ activities, remains confusing: things are not quite in chronological order, and there are more entries than can be easily navigated. Luckily, by setting up automatic emails and an RSS feed, I can more easily scan my network. As for putting out information about myself, Facebook revives my old internal debate as to where to draw the lines between public and private lives. In the end, I post enough to convey a taste of what my life is like, but not enough so I feel like I’m on a talk show airing my dirty laundry.

On that note, now that I’ve reached the end of this blog entry, excuse me while I go update my status.