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Not Just for the Kids!

Stay connected with Facebook, the Web's hottest social networking tool.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

MY FRIEND LESLIE WEISZ approached me last spring with a blunt request. "I want to be more computer savvy. What do I have to do?" Leslie, who is 60, had been somewhat of a techie in the 1970s when he was working in data processing, but after leaving that field to become an executive in corporate finance, he never put in the time to develop his tech skills as the personal computer revolution took off.

I pointed him to a bunch of technology magazines. And I encouraged him to start using the Internet to accomplish basic tasks in life (book a
golf tee-time, find a restaurant, and so on). I also sent him to a
website, Facebook.com.

Facebook Logo

Facebook is what's called a social network. These days just about everyone who is even remotely tech savvy uses it to stay in touch with others. It consistently ranks, by usage, in the world's top 10 websites.

A social network is defined as a website that contains two key
elements. First it contains profiles, which are personal Web pages
about individuals that give a sense of who they are. A profile contains the person's name, gender, location, and (optionally) age and marital status It almost always displays a photo of the person. Beyond that it includes their likes, dislikes, hobbies, and other salient information.

The second element is an ability to add "friends." These are people you choose to give access to more information about yourself, your life, and your online activities. With Facebook, you can initially see only a person's friends, their picture, and name. When they accept you as a friend, you gain access to their more detailed profile and their activities on the site.

As you gather friends through a social network, you gather the ability to track what they are up to in their lives on a daily basis. Think of it as Google for your social life. If your Facebook friends post photos of their grandchildren, you'll be alerted. If they play a game of online Scrabble, you may see that notification. If they create a Facebook group of retirees or publicly communicate with someone, you'll see those actions, too.

For Leslie, the appeal of Facebook is twofold. First, it's an easy way to stay in touch with his family and friends. Both his adult daughter and son are on Facebook, and he discovered a community of people he knows through his work and social life.

As you find and add people to your Facebook account, the site searches for other people you might know by looking at their friends. It then recommends these people to you, and if you know them as well, you can click to ask them to become Facebook friends, too. This approval process allows only people you know to gain access to information about your life that you post on the site. These postings can include photos, Web links, activities you engage in on the Facebook site, and even favorite quotes and other personal musings.

Leslie's other objective is to use Facebook to help build his new business. He recently left the corporate world and is working to become an entrepreneur in financial services. The network aspect of Facebook allows him to keep others abreast of developments in his professional endeavors. He plans to share links to his new business when he gets a website up. And he plans to share his wisdom about finances.

Leslie can keep people informed about what he is up to by updating his status. That's a single line of editable text that people can read that explains what you're doing in the moment. For example, mine currently says, "Andy is writing an article about Facebook for ELDR magazine before he leaves for the Bahamas."

With Facebook, you can also create interest groups. For instance, Leslie and I are both members of a Facebook group for the Little Geeks, a charity I created to give underprivileged children Internet-connected computers. Leslie is one of my board members. We use the Facebook group to update people who join about our activities at the charity.

Leslie says he might create a Facebook group for the clients of his financial coaching business.

And finally, Facebook is not all business. You can use it for fun. Facebook lists thousands of applications, which are add-on programs that you can include in your profile. Leslie found the Golf Game application and is now tracking his golf scores and handicap. He also added the iRead application so he can track books he has read and share them with his Facebook pals.

So, after a three-hour training session and one day of practice, I asked Leslie what he likes best about Facebook. "The best part of it is that I get to see my friends and hear what they are up to," he tells me. Does he have any concerns? "Right now it's a bit confusing to me, but that's because I'm at the front end of the learning curve," he says.

He's also a bit leery about putting too much information about himself on the site, and he wants to understand more about the privacy implications. This is understandable. It takes some patience to learn
and customize the privacy controls on Facebook.

The good news is that Leslie is well on his way to becoming Facebook savvy. Better yet, I have one more Facebook friend to add to my network.


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