When Mark Zuckerberg was 19 and a student at Harvard University, he wanted to find a way for his fellow Harvard colleagues to connect with each other. So in February 2004, Zuckerberg introduced Facebook (www.facebook.com) and a new era of networking began.
Today, the social networking site has more than 60 million active members, roughly the same population as the U.K. These users can now upload photos, have group discussions, and even play games on their individual profiles; they can also add one another as “friends” and connect with users who share similar interests, regardless of where they are in the world. Nowadays, more businesses and corporate folks are joining Facebook too, adding their pages to the Facebook network. Advertisers are even turning their attention to this growing market for good reason—there is strength in numbers. So what should you know about Facebook? Here are 10 things for starters.
1. Who Is Using Facebook?
Since its inception in February 2004, Facebook has grown significantly, and it now has more than 60 million active users. In comparison, MySpace has a total of 300 million users, although not all are active (“active” users are those who have logged in within the last 30 days). According to Facebook’s statistics page, the number of active users has doubled every 6 months, with 250,000 new users joining each day since January 2007 for an average of 3% growth per week. According to internet-ranking company comScore, Facebook is the sixth-most trafficked site in the U.S., with the average user spending 20 minutes a day actively using Facebook by uploading photos, sending messages, or even having discussions within a group. The highly coveted demographic (from 18 to 25 years old) is 52% of Facebook’s userbase, averaging 30 to 45 minutes each day on the site.
2. What Can You Find on Facebook?
Simply put, if people have an interest, it is part of Facebook. A user just has to enter a topic, such as “video games” or “new technology,” into the search box and then hit the “search” button. Up to 1,000 profiles are displayed, 20 at a time, starting with people in the user’s network. If a user who belongs to the University of North Carolina (UNC) network is searching for basketball fans, the results returned would be people in the UNC network first, followed by those in other networks.
From that point, a user can contact others by clicking “send message” or, if that user has a group, by clicking on the “invite to group” button. The user will see an increased number of members joining and participating in the group’s message board discussions.
Facebook also has a “poke” feature, which, in most circles, is regarded as a form of online flirtation, comparable to match.com’s “winks.” When one user is poked by another, a notification appears on the user’s homepage, allowing him or her to either “poke back” the other user or “hide poke,” which makes the poke disappear.
3. Why Are People Using Facebook?
For one thing, it’s an easy icebreaker. Imagine an incoming freshman at a large university who is into electronic gaming, specifically Halo, a popular first-person-shooter game for the Xbox. In an attempt to find people who like the same game, the student logs into Facebook and enters “Halo” in the search box. Facebook then returns up to 1,000 users at the freshman’s university who have Halo listed in their interests sections. He can send messages to the people whose profiles came up during the search and set up a giant Halo game from his computer on move-in day. The freshman has found his niche, and he can concentrate on seeing who his competition is for the Halo crown as well.
Certain people join Facebook just to have their own place to upload photos so they can share them with friends and family. Other users, like Colin McEvoy, an avid movie buff, log in to check on user-submitted movie reviews. “I have friends like me who are real movie geeks,” McEvoy says. “I can check what they have to say about a film. It’s quicker than reading a full-blown movie review. You can compile your own ratings so you can compare and contrast them with others. I like it because I can see if there are any films I might like that I haven’t watched yet.”
4. What Kinds of Third-Party Programs Can You Add?
According to the Facebook Developers website (http://developers.facebook.com), the software development kit (SDK) allows users to create programs and post them on Facebook. Developers can create “applications that deeply integrate into a user’s Facebook experience.” In technical terms, “the Facebook API uses a REST-based interface. This means that our Facebook method calls are made over the internet by sending HTTP GET or POST requests to our REST server. With the API, you can add social context to your application by utilizing profile, friend, photo, and event data.”
From Java-based Tetris Clones to the Flixster-based “Movies” application that enables users to look at movies and share their reviews with others, there’s a long list of application titles to choose from (there are more than 10,000 applications, with 100 more being added each day), and there’s no limit to the amount of third-party programs a user can add.
“I chose the apps that correlate with my own hobbies,” says McEvoy. “It’s like there’s a bunch of vampire and zombie apps that I get asked to add each time I login, but I’m into movies, I’m into books, so I can pick and choose the ones I want and ignore the ones I don’t.”
McEvoy echoes the sentiment of most of the Facebook community, noting that although there’s a large collection of applications to add to a user’s profile, only certain applications will pique an individual’s interest enough to add it to his or her profile.
5. What Are Advertisers Doing There?