“The site that took the world by storm” by Nathalie Kyrou
It has infected millions of people worldwide, spreading uncontrollably through nations faster than the latest pop hit, lasting longer than any seasonal fad. It has the power to bring people together, but also to threaten or destroy. To most of those who have experienced it, life has changed completely and will never be the same again. No, it is not a disease – it’s Facebook.
Facebook (FB) is not just a website; you could consider it a marriage of sorts, because once you’ve signed up, you are indeed committing yourself to a serious long-term relationship. Like wedlock, once you’ve joined, you are offering yourself up for better or worse. FB, like matrimony, can reunite long-lost lovers and bring people from all sorts of backgrounds and places together. Just like a wedding, it is a celebration of friends and family, a place where they can all get together to communicate.
FB is one of the fastest-growing and best-known sites on the internet today: a giant, virtual system of networking, with over 200 million active members today. This unique, cyber universe was launched in 2004 by Harvard sophomore Mark Zuckerberg, initially set up to cater exclusively to Harvard students. It was a huge hit within weeks, and soon all high school and college students were demanding access. Zuckerberg immediately recruited his friends to help build FB as we know it, and within four months, the site added 30 more college networks. Finally in September 2006, FB opened to anyone with an email address, taking the world by storm.
For those of you have not yet submitted yourselves to this ever-consuming site (if you exist), here is a brief summary of what it entails. Like other social networks, the site allows its users to create a profile page and forge online links with friends and acquaintances. You acquire friends by searching for, then adding them. Joining a network allows you to see what is going on in that location or group, and if you wish you can post up your status at any time to inform your friends of what you are up to. There is even a mini feed which automatically posts up the details of your activities. You can join groups of interest where you can mix and mingle with other non-friends, and you can also use FB to post up your own notes, posts, links and events. You also have the option to select a myriad of applications to add to your profile, each of which offers something different. And if you really want to waste time, Mob Wars seems to be a game played through FB which will do the trick (but that is where I draw the line). Finally, there is even a chat engine on the site which allows you to communicate live with other online users.
When I heard about FB for the first time, I had only just signed up with MySpace, and I was still a cyberspace novice trying to get the hang of the whole concept of presenting myself, all summed up neatly, on one page on the internet. After endless hours of trying to get my page personalised, I simply couldn’t face joining another site and going through it all over again. So, I resisted joining the online masses on FB. When I moved country, however, I finally – upon a lot of friends’ pleas – decided perhaps it wouldn’t hurt to give it a closer look. I was pleasantly surprised to find FB much simpler and more user friendly than MySpace. Because it did finally seem like a good way to stay in touch with my friends abroad, I gave in and joined. I never expected to get so hooked, so fast.
I am not the only one who found FB addictive. Laura, 21, from the U.K. who is currently working and living in Cyprus agrees. “I can’t get enough of it,” she tells me. “I use it to stay in touch with my friends back home, and to catch up with everyone else. It rules!” Riyaz, 29, who hails from Perth Australia but grew up in Cyprus, joined FB last year and is still an active member. “FB has stepped up the 'game' from its rival competitors, and has allowed me to communicate with so many people that I never expected to find again. It is also a great way to liaise with many of my close mates for going out, and I love the sharing of photos!” Nick, 34, from Nicosia, is also a FB fan. “I use it as a second email,” he says. In fact, many other people I spoke to over the summer on the island, admitted to checking their FB wall posts and messages even more often than their regular email accounts.
With people buying Blackberries and iphones like there is no tomorrow, and with wireless internet available these days for free from most coffee shops and venues, access to FB online is extremely easy. People that access it on their mobile devices are almost 50% more active on FB than non-mobile users. Needless to say, as a result, things can get borderline ridiculous at times with people checking what others are doing every second of the day, and changing their status with every action they take or place they go. In fact, more than 20 million users update their statuses at least once each day! It is an understatement to say that there is little privacy left. But is this such a bad thing, if people are aware of it and yet still choose to be part of it?
There has been enough hype about FB so far that people in general must surely be aware of its potential threat as an invasion of privacy. I myself have concerns about this issue, and have therefore added all sorts of limited restrictions to my profile, allowing only close friends full privileges. In case you are not aware, this kind of flexibility is available, as well as many other privacy options – all it takes is some patience to figure it all out. I am not one of those people who believe that FB is an undercover conspiracy by the FBI to gather info about the world’s population and compile an international database which will be used to our detriment, but I nevertheless have opted not to have my surname, date of birth or my phone number listed! And usually when I post up photos, I make sure not to tick the box that allows everyone to see the album...only friends (and sometimes, only certain friends). Putting people on ‘limited’ profile might be considered a form of discrimination, but it is a small price to pay for security and peace of mind.
In general, if you are on FB with good intentions, and you take care, you should be safe enough. Nevertheless, with something so phenomenally popular, it is natural that there would be some FB related crimes. Fraud experts say that the willingness of the younger generation to disclose personal data over the internet is a worrying trend. With millions of members allowing strangers access to their information, they are making themselves vulnerable to identity theft, giving cybercriminals all they need to create spoof identities, gain access to online accounts or infiltrate employers’ computer networks. On the other hand, the site itself can help stop crime too. For example, back in September 2007, using a FB profile, police arrested a suspect in an attack on the Georgetown University campus.
Although there are many ways to personalise and adapt FB to your liking, I was surprised by the number of people I’ve met who are still deterred by the whole experience. Jennifer, 29, from Limassol, has resisted joining so far. She is a little paranoid about the whole thing, but also feels a little left out because she is not in the system. “I think that I probably would get hooked on it if I joined, but as I have limited time due to my career, so I just cannot afford to take the chance of wasting my time on it.” Caroline, 32, a Lebanese living on the island, is currently considering canceling her membership with the site. “There is no more privacy left. If I don’t post up photos, someone else will, and I don’t like that. I also don’t go on the site as often as I did when I first joined last year.” Nita, 34, from Larnaca, found the whole FB experience so tiresome that she actually not only decided to officially leave FB, but also set up a group online, asking other like-minded people to join, so they can all leave FB at the same time – a sort of mass exodus. Angela, 31 is a lawyer who works in Nicosia, who has never been tempted to join. “I am quite a private person, so the idea of laying my life out there for everyone to see is not appealing. Nonetheless, the drawback of not being a member is that you miss being in the loop and knowing what’s going on in the social circuit.”
It seems that there is definitely a distinction between FB-lovers and FB-haters. FB virgins have no idea what they are missing or what they’d be getting themselves into if they joined, while current users cannot understand how one can live without it. Many others have a love-hate relationship with the site, but just cannot give it up.
For those who use it as a networking site, or to organise social events or catch up with friends and share photos, it can be a fun and useful online tool. But, if you overdo it within the first few weeks of joining, or expect too much from it (online dating comes to mind), or conversely, if you’re not curious enough and never make the effort to investigate what the site can offer, then you may just get bored sooner or later. On the other hand, the ‘collection’ of friends can end up being, for some, a little obsessive, and your addiction can grow. It is, after all, for many, one huge popularity contest. This one guy I know has over a thousand friends (is it even possible to know so many people?), and on the other extreme, I have discovered people who have less than twenty (perhaps they just joined out of curiosity, or maybe they are simply being realistic). Nevertheless, the average user has 120 friends on the site (source: facebook – press room statistics).
No matter how many friends one has, however, FB users’ passion - or addiction - to the site is unparalleled. More than 3.5 billion minutes are spent on Facebook each day (worldwide). FB currently ranks 4th on the top site listed on Alexa.com and has also taken the lead in the top photo sharing market worldwide, even above Flickr. It continues to grow in popularity internationally, making major headlines across the world. Its growth in 2007 was staggering: over 1 million new users signed up every week – that is 200,000 daily, with the site receiving 40 billion page views a month! FB is not limited to youth either; long gone are the days of using it as a social network for college students. The fastest growing demographic now is those aged 35 years old and older.
Cypriots, nationwide, have recently caught on and are now joining the rest of the world in this FB frenzy. It’s not hard to get hooked - no matter where you hail from, nor what language you speak - as FB is a simple enough idea: basically your face on a page. With each page belonging to a different friend, the site is like an endless book, which can be read and re-read. It is the overall simplicity of it all, as well as the fact that FB has distinguished itself from rivals like the larger MySpace by imposing a spartan design ethos and limiting how users can change the appearance of their profile pages, that makes FB so easy to remember, as well as user-friendly for all races and ages.
With all this hype surrounding it, could it be that FB has already reached its peak and that people will soon move on to something new? FB creators already thought of this, when they introduced the ‘New Facebook’, but perhaps an even newer version is just round the corner. And now, with onsite advertising, FB is being used as a marketing tool more often. In fact, it was reported that MI6, the U.K’s Secret Intelligence Service, was using the social networking site to recruit the next generation of spies! Also, there was a mention last year of plans for FB, the movie. And if you ever go out, you would know that the most common chat-up line still remains: “Are you on FB?”
So, has FB had its day? Eh...I’ll let you know in a minute – I just have to update my status.
Nathalie Kyrou © 2009. All rights reserved to the author.
- A few words by Nathalie Kyrou...
- I am a Writer, Artist, Musician and Philosopher who believes the reason to be alive is to learn, experience, grow, influence and if you're lucky, inspire.
I've created this blog to introduce my own literature to the rest of the world in the hope that it will - and I will - in some way, make a difference.
There is a quote by a Greek philosopher, Epictetus, which I love: First Learn the Meaning of What You Say and then Speak. I believe in making life as meaningful as possible, and that is why everything you find here was created with meaning which I believe, in turn, gives it the power to inspire.
I hope you will enjoy reading my writing and be sure to check out my website at www.kyrou.com for samples of my artwork, photography and music.
From Inspiration to Creation...