By SORAYA NADIA McDONALD, Associated Press Writer
Pamela Elder, a junior at Georgia State University, got hooked when
she found some old high school classmates. Next she used the online
yearbook of yearbooks to track down people she hadn't seen since grade
school. No wonder the Facebook is an Internet sensation at campuses
across the nation.
Constantly updated by its 2.8 million registered users at more than
800 colleges and universities, the Facebook takes the local malt shop
social nexus of the 1950s and makes it universal.
Started by three Harvard sophomores in February 2004 as an online
directory to connect the higher education world through social
networks, the Facebook now registers more than 5,800 new users a day.
"It becomes part of your daily routine. It's e-mail, the news, the
weather, Facebook," said Lucas Garza, a senior from San Antonio
studying aerospace engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology.
Users of Facebook, http://www.thefacebook.com, can post a photo and a
profile of themselves for free. The profiles include as little or as
much information as the user desires, including basic biographies,
lists of hobbies and interests, even home address and cell phone
Users control who can see their profiles -- from only friends to all
other users. Other users can then search the profiles for classmates,
childhood acquaintances, people who share common interests.
When users identify someone on the site they'd like to meet, they can
ask to be designated as a "friend," a characteristic of other social
networking Web sites such as Friendster or LinkedIn.
Facebook friend requests can come from anyone on the site, including
"some random drunk person you met at a party whose name you don't
remember," said Garza, who has 143 "friends" on Facebook.
The site has become so ubiquitous among college students that they
tell others to "facebook" them -- to look them up on the
site. Browsing it is known simply as "facebooking."
Site creators Mark Zuckerberg, Chris Hughes, and Dustin Moskovitz were
roommates at Harvard when they designed Facebook so fellow Harvard
students could get to know those living in other dorms. (The name
comes from the real-life books of freshmen's faces, majors and
hometowns that many colleges distribute to incoming students). The Web
site proved so popular that the trio made it available to students at
Columbia, Stanford and Yale within a month.
With Facebook's success, Moskovitz and Zuckerberg left Harvard to run
it as a 10-person company out of Palo Alto, Calif. Moskovitz had been
studying economics; Zuckerberg, computer science and
psychology. Hughes, a history and literature major, is studying abroad
"It's all at once a 'real-world' job and something surreal," Hughes
said. "Instead of entering a company and working your way to the top,
Mark has created something that has allowed him to start right off in
the CEO seat."
Hughes said Facebook turns a profit, mostly from advertising. He
refused to disclose the private company's earnings.
Besides corporate advertisers, Facebook users purchase "announcements"
-- ads that can be seen only by students from the same school. They
range from campaign posters for student government positions to fliers
about upcoming parties. They cost $9 to $15 apiece; the smaller the
school, the cheaper the announcement.
Investments have boosted Facebook, too. Silicon Valley venture capital
firm Accel Partners put in $13 million; PayPal founder Peter Thiel
recently invested $500,000.
Users can register on the site only with a college e-mail adndress,
which serves as verification that users are students. Once registered,
the .edu address becomes a user ID.
More than 60 percent of the site's users log in daily during the
school year, and about half log in daily over the summer, Hughes said.
Marketers who target students love the site, said Robin Raskin, a
technology consultant whose three college-age children are all
"You've got this great, great group. You know their demographic, you
know how much disposable income they have, you know what they spend it
on, and now you've got them in one place," Raskin said. "It's great
for anybody who wants to talk to the youth audience, and that is why
investors have run to give Facebook some money."
Another result, however, is that students should be cautious about
putting personal information on the site, said Raskin, a former editor
of PC Magazine.
"You think you're safe because of this .edu address, but anybody can
get in there who wants to," said Raskin, adding she knows corporate
marketers who have "infiltrated" the site. Many alumni get .edu e-mail
addresses from their alma maters, allowing them to get on Facebook.
Marcia Ammons, a Georgia State senior from Carrollton, Ga., swears by
Facebook. She has two close friends on campus she first met on the Web
"It's hard to find people with similar interests on a big campus,"
Ammons said. "We're so spread out ... you can put up party fliers in
the Rec Center but half the people won't know about it because they
won't see them."
Garza uses Facebook to find people in his classes to compare notes and
homework, since a single class at Georgia Tech can have up to 500
students. During last year's presidential campaign, he used the site
to find students with similar views. His profile included quotes from
George Orwell and links to his personal Web site.
Students also meet on the site through groups, virtual clusters of
users at the same school with a common interest. Ammons is a member of
the "Wal-Mart Lovers" and "Rec Center Junkies" groups. Garza is in the
"Anti-Leaf Blower Society" and "Ipodilicious," a collection of Ipod
Entirely new social protocols have formed around Facebook. One
surrounds confirming friend requests. For some, a person's friend
count is a social barometer.
Says Hilton Gray, a 2003 graduate from the Massachusetts Institute of
Technology and avid facebooker:
"I know a few people who like the attention of it all, so they try to
rack up as many friends as possible."
Copyright 2005 The Associated Press.
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