Over the next few weeks we are going to be taking an in-depth look at one of the world’s biggest online success stories of recent years.  Love it or hate it, Facebook is such a significant part of the online landscape nowadays that it’s hard to avoid.  There is a tremendous amount going on there, and we’ll be looking at the big picture as well as recent changes.

With over 8 million users, Facebook is projecting a membership of over a billion by this summer.  That’s a 7th of the world’s population, considerably larger than the population every country except forChina andIndia (though it’s a bit ironic that due to internet censorship, no one actually inChina can use Facebook).  And that’ll be a billion active users not dormant accounts, which is really quite staggering.  The average user has 130 friends, and half of them log into the site every day.

Most people know that Facebook’s origins were on the campus of Harvard university back in 2004, as immortalised in the 2010 film The Social Network.  Now however more than 75% of users are from outside theUS, and user growth is currently fastest in Asia, having slowed in theUSandEuropea little in the past year. More than 70 languages are now available on the site, thanks to 300,000 volunteer translators, and after the States curiouslyIndonesiais the second biggest number of users (over 40 million). Far from confined to college students, over 30% of Facebook’s users are now in the 35+ age bracket and growth is fastest in this age range – although it’s apparently the 18-35 age group who are most likely to access it on a mobile device, and to check their alerts before they get out of bed in the morning!

The Facebook experience has changed considerably since 2004 of course, and it’s no longer a case of simply visiting their website and interacting in situ.  Globally more than 475 mobile operators work to deploy and promote Facebook apps, and over the past two years the little blue ‘share’ and ‘like’ Facebook icons have spread exponentially across millions of websites.  Every brand in the world can create a Facebook Page to represent them and engage with their users, whether you are a local corner shop or Lady Gaga with over 46 million fans.

Every user on Facebook needs to start with a personal profile though, whether they want to share pictures with their friends, develop a killer new app or run a series of multinational brand pages.  Facebook was built around people, and that’s where it begins and ends.  A lot of users make the mistake of trying create a profile for their brand or organisation, instead of the group – this is a violation of Facebook rules and you can get your account deleted at any time, as well as getting into silly situations where your friends receive alerts saying ‘it’s TheLocal Bookstore’s birthday today, why not write on TheLocal’s timeline?’

We will look at the real differences and uses of Profiles, Groups and Pages in the next few weeks, so you can get it right from the start (or put it right if you have started off wrongly).  Personally I think Facebook could be a lot clearer for new users wanting to get started creating an account, especially as so many people are now coming to it specifically wanting to promote their business or organisation, rather than wanting to use it as an individual.

A lot of people are concerned about privacy on Facebook, and with good reason, because the default settings for new users are simply not very secure.  The facility to tighten them up is freely available but you have to go in and do that – don’t worry we’ll show you how, but Facebook has justly been criticised for this.  Their position is, this is a social network and it’s all about sharing, people don’t have to share any information at all unless they choose to do so, but if they do then that’s their conscious decision…  but when you have going on for 1 billion users, I reckon that is asking rather a lot of every one of them to be sufficiently knowledgeable or concerned to sort this out for themselves.

And once you have used Facebook for a while, just think about the massive archive of personal data they hold on you – not just your personal photos and comments but all the highly commercially-useful stuff about what companies you like and information you choose to share.  One Austrian student is currently challenging Facebook through the courts to access this personal archive, on the basis that the amount of data they hold and for how long violates European data protection law.

Personally, I love Facebook.  I am an expat in Spain with most of my family in the UK, and I have moved around a lot and have friends and business associates in lots of locations – Facebook for me is an easy, free and fun way to find out things I want to know, share pictures of my kids with their grandparents, and keep up with the people and subjects that interest me.  There is so much going on on Facebook now that no two people need use it in the same way, it’s all about what you want from it, and what information you want to share with whom.

If you haven’t got a Facebook account yet, there is a very basic walk-through available at www.costaconnected.com/facebook101/  We’ll be back with more next week, starting by looking at your personal profile and getting the all-important privacy settings right.  If you have any burning issues about Facebook that you’d like us to investigate, drop us a line via info@costaconnected.com and we’ll check it out during this series.

Published in Costa Blanca News, 27-1-12

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