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The evolution of Facebook and social networking: Tips from a veteran

Social networking has come a long way from the days of Friendster and Ok! Cupid. I am no social networking expert — I barely use Twitter, I rarely check MySpace. But I have had the pleasure (and dismay) of watching Facebook grow from the very first days, when I joined as a college freshman, and I’ve learned a few things along the way.

In March of 2004, I was finishing up my freshman year at Boston University (yes, this will help you figure out how old — or not old — I am). Around this time, I began to hear buzz in my dorm about this new fun way to socialize, “The Facebook” (it went from to in 2005). At this time, if I recall correctly, Facebook was only available to Harvard, Yale, Stanford, Columbia, BU, NYU and BC. And it was a completely different monster back then. There was a field along the top of your profile so you knew when you joined, which is how I still remember that I joined on March 30, 2004.

There were no privacy options. You could scan your network — this was called your “social net” — and see whatever profile you desired to see — my friends and I spent many a night mocking the guys who took pictures of themselves flexing as their profile pictures and listed “Jagermeister” as an interest (for the record, we still mock them, that much has not changed).  There were only a couple hundred people on the BU network at the time, so we would recognize people on the street and giggle behind their backs that we knew they nursed a deep obsession of Avril Lavigne.

The only interaction among profiles would be “poking” someone. To this day, that still creeps me out and I don’t partake, but it was often the way for a guy to get a girl’s attention or vice versa. Facebook seemed like a safer in a way. You were able to view someone’s interests, and because you knew that they went to the same school and probably even knew mutual people, then they felt much safer than meeting someone random online. I knew quite a few people who dated people that they met on Facebook.

This was bare-bones, no frills — there were no pictures or videos, no walls for comments, no annoying applications, no news feed (which caused huge uproar when it started) and more than that, no repercussions for inappropriate use of “The Facebook.” For the first couple of years, you couldn’t even get on Facebook unless you had a college email address to verify that you were a student or alumni. While there weren’t privacy settings, you could at least rest assured that there weren’t random creepy people reading your profile. But once it was opened up to the world, those privacy settings became necessary, (though not everyone used them) and inappropriate use of Facebook became life-changing for some people, as Facebook became a tool for employers and other higher-ups.

I remember reading articles about people being fired for incriminating photos that surfaced on their Facebook pages, such as the New England Patriots cheerleader who was consequentially booted from the squad after photos with a drunk student adorned with swastikas emerged. Managers and bosses began to monitor employee status updates for red flags. There was even the headline-making case of John Brown University, who expelled a student when college officials discovered he was gay from his Facebook profile.

Now, companies are leveraging Facebook to expose its own brands. Customized advertisements scan profiles and allow ads to be targeted to the right people — within minutes of becoming engaged, my sidebar has since been filled with advertisements for wedding photographers and wedding venues. Businesses now have the option of creating pages to increase visibility and generate fans. I’ve been inundated with invitations to become a fan of businesses that I didn’t even know existed — but now I do, thanks to Facebook. Certain applications even help create business for investors — for example, Mafia Wars, one of the most popular applications on Facebook, allows you to earn Godfather points (which can further you in the game) by completing offers through companies such as DirecTV or Netflix. It’s funny to me, seeing how Facebook evolved from this simple way to connect to friends and possibly find a date, to this corporate machine, designed to spit out results for anyone willing to invest, and becoming a legitimate part of mainstream business.

Five years ago, when I joined Facebook, I had no idea it would turn into the phenomenon it has become. As a sophomore, I wrote a weekly column for BU’s Daily Free Press, and one entry was about the beginning of the end in terms of social skills thanks to “The Facebook.” I cringe at what I wrote now: “There certainly isn’t a facebook for when we enter our respective professions. Are we going to be hampered by our college dependency on away messages and facebook messages?” I certainly didn’t predict that Facebook would carry into the workplace, or even the existence of other social networking tools such as Twitter, or inter-workplace social networking tools like Yammer.

At this point, five years later, I feel a little bit like a Facebook veteran. As a veteran, I have a couple of tips:

  • Do not post anything you wouldn’t want your mother to see. There is actually a distinct possibility that your mother could be on Facebook and seeing it.
  • If you must post things that you wouldn’t want your mother to see, set up a friends filter for work colleagues and family. I’ve seen many inappropriate pictures put up by friends who did not filter out work contacts and paid the price later.
  • Don’t trash your job in your job description. I recently read an article about a woman who called her job “boring” in her profile and subsequently found herself fired from her boring job. You know what’s even more boring than your boring job? Unemployment.
  • Don’t let people you don’t know see your profile. Use those privacy settings and block anyone you’re not friends with. I know people who have turned down prospective employees because they were able to search for their profiles and see everything. And I mean everything.
  • Don’t update your status every ten minutes. Your coworkers and managers will then know that you are on Facebook all day instead of doing work.
  • Don’t be an application freak. That’s just annoying.

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