Facebook: The Final Frontier

By Kevin Schaefer, Editor-in-Chief. Published April 25, 2010.

What do over one million websites link to? What do approximately 70% of respondents to a recent McKendree Review poll use every week? According to this site, there are over 500 million active users. It can get you into serious trouble with your parents, or destroy your chances of getting a job. If you haven’t guessed what it is, you probably live under a rock.

Facebook. It’s what college students use to pass the time, groups use to share information and pictures, news companies use to share content in a new way, and corporations use to reach a new audience. Yes, you heard it: major, international corporations use Facebook, the most popular social networking site.

There is no doubting Facebook’s success. According to Alexa, a company operated by Amazon which maintains website statistics on hundreds of thousands of websites, Facebook is the second most popular website, second only to Google. Also according to Alexa, there are slightly more female users than male users. People who visit Facebook typically are people who have children, are 18-44 years old, and access it mostly from school and home location with 24.4% of site traffic generated from the United States. None of these stats really surprised me. The only one that did surprise me was that Alexa says that most people who access it are in graduate school.

What does interest me the most is who is using Facebook, and I am not referring to individual users. Facebook has seemed to become another way for companies to connect to clients and advertise. This is interesting because Facebook, which was originally called “TheFacebook” (I know, I’m glad the name changed, too), started out by being a way for students at Harvard to connect socially. This is why I find it interesting: a tool developed to help college students, turns into a modern day re-invention of the TV for businesses.

What does this say about our culture that we live in? This is what inspired me to write this article: a friend gave me a small bag of potato chips. After I looked on the back, I noticed this: “Find us on Facebook.” So now you can get status updates fresh out of the potato chip frier from Lay’s right next to your friends status updates. What’s that? Mindy just went from being in a relationship to being single? Oh, and there’s my daily Lay’s status update. Today it’s: “Happy Spring Everyone!” You’ll also let all your friends know what type of food you eat, and be able to post an enlightening message for the official Facebook Lay’s group to see for all of eternity.

Not to pick on Lay’s (it just so happened to catch my eye), but can somebody please remind me why on Earth I would want to find my bag of potato chips on Facebook? Who really cares? I want to see status updates from my friends, not my food.

If you ask me, the growth and reach of Facebook is a little alarming. According to Time magazine, “[in] less than seven years, Zuckerberg wired together a twelfth of humanity into a single network, thereby creating a social entity almost twice as large as the U.S.”

Remember that trick where you tell somebody that they are taking the word “gullible” out of the dictionary? Well I’m pretty sure they will be taking “privacy” out of the dictionary soon. Over a twelfth of the world interacts with Facebook, and subsequently is posting status updates about what they are doing, can link their family members and spouses, and can now even tell people exactly where they are with the recently released Facebook Places. But hey, if you want to tell everybody who you hang out with and where you are at every waking minute of your ever-connected life, go ahead.

But I don’t hate Facebook. I’ve used it to share photos, answer questions about homework, and have even conducted an entire group project via Facebook Chat. There is no doubting how useful it can be. It’s also pretty impressive. “Like” it or not (pun intended), Facebook has connected over 500 million users. Let me say that again: 500 m-i-l-l-i-o-n users. That’s a huge number.

What’s more impressive (for a computer science person such as myself), is thinking about all the infrastructure behind those numbers. That is 500 million people who all have profile pictures. Many people have hundreds of other pictures too. Each of those pictures can have dozens of comments and “like”s. Don’t forget about all of those billions of status updates from individual users, companies, groups, and everyone else. I can’t back up that number, but if there are 500 million users, if each of those people only made 2 status updates, there would already be a billion updates. A billion, as in 1,000,000,000. Where do they store all of that? How can they keep track of every one of those updates, who wrote them, who likes them, who commented on them, and who likes those comments. That’s just mind boggling to me.

I would be the first to admit that I use it on a daily (and sometimes, hourly) basis. For example, as I’m writing this article, I am sitting at a desk with two laptops, each with Facebook opened up (minimized on this laptop). I certainly have also posted my fair share of status updates (as people who are friends with me on Facebook will attest to).

So, my “congrats” Mr. Zuckerberg. You seemed to have done something that nobody else has been able to do. You have pretty much connected the world’s population. You have developed a platform that almost every human has heard of and most likely has used. But just be careful: when you take your vacation to Florida this summer and have a few drinks or curse out somebody you just can’t stand on Facebook, you might be putting the final “nail in the coffin” when it comes to securing a job.

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