Facing the facts about Facebook

Robin Heim

Before you naively proclaim that your most prized possession is that razor-thin IPod Nano that conveniently accompanies you wherever you go, think.

Before you assert that nothing could ever make you happier than a quart of Ben and Jerry’s and your Play Station 2, think.

Before you jump to the outrageous conclusion that no one knows you better than your mother, think.

Think: online networking. Think: closet addiction. Think: Facebook.

Let’s face it (no pun intended): Facebook.com is addictive. Since it was launched to the public in February 2004, the online directory has garnered 9.4 million unique users nationwide who log on each month, according to ComScore, a tracking service for internet use.

Facebook’s recipe for success is simple: it allows users to log on with their .edu e-mail address and peruse the site’s gaggle of features.

But what is so enticing about this and other online networking directories? What keeps 65 percent of Facebook users logging on every day? Is it the pressure of knowing that their entire social life is packed neatly into one comprehensive webpage for all to see? Possibly, as the profiles include everything from contact information to a viewable “wall” of often-personal postings from other users.

Is it the unquenchable desire to see their list of friends expand to outrageous proportions? Perhaps, considering the ever-popular and strangely accurate phenomenon identified by the “I Do Not Recall Being Your Friend in Real Life, Why Are We Friends on the Facebook?” group.

Whatever the reason, the obsession is undeniable, and its contagious buzz is sweeping the nation at a grueling pace. A high-school Facebook was developed recently, quelling complaints from the younger crowd formerly excluded from the cultish phenomenon.

But don’t think this online networking trend will soon join the ranks of the Backstreet Boys and side ponytails as a “what-were-we-thinking?” passing fad. Steve Jones, a communication professor at the University of Illinois, says he predicts that 20 years from now a political candidate will be in hot water due to something posted on Facebook.

Regardless of its staying power, Facebook.com has become a potent force on the World Wide Web in its short life and isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. The site ranks ninth in terms of overall hits on the Internet behind fellow online network MySpace.com. Perhaps the reason why the college directory logs over 250 million page views in any given 24-hour time period is because it appeals to the average student’s life.

“Facebook spills over into ‘real’ life all the time,” says Chris Hughes, spokesperson for the Facebook. “There are the obvious ways: parties and groups are organized more efficiently, people are able to discover interests they share in common with acquaintances or friends, and people are able to see more details about girls or guys they find cute.”

And Facebook.com has become our social Bible for definitive information on our friends, classmates, crushes, and high school peers we haven’t spoken to in who-knows-how-long.

“Relationships become official these days only when they are formally recognized on Facebook,” Hughes says.We are a culture of hopeless Facebook junkies. If you still don’t agree, let’s examine the facts: the site’s name has been transformed into a ubiquitous verb: “I Facebook-ed you yesterday,” or “Do you Facebook?”

In addition, the site makes money on advertisements from big brands like Apple and Tiffany’s because of the huge volume of students logging on each day. The pervasiveness of the online directory is perhaps most evident in the staggering number of Facebook groups made about Facebook itself.

From “Facebook is Killing My GPA” to “If AIM is a Gateway Drug, the Facebook is Internet Crack” to “I Facebook-ed Your Mom Last Night,” it is crystal clear that students just can’t get enough of this Web-based craze.

To be fair, there is an “Anti-Facebook” group. It has two members.