Monday, December 15, 2008

Oregon Guard explores the communication and networking power of Facebook

According to data posted by ComScore, Facebook surpassed MySpace as the most popular social networking site in June 2008--with more than 132.1 million unique visitors.

For the uninitiated, Facebook is a website that allows users to post information, photos and short, personal "status updates" ("John is thinking about getting a cup of coffee" or "Sally is watching the Oregon State football game"). Others can then view your information and comment on it.

In return, you can comment on their photos, posts, and status. Users can filter their settings to allow only a select group of people to access their profiles--these people are known as Facebook "friends."

Like most of the Internet, real-life social norms don't apply here. People you haven't heard from in over 20 years can now be your friend--including that geeky nerd you dumped in high school--the same one who now earns six-figures working as a software engineer for Microsoft.

For those who are current Facebook users, it's quite addicting. In an article published Dec. 14, the Times Union explored the ubiquitous draw of Gen-X, Y and Z to social networking, calling the site "Crackbook".

But the addiction doesn't stop with current users. Facebook is set up to "recruit" new people and entice others to join your cause, group, or add fun "applications" which are geared toward encouraging users to interact with each other.

Moreover, the site has worked its way into our electronic communications as well. In November, Facebook announced a merger with Twitter, a free social messaging utility which allows subscribers to update and receive status updates to and from their Blackberry wireless devices, or their cellular phones.

Apple, not to be outdone, has incorporated a number of free applications into their iPhone's G3 software which allows real-time multimedia updates to and from social networking sites like Facebook.

As recently as last month, Facebook announced they would be growing from 300 employees to around 700 in 2009, according to author Nick Gonzales of TechCrunch. All this in light of a downturn in the economy and with many other companies who are actually laying people off, Facebook's growth should at least spark some interest from savvy business investors, if not actual users.

I'm not entirely sure Facebook's growing popularity is due to novelty. Sure, there's that... but remember MySpace? There was a time when it was the "site du-jour", and millions of people flocked to, and prayed at, the altar that was MySpace.

But that was then and this is now. And in the interim, MySpace has gone down the proverbial rabbit hole, with teenagers posting drunken party photos, and pedophiles lurking at every turn (MSNBC reported in January on several sex crimes associated with the site in "Why Parents Must Mind MySpace"). Earlier in 2008, Wired Magazine ran a story on a malicious virus which hit MySpace users, allowing teens' photos set to "private" to be downloaded to voyeurs.

Indeed, the creators of Facebook may have learned something from MySpace. Profiles on the site, which can be set to filter out anyone and everyone, appear to be more robust. And while Facebook's target audience appears to be those over 30, the site definitely appeals to the larger demographic of 18-25 year olds. The takeaway? Users (and parents of younger Facebook users) should still probably proceed with caution.

It appears that while Facebook has learned a thing or two about social networking from MySpace's hiccups, the actual users have learned a thing or two as well.

Jennifer Rung, a writer with the Buffalo News, says users have the power to decide who can see your profile and photos, and who can't. She recommends setting up the filters page before posting pictures and entering personal information. Rung has come up with five important points of Facebook etiquette in her article, "Facebook 2.0: New generations sign on", located here.

The benefits for Oregon's citizen-Soldiers and citizen-Airmen, and their friends, families, employers and supporters are obvious. With overseas deployments continuing through 2009, and the mobilization of nearly 3,500 Oregonians to Iraq, online social networking sites like Facebook allow a communications venue never before seen.

Little Johnny took his first steps? Daddy can now view that video from thousands of miles away in an Internet cafe on base. The office threw a big going-away party for Janice? Best friend Sally who is in Baghdad can now see the pictures and hear all about it via Facebook. The bottom line: While you're deployed, life invariably goes on. But defending your country does not necessarily mean missing out on the events which matter most in your life--especially with powerful social networking tools like Facebook.

The same site which is allowing old high school friends to reconnect, or small business owners to market their services to a wider audience can now be used by Oregon's citizen-Soldiers and citizen-Airmen to stay in contact with the people they love back home.

The Oregon National Guard's official Facebook page, located here, was built for that very purpose. Named for Brig. Gen. Owen Summers, who is hailed as Oregon's first "Volunteer", the site features 74 friends (and growing), news and information about the Oregon National Guard, its members, and supporters, and wonderful photos and videos of the great things Oregon's citizen-Guardsmen do throughout the world on a daily basis.

We encourage you to visit the site. If you are not a member of Facebook, please consider joining, then becoming a "friend" of Owen Summers. If you are already a member, be sure to send a friend request. Then stay tuned to this blog for more new media updates and site launches.

Tech. Sgt. Nick Choy,
Oregon National Guard New Media Manager

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