Facebook grows in popularity

Alejandra Ramos is puzzled and probably feeling out of the loop.

“What is this Facebook stuff?” the senior asked. “Everyone keeps asking me, ‘Are you on Facebook?'”

And she has to be. Everyone at GW is on thefacebook.com, an online friends network that connects students from several universities through friends, classes and interests. Well, not everyone, yet. But since GW logged on August 21, more than 2,500 students have signed up and are searching their social connections and classmates for familiar faces.

Signing up for Facebook is simple, since for most students its link has probably been forwarded to them by people looking to “friend” them. But before creating an account, students must go to www.thefacebook.com and register.

It will prompt students through a series of steps to fill out a profile consisting of questions that get relatively personal, such as AOL Instant Messenger screen name, e-mail address, phone number and residence on campus. But users don’t have to fill out any more details than they are comfortable with.

“This is a good way to put names to some of those faces I recognize from the past three years,” Keith Raine said. And from a quick read of his Facebook profile, you can find out that Raine is a senior from Massachusetts in the Tau Kappa Epsilon fraternity whose favorite books include “The Great Gatsby” and Hemingway classics.

Once on the network, a student can enter their GW course schedule, which then establishes his or her initial list of “connections.” The Facebook will scan its registered GW users and list people in the same class. Students can then look at their picture, find out their e-mail address, read their profile to learn about them – major, hometown, favorite quotes, movies, books, etc. – and allows the user to contact their connections through “poking” or messaging. Searches can even be conducted to find people with similar interests or backgrounds.

According to the Frequently Asked Questions page, the site is a network of colleges that connects people through courses and friends and aims to expand to more schools this year. Juniors Adam Conner and Bert Garcia helped it expand to GW.

“I worked with two kids from Tufts (University) and (The University of Pennsylvania) that were on it all the time, and I got interested,” Conner said. Conner and Garcia then set up a Web site with information on the Facebook and sent out a hundred e-mails with a link to it. The e-mail got forwarded throughout the student body and the word spread.

“It’s become like (Instant Messenger),” Conner said. “It is its own culture.” Conner said he is sure the excitement will eventually wear off. But for now, he added, it is out of control. “These are people you can actually get to know,” he said.

The site has many uses, Conner said. Students are already using it as a link between friends, a dating service and a political tool. A supposed student named John Kerry is a common link among many students – the candidate had 257 friends as of Monday night – and the College Democrats are using Facebook to promote his campaign.

“I put it up so we could see who supports John Kerry so we can mobilize for the election,” said Conner, a member of the College Democrats.

Member profiles list reasons why an individual is using the site. Reasons include dating, meeting friends, recreational play and “whatever I can get.” If a student interested in dating saw a picture of an attractive member, he or she could contact that person.

When asked if he knew anyone that started dating because of the service, sophomore Adam Linet jokingly replied, “Oh, you mean stalker.com.” He said he does not see how the site can be an effective way to make new friends or meet people.

“You don’t meet anyone,” he said. “All you can do is follow people’s schedules, their phone numbers, room number … it’s a horrible, horrible invention.”

Greek-letter members may also be using the network for recruitment, or just meeting students outside of their normal scope, said Conner, who is also in the Pi Kappa Epsilon fraternity.

Linet, also a member of PKE, said fraternities do utilize online services for recruitment, including list-servs, and Facebook is another way to reach people.

Laila Hasan, a senior in Phi Sigma Sigma, said it will be an easy way to network with other Greek-letter members.

“We’ll really be able to connect with other members of the Greek community,” she said.

Senior Shari Newman, one of Hasan’s sorority members, had a similar outlook. “It will definitely make the Greek community more collective,” she said. The sorority sisters are also excited to use the Web site to meet girls in other chapters around the country.

Senior Meggie Baker is connected to Hasan and one of her sorority sisters, senior Shari Newman, on Facebook, and said she logs on a couple times a day to see any new connections. Although she does not plan on using the new site as an online dating service, Baker said she was excited about meeting new people in general.

“It’s the first people network I’ve ever used,” she said. “It’s really exciting to make new friends.”

Some students are already using the profiles to look up IM screen names and talk to people who might seem interesting, attractive or have a class together.

Junior Kathryn Santo said she received an instant message last week from an unfamiliar screen name and immediately turned to Facebook to find out who it was.

“This guy just IMed me and the only reason why I knew who it was was because I highlighted his screen name and searched it,” she said.

Anyone from GW can look up the profile of another member from the University. Each student registered on the network is connected to hundreds of others who can point and click to read about someone. A user may wonder just how many people are looking at their information and taking note of phone numbers, screen names and even residences.

Santo said her cousin from a different university uses a similar Web site, connectu.com, that allows a member to see how many times their profile has been viewed. Her cousin had more than 4,000 people read her profile, she said.

But most people tend to use the site to communicate better among their own group of friends. Junior Raychel Sirois, a friend of Santo, used the site to look up their friends’ room numbers to visit them after move-in.

Keith Raine said she uses Facebook for similar reasons, but also to keep himself busy at work. “I got the e-mail invite,” he said. “And at first, it helped to pass the time at work, probably a little too much actually.”

Registered users can also search the database for specific people at GW. If they are listed on the Facebook, users can invite them to be a “friend” and add them to a compilation of “friends,” similar to an IM buddy list. But before any one person is added to a friend’s list, the Facebook sends an e-mail to the person and they must confirm that the two are in fact “friends.” If a person rejects a friend invitation, the other person will not be notified that the invitation was rejected.

Senior Matthew Looney signed up a week ago when fellow senior Erin Kruth sent him the invite via e-mail. “I didn’t really know much about it before,” he said.

Once a user has a list of friends, his or her number of connections grows. The Facebook then compiles a list of people who are the confirmed “friends” of your friends, thus creating a web of connections – GW’s version of Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon. Students can scan this list of connections or view a specific person’s friends.

If a GW student has friends who attend other schools that participate on the Facebook, he or she can look them up and see pictures of their friends from their school. However, only users from the same school can access profiles. Students can even search Facebook’s database to find old high school acquaintances.

“I found two friends from high school that I haven’t spoken to in years,” Looney said.

Kruth also is one of Raine’s connections and is into sports and all things Japanese. Maybe he’ll “poke” her and they’ll become friends.

But what is poking? The creators of the Facebook explained on the Frequently Asked Questions page, “We have about as much of an idea as you do. So mess around with it, because you’re not getting an explanation from us.”

Poking someone on Facebook seems to be a way to message someone without words. After scanning connections – people who are “friends of friends” or signed up in one of your classes – a student can then click the “poke” option. The next time that person logs into their Facebook account, they will be notified that someone has poked them and an icon of a pointing finger will accompany the notice. Then the person who got poked can poke back, thus acknowledging the initial poke.

Like so many other GW students, sophomore Alex Raileanu found Facebook through friends and now uses it all the time to invite more on.

“Now I’m addicted,” he said. “And I’m always excited to get new friends.”

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