What is Facebook?

Social Software

What is social software?
The term "social software" refers to a wide range of web-based programs, services and tools.  A key part of these new technologies is their collaborative aspects-- social software allows users to contribute, create and customize in ways that earlier models of software do not.

Social software includes user-created items like blogs, wikis and podcasts; user-enhanced services such as photo-, video- and music-sharing sites; alternative communication resources such as instant messaging and virtual worlds; and social networking sites.

Social Networking in Plain English

Social Networking

Social networking services take advantage of social software tools to create online places for people to meet, share photos and videos, send messages, play games and more. 

Wikipedia outlines three primary types of social networks:
  1. sites which contain a specific category directory (ie. former classmates)
  2. sites used as a means to connect with friends or fans (often featuring customizable profile pages)
  3. sites which rely on recommender systems linked to trust (for professional networking)
Facebook is an example of the second type of social networking services.

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History of Facebook

Facebook was created in 2004 by Harvard student Mark Zuckerberg.  The website was intended to be an online version of the University's printed Facebook, a directory of new students.  At that time, membership to the website was limited to Harvard students only.  In a month's time, Facebook grew to include other Ivy League students as well, and within a year had over 1 million users.  By the end of 2005, Facebook expanded to include, first, a network of 800 colleges and universities, then high schools, and then international students.  In time for the fall semester of 2006, Facebook began accepting membership of anyone over the age of 13.  According to Facebook's Press Room, the social networking site currently has over 90 million active users.

Facebook is a privately owned company headquartered in Palo Alto, California.  Mark Zuckerberg, age 24 and a Harvard drop-out, is ranked 785 in Forbes Magazine's list of the world's billionaires, with a net worth of approximately $1.5 billion.

Uses and Users of Facebook

Facebook was designed for college students and its primary users are still students.  The basic no-frills profile in Facebook includes the following:
  • A place for a profile picture
  • Contact information and "About You" space
  • The Wall-- a place where friends can publicly post comments for you (a digital bulletin board)
  • Status update-- where you can tell your friends how you are or what you are doing
  • News Feed-- regularly updated information about your friends-- groups they've joined, applications or friends they have added, changes to their profiles
  • A space for uploading photos and videos
But Facebook, like many social software sites, is customizable and there is no end to the number of applications you can add to your Facebook account.  Applications are additional tools and features-- some are created by Facebook, but many more have been created by third party developers.