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Mass confusion is all the new rage

Over last summer, a lot of things changed in my life: I moved to South Carolina, I started a new job, I switched to a Mac (at work) and I became a vegan. (Okay, kidding about that last one.) In addition to those large changes, there were a number of small changes, two of which included my aunt and my dad signing up for the social networking giant, Facebook.

A little background here. I’ve been a member of Facebook since June of 2005, a couple days after I graduated high school. I think our class was the first real “wow, we’re going to college, let’s all sign up for Facebook and friend each other because I’m sure we’ll keep in touch” class, and initially, that’s all the site was: a place to find phone numbers, send short messages, and do some serious poking. (Great feature, right? Because who doesn’t love getting poked in real life? Now we can experience that same, annoying, painful sensation thousands of miles apart!)

A couple years passed, and the site rapidly grew and evolved. Thanks to innovations like the News Feed, Facebook became a place to find out what your friends were doing by the minute, and by 2007 Facebook was open to everyone. By the time my sister joined Facebook in summer of 2007, people were taking notice of the site’s powerful and potentially dangerous features, and my mom signed up for Facebook following the advice of a parent session at my sister’s orientation.

So I was on Facebook, my sister was on Facebook, and my mom was on Facebook, but she was only there to stalk mine and my sister’s friends in the name of safety. Reasonable, right? Everything seemed normal. But then, in 2007, the Facebook platform debuted and took off.

A couple more years passed. Facebook grew from about 50 million users to over 200 million. And in June 2009 and July 2009, after hearing about the many other family members who could view family pictures, share stories and stay in touch, my aunt and dad joined.

I’m pretty careful about what I post on Facebook anyway, so having my entire family on hasn’t changed my Facebook habits (and the completist in me likes having everyone there). However, having my entire family on the site to me signifies that Facebook is as mainstream as the PC that’s viewing it. It’s not only a global social network; it’s become a household word.

Whenever anything goes from a niche to the mainstream, a full cross-section of the population comes with it. That means you get the quiet and the outspoken, the friendly and the hostile, the newbies and the pros. But really, you can reduce it to two groups: the tools (read: douchebags) and everyone else. Here’s a helpful list that should help you not be a tool.

Guidelines for harmonious social networking

(Or, how to not be a social networking tool. Title is a shout-out to How I Met Your Mother.)

  • This isn’t MySpace: use your real name. Using your first and middle name as your full name may be okay in high school, when you’re trying to be a rebel, but once you get past age 18, it’s time for your real name. Use the name that potential employers would search for. “But wait,” you say, “I don’t want the Man to see my Facebook. Maybe if I don’t use my real name, he won’t find me!” Let’s be realistic: most employers these days have the expectation that you have a Facebook account; if they can’t find you and it’s obvious you’re not there under your name, they’re likely to assume you’re hiding something.
    • Corollary: I know what you’re thinking: “Ooo, I know! I’ll create two Facebook accounts, one for my friends and one for my employers!” Not only does this violate the Facebook terms of service, but it makes you a serious tool because you’ll have to send friend requests to pretty much all of your friends twice to make it look semi-realistic and useful. Don’t do it. Just keep your Facebook clean.
  • Use the 50 mile rule. Except in very rare cases (like Christmas parties when you know people will be home), most of your friends won’t be able to make your next party. Don’t send them an event invitation when they live more than 50 miles away. I know it’s really easy to select your entire friends list and send out invites, but don’t do it. Wouldn’t you be kinda’ mad if all 500 of your friends showed up at your apartment next Friday night? (Reminds me of that Seinfeld bit about answering machines: “You were hoping to get the machine! The person picks up and you’re like, ‘…oh. Didn’t expect you to be there. I was just going to leave a message saying sorry I missed you.'”)
  • We get it, your farm is pretty awesome. We don’t need real-time updates. One of the major factors driving Facebook’s latest spike in growth is so-called “social gaming”. You know, where you sit on Facebook at home and play a single player game on the web. FarmVille is the most popular of these games, and one of the reasons it’s popular is that it encourages users to share how much fun they’re having about 10 times a minute. I know it’s hard, but RESIST THE URGE TO SHARE. It’s Facebook policy that FarmVille can’t punish you for not sharing (although they’re certainly allowed to make you feel really bad: “YOU JERK, YOU KILLED THE COW BECAUSE OF YOUR NEGLECT”). So don’t share every time. Let’s set a soft limit of 1 FarmVille (actually, 1 “social game”) post per day.
    • Corollary: I know the way you win in those games is by working with your friends and asking and giving help, but creating accounts and naming them after your kids or dog or is cheating. (And yes, the cows will die because of you. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but SOMEday.) As an example, let’s say Wal-mart said that I am now only allowed to buy four Cadbury Creme Eggs per week. Wouldn’t you say there was something wrong with me if I stood outside the store bribing people to buy me some Cadbury Creme Eggs? “Come on, DADDY NEEDS HIS FIX.”
  • Just because there’s a button doesn’t mean you have to click it. (begin shameless plug) While you’re welcomed (and encouraged) to become a Fan of (and tell your friends about) Cleveland, Curveballs and Common Sense and any Fan pages that my company administers (end shameless plug), fan pages like these aren’t really how you’re supposed to use them:

    Let's be honest, no one ever texts back instantly. That page should be banned.

    Let's be honest, no one ever texts back instantly. That page should be banned.

    A couple of randomly funny Fan pages are acceptable, but for the most part Fan pages are meant so that companies can share exclusive deals and offers with you. What company is behind you hate me? oh that’s weird, because I DON’T EVEN KNOW YOU? (And that’s not even a very good example; Bobby and I have laughed at a ton of pages that just scream “I’m a teenager, I don’t know who I am, but at least know how to click a button.”)

  • Don’t be like Joe Biden: keep your language clean. (Oh, snap! Where else do you get these hot-off-the-press topical references like that? That was from like, yesterday.) If your *$%@ing %^#$ #@$%# needs to be @#$%$#$, tell Twitter (it’s a jungle on Twitter) or call one of those 1-900 sex lines where language like that would be appropriate. Pretend your mom’s reading, and if you still feel like dropping bombs, pretend Santa’s reading. If you swear at Santa, you get COAL.
  • Don’t create a Fan page for yourself. I mean, really? Who does that crap? (Wait, wait, I can explain! Don’t call me a hypocrite or hate me yet: I use that page for testing purposes. So if you’re using it for development, go for it.)
  • Hard limit of 10 posts per day, for any reason. Otherwise people start to think “listen…you and I are great…but we see a lot of each other. A LOT. Soo…yeah, maybe it’s time we took a break? I dunno’.”
  • Oh, and I almost forgot: If you’re a boss, and you’re friends with your employees on Facebook, limit the length of your comments to three paragraphs or less. (Four if it’s about baseball.) This is just better for everyone. If you make longer comments than that, other employees may take notice and get jealous. They may not even bother to tell you they’re jealous and may just write “holy crap.” (Just kidding, everyone involved!).

All that said, if you’re a Facebook user and you do these things, I may complain to myself for a bit then realize I’m being overly neurotic. Everyone uses social networks differently, and if you feel the need to do all of these, I won’t unfriend (2009 word of the year!) you. (I may hide you from my Feed, though. It’s not you, it’s me.) Ultimately I hope this list was entertaining more than anything else, and like pretty much everything I write, you probably shouldn’t pay attention to any of it.

Anyone got any others? I’ll try and add to the list if I hear some good ones (or think of some new ones). Happy Facebooking!

To Mom, Dad, Ciocia and all others in my family: all sarcasm and “back in my day, all the kids used floppy disks” nostalgia aside, I do enjoy having you all on Facebook. My amazement that everyone has an account now was only meant to reflect how fast and how broadly Facebook has grown, and I’m happy about it.