Facebook frenzy

Jennifer Nacin

There seems to be few reasonable excuses these days for not being able to make friends. And if ISU students surf the Web regularly, their excuses are even fewer.

New online social networks and directories give students the chance to meet new people on campus, find out if the hot stud in the second row of a Geology 100 class has a girlfriend, or get the instant messenger name of someone a person hasn’t seen or talked to in years that attends college halfway across the country.

Thefacebook.com, an online directory and social network, was created in February 2004 by Mark Zuckerberg at Harvard University in hopes of connecting students on their campuses and at other universities across the nation. This social network now encompasses more than 300 colleges and bustles with nearly a million online users.

By registering with a school e-mail address, students are given a profile in which they can disclose personal information ranging from their addresses to cell phone numbers, political views to relationship status.

Anyone at Iowa State who has a Facebook account has access to the thousands of profiles that other ISU students, faculty and staff have created about themselves. Students can also create and join as many Facebook groups as they’d like. “Bird Poop attraction,” “Betty Crocker is my Idol!!” and “I’ve Gone Swimming in the Iowa State MU Fountain and/or Lake Laverne” are just a few examples of the many groups students can join in order to meet other students and share their opinions, interests and passions.

Other online social networks like Friendster.com, Myspace.com and bigcampus.net offer similar search and networking features, but Facebook seems to be the most popular, said Chad Harms, assistant professor of journalism and communication.

“Facebook seems to have taken off in the past year and a half in comparison to Friendster, which has been up for a while,” Harms said.

He said Facebook is different from most online communities in that the community created online relates or mirrors the college community, unlike other chat rooms or online communities, where users could be located anywhere.

“[Facebook] is unique because the online community is connected to an actual physical community,” he said.

The network is set up so that only students, faculty or alumni can view profiles of people from their college without permission. It is possible to view profiles from other colleges, but permission must be granted by that individual.

This search feature is typically used to find long-lost friends from high school, and it came in handy for Kirk Sykora, freshman in computer engineering.

For the past four years, Sykora had been searching for the friends he lost track of from middle school and high school in Cedar Rapids.

By using Facebook and viewing posted photo images and full names of users, he said he was able to find many of the people he knew in high school who he wouldn’t have been able to get a hold of otherwise.

Angela Haverly, sophomore in dietetics, said she joined the Facebook for similar reasons.

“I’ll admit it — I’m almost addicted,” Haverly said. “You can find who is in your classes and how you are connected to your friends’ friends.

“I like it because I can keep in touch with friends from high school.”

Haverly said she wouldn’t have been able to get a hold of her high school friends if she hadn’t used Facebook to locate them.

She said that although she feels comfortable with the amount of information she posted about herself on Facebook, she can see why having an abundance of information about yourself in view of others could be a problem.

“I don’t have my cell phone number listed on there,” Haverly said.

“You kind of have to be smart about that kind of stuff.”

She said the information she posted was already public information and can be found in many different locations online, such as the ISU phone directory.

For safety reasons, Haverly said she only allows people outside of Iowa State to see her profile if she already knew them or at least recognized them.

Harms said he thought it was intriguing that people would offer the amount of information that they do on this social network.

“Typically, when you exchange information with your friends, even that takes a bit of time to develop the amount of trust needed to extend that information,” Harms said.

He said that although he thinks this social network is a great way for college students to interact and learn more about each other, the danger of online predators, harassment, and the site being used more as what he called “Stalkers-R-Us.com” could occur. He said he has not heard of any instances where this type of behavior has occurred, however.

The Facebook friend feature allows viewers to see the number of friends a person has at a certain university.

Much like the “six degrees to Kevin Bacon game”, it is interesting to see how one person connects with the many others on college campuses by using this or any other social network, Harms said.

Cy The Mascot — real name unknown — has more than 1,350 friends at Iowa State, with his home address listed as “Hearts of ISU Students, Ames, Iowa.”

Sykora said whoever created this profile will allow hundreds of students to be connected to one another.