I've had a few months off work recently, and I've got quite into Facebook in that time. It's an amalgam of applications I've wanted to see made for ages: Finally, a social networking site that *works*.

When discussing this with friends, there's been several occasions where we haven't been able to adequately summarise or analyse what it actually does, so I thought I'd have a go, in the cold light of day, at distilling my experience.

As Green Day once sang, “are you feeling like a social tool without a use?” Facebook's 5 top replies, as I see them, are:

  1. Finding real world friends and acquaintances. Like Friends Reunited, though not just for school. Couple of nights ago I was at the Real Ale Festival with my former colleague Dylan, who's returned to London after 5 years away – guess how he found me. Another, more leftfield, example: I'm have 5 friends in my Wii address book now, guess how we found each other's numbers?
  2. Keeping in contact with your friends and organising events. Lose your phone? Organising a party? Facebook's there to help. I'm going climbing on Wednesday, I know where, when and who with through a Facebook group.
  3. Collating and displaying your own internet presence in one place. Flickr, Last.fm, B3ta, blogs etc. Now you can put them all in one place, and you don't even have to give people a URL: “It's on Facebook” will suffice.
  4. Actively playing games and chatting with your friends. Scrabble, vampires, grafitti... you could lose months on this bullet point.
  5. Passively seeing what your friends are up to. The main feed's great, it's where you can see the highlights of what your friends are talking about, going to, doing. Several times I've discovered a common interest, or something I wanted to know more about, and ave been able to follow it up next time we're down the pub.

Thing is, you don't have to be interested in all 5 for Facebook to be useful. As with any tool, it's up to the workman to get the best use out of it. I believe from these individual uses stem two main modes of use, utilisation (1, 2 & 3) and entertainment (4 & 5).

I'm back at work next week, I'll leave you to decide which mode I'll be sticking to.


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