5/06/2009

Top 10 Facebook Tips

Facebook has become the de rigeur place for political organizing lately. But beyond that, it's a great place to reconnect with old friends and family and make new connections.

For many people though, Facebook (especially the new version) can be tough to navigate. With lots of options for privacy as well as for customizations to display information in the "newsfeed" from friends and family, the options can be confusing and sometimes difficult to understand.

So, here are my top 10 Facebook tips for new users.

1. Sort your "friends." You'll find that on Facebook you'll run into childhood pals, extended family, co-workers, and people you know in the community. If you're politically active you'll also end up with contacts for organizations. Sorting these people into groups can help you manage your communications as well as what information about you to which those people have access. After all, you might be fine with your sister-in-law across the country having your address and phone numbers, but not so sure about someone you met at the last political meeting you attended. Likewise, you might want to send an announcement about something to family and not include those unrelated to you. Using "lists" can help you with that.

It's easy to do, go to your friends page and select "create new list". Give the list a name and select the "friends" you want to add to that list. As you add new friends you will have the option to add them to an existing list. Forgot to add someone? Go to your friends page and scroll down till you find the friend and click on "add to list" next to their name and add them to the correct list.

2. Use those lists to limit access to your personal information. It's easy to do. Now that you have all your "friends" sorted into lists go to your "settings" at the top right (next to your name) and choose "privacy settings." This page gives you control over almost all aspects of Facebook. Choose "profile" to limit what personal information is shown to people in various lists. Choosing "Contact Information" will allow you to limit who sees your personal information. I have two levels of "friends" that I don't know in the real world. Those friends are placed in "Facebook Friends" or "Casual Friends" and their access to information like phone numbers and my address are limited. Clicking the "edit custom settings" allows you to add or remove groups from your privacy screen. (see photo)

3. Stop all those stupid app announcements! If you have friends who love sending "gifts" on Facebook you can get annoyed in a hurry because your newsfeed can be dozens of those announcements. Want to stop them? It's easy. On your main news feed (click "Home") as someone posts an application to your newsfeed simply hover your cursor over the right hand side. You'll see two options appear magically: "Hide (person's name)" and "Hide (application name)". You'll want to choose "Hide (application name)" to make sure that those announcements no longer take up space in your newsfeed. (see photo)

4. Block those apps! If your friends who like to post those announcement also want you to use those apps and annoy more people it's easy enough to put an end to that without hurting feelings. As the invitations come in choose "block application" and no one will be able to send you an invite or a "gift" using that application again. Your friend won't be offended that you "turned down" their gift, hug, or whatever else but the next time they are choosing names yours simply will be grayed out, preventing more invites.

5. Skip the update. If you play games or do many other things on Facebook the developers of those things love to announce you're using their stuff. Facebook will give you a pop-up asking you if you want to "publish to newsfeed and wall" as you're finishing up. If you don't care to have the information announced to all your friends then choose "skip" and it won't show up in your newsfeed.

6. Bookmark things you use! As you use certain features on Facebook you'll see an option in the bottom left corner to "bookmark." Make use of that feature since sometimes it's hard to find your way back to things on Facebook.

7. Be a chatty Cathy! On the lower left of the screen you'll see a space that says "online friends" with a number. These are the folks you know who are using Facebook right now. You can click a name to chat with that person. It's a great feature.

8. Use Messages. Facebook has a built in messaging system that works much like email. It's a great feature and you can communicate with several people in a "discussion board" style. If you don't want to reply to all in a multi-person discussion choose "reply" under that person's photo instead to send your reply ONLY to them.

9. Manage your account! Clicking on settings in the upper right next to your name and then "account settings" will allow you to manage your account. You can change your password, email address, name and other information. However, you might want to pay attention to the "notifications" tab. Here you can tell Facebook when to send you an email about something happening. If you check Facebook several times a day, you might want to have no notifications of things. If you tend to go several days without checking you might want to be notified about messages, friend requests, or other communications from friends. It's up to you.

10. Have fun and meet people. Facebook tends to be less a free for all than MySpace. You will meet new people but generally they will be people that friends know. Over time your friends list will grow naturally as you meet friends of friends and add them to your lists. You will also find old classmates as well. If you fill out your school information when you sign up you can click the name of your school in your own profile and be connected to others on Facebook from your class as well as other graduates of your school. It's a great way to re-connect with a long lost friend from high school or college.

Bonus tip: If you make a "friend" or have a really annoying relative on Facebook whose comments about things you just can't take anymore you can remove them from your Newsfeed without rudely dropping them from your "friends." (For me it is hyper-religious relatives whom I love but do not care to hear their constant paranoia about Christianity under attack.) Just as we did for hiding the applications on the newsfeed, click their name under "hide" and they won't show up in the newsfeed anylonger. Your stress is reduced and no one's feelings have been hurt so next Thanksgiving isn't uncomfortable (well even more uncomfortable).

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