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Social Networking Primer

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Step 2: Make It Safe. It's a good bet that you don't want each of Facebook's 200 million members pounding on your virtual door, so the site goes to great lengths to let you control who sees what. To get started, click the Settings link in Facebook's menu bar at the top of the page. These options give you pinpoint control over who sees your updates, photos, personal information, and your Facebook activity. You can block any individual members you choose to from seeing your profile or contacting you. These tools come in handy when, for example, your high school nemesis starts reminding you about those embarrassing photos from the good old days.

Step 3: Post Updates. Next, go to your home page (click on Home in the menu bar) and answer the question that Facebook poses at the top of the screen: "What's on your mind?" Write a brief personal update (called a "post" in online parlance), drop in a link to a video you like, or share an interesting site. Here's where you start interacting with your Facebook friends.

Step 4: Find Friends
. Facebook isn't any fun by yourself, and the site does a good job of helping you find friends. (Facebook refers to people you may know as "friends." Facebook users also consider "friend" a verb, as in the question, "Did you friend your daughter yet?")

Use the Find Friends feature—in the menu bar, click Friends and then click Find Friends—to have Facebook comb through the contacts and e-mail addresses on your PC that match Facebook members. Search for the names of your high school and college friends, too, and include the years you attended in your search. In less than 10 minutes, you can assemble a personal class reunion that will never end. Similarly, search for the names of former employers, and look through the resulting list to see if you want to friend any former or current colleagues.

Remember that no Facebook friendship is automatic. You must ask someone to become your friend and he or she has to accept; others, in turn, need your permission before you become one of their friends. Accept or reject friend requests as you please (a rejected, would-be friend does not receive notice of your rejection. Ultimately, you'll have a network of people with whom you truly want to stay in touch.

Step 5: Explore Groups and Fan Clubs
. Facebook consists of more than person-to-person contact. You can set up or join a special-interest group or become an online fan of a team, band, or celebrity (click the Groups link at the bottom of any Facebook page). Joining groups that reflect your interests enriches your Facebook experience, because you'll connect with a community that shares your enthusiasm for everything from politics to entertainment to sports to hobbies.

Step 6: Enjoy Programs and Games. Facebook has 52,000-plus quizzes, interactive games, personal-finance tools, trivia tests, and other activities. Find them by clicking the Applications link at the bottom of the page. But be forewarned: You may become distracted for days.


Twitter has become a media darling lately, especially now that politicians and celebrities are joining its ranks. The network also played a role in the recent protests in Iran. Unlike Facebook, which suggests connections among you and other members, Twitter does just one thing: It lets you blast short messages of 140 characters, maximum (about 14 words), to your "followers" (friends, colleagues, and strangers who've signed up to see what you're up to).

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