What is it about Facebook that has attracted nearly 100 million members?
When we venture onto the World Wide Web, most of the sites we surf are for reading news, paying bills, checking e-mail, shopping or doing our work.
But Facebook is on a different, more personal level. I click the little "f" (Facebook logo) and I feel anticipation. I get ready for a little comment someone has put on my wall.
Oh, look, there's a picture of my girlfriend, Ann, walking toward the coffee shop in the new slacks she got at a yard sale. I smile, I laugh.
All I have to do is click on her picture and — zing — I'm at her Facebook, where I scan what her friends have written on her wall and what pictures they've posted.
I see a new "friend" we have in common and invite that friend to join my page — and soon I have 15 or 20 friends.
I click their pictures and catch up on all the news, most of it not very important, such as, "I'm in a bad mood today and am off to yoga to cure it." Or, "We just got back from Mexico."
So when you see that person at a coffee shop, instead of asking, "What's new?" you already know — and you ask, "How was the vacation?" says KDRV weatherman Scott Lewis, an avid Facebooker.
"I was skeptical initially," Lewis says. "Now I use it to blend business and pleasure. I get news tips. Someone just gave me a tip on missing kayakers.
"It's a virtual coffee shop. I have over 300 'friends' now. There's way too much information, so you have to scan it."
Lewis also uses Facebook in his work as a real estate broker.
People are using Facebook more and e-mail less, says Lewis, adding that he thinks Facebook will soon replace e-mail.
Erin Page of Ashland uses Facebook to connect with scads of friends, many of them from high school and grade school in Chicago — people she's not seen for decades. Long-lost cousins have reappeared, too.
"I love the pics of people. I'm not an e-mailer," says Page. "Facebook gives you a sense of being interesting in some way. People I never thought I'd connect with (from past schools) connected with me out of the blue, and I would think, 'I didn't know you even liked me!' "
You may let hundreds of friends onto your page, but you have control over your security settings and who gets your postings, pictures or letters, she notes.
"Facebook is changing the world rapidly," she says. "It gives you a sense of safety. You're not in it alone, the world's changing and we're all pretty much the same. We all have the same needs, wants, desires and fears. You realize how, as we age, all those social barriers of high school dissolve."
Although not a fan of cyber communities, Kim Whally of Ashland says Facebook has been great for opening old doors with friends from past homes in Washington and Canada. She'll check in every few weeks, see people's kids and type one-liner notes.
"You see where people are taking their lives. I learned my old piano teacher's son (from middle school years) had died. I never would have known," says Whally. "From my mother's page, I checked in with her friends and sisters, people in their 70s."
While vacationing in Mexico, Julie Freed of Ashland tried to keep up with events at home via Facebook, but she'd go into an Internet café and find teens standing in line to get on Facebook — and she couldn't get on.
Freed registered her high school and college (and graduation year), and that opened it up to classmates to contact her. Like many people, she plans to put her business (art imports) on Facebook and use it to promote sales.
"If my business world does half as good as my social network on Facebook," says Freed, "things will be fine."
John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.