FACEBOOK….A few days ago I read that Microsoft had purchased a 1.5% stake in Facebook that valued the company at $15 billion. The 90s are back, baby! Eyeballs are king!

Well, maybe. I have my doubts. In any case, I figured I needed to see what all the fuss was about. The only way to do that was to sign up for an account and play around, so that’s what I did. Took a couple of minutes. But then what?

Well, start searching for people I know, I suppose. So I sent out a couple dozen requests asking people to be my friends. The next day I had a couple dozen friends. Now what?

Hard to say, really. Help me out here, people. I can “poke” someone, but what does that mean? Turns out it means nothing. If you poke someone, they get a notification telling them that Kevin Drum has poked them. That’s it — though Wikipedia helpfully informs me that “some users construe it as a sexual advance.” Guess I’d better watch that.

Soon, though, other people discovered I had a Facebook account and were sending me requests to be their friend. But what’s the etiquette here? Or is there one? Should I just accept all comers? Within a day I had already gotten three or four requests from people I had never heard of, including someone in China. Are they blog readers? Facebook spam? Or what?

Let’s try something else while I think about that. Someone (I forget who) had signed up for Flixster, so I did too. It asked me to rate 43 movies so I could see how compatible I was with various of my other friends. Turns out I’m 65% compatible with Garance Franke-Ruta. But wait! One of the 43 default movies was Revenge of the Sith, not Return of the Jedi. (I don’t care what George Lucas says, to me “Episode 3” is the movie that came out in 1983.) Better lower my rating. Oddly, this changes my cinematic compatibility with Garance to 63%, even though she has a low opinion of RotS. Not sure what’s going on here. In any case, I’m already suspicious of the rating system since it tells me that I’m 58% compatible with Scott McLemee, even though he hasn’t actually seen or rated a single movie on the list. I think Flixster’s algorithm assumes a little too much. (In another example of taking a bit too much for granted, Flixster apparently notified all of my friends that I wanted to compare movie taste with them, even though I answered No when it asked me if I wanted to do this. That’s really a bit much.)

What else can I do? How about looking for a simpatico group? “Tennis” or “blogs” would probably return a bazillion people, so let’s try something obscure: the German card game skat. I used to play it when I couldn’t find a fourth for bridge. Turns out there are three or four skat groups, but none with more than half a dozen people. I guess some things are too obscure even for Facebook.

Other than that, my front page is full of news of other people who have become friends with other people, along with various widgets they’ve installed and their status at the moment (“sleeping on an airplane,” “in a perpetual state of transit,” “hearing Murray Perahia tonight,” “using her long layover to sample airport sushi,” etc.). Not sure how useful this really is.

So now I’m a little flummoxed. As a contact manager, Facebook is undeniably useful. And the screen layout is surprisingly clean and corporate looking, though I’m having some trouble intuiting the location and purpose of various features. Somehow, though, I gather that Facebook is mostly useful if it’s essentially your homepage, someplace that you hang out at all the time. I’m not likely to do that, so I’m unsure just how useful I’m going to find it. But I guess time will tell.

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