There's a lot of buzz about Facebook, but what is it, exactly? What does it do? Can anybody join? How much does it cost?

In this article, I'll give you the basics of joining Facebook and what you can expect to find there. I'll explain the opportunities and services available for businesses and for individuals, based on my experience as a newbie who recently joined.

Until I became a member, I didn't really know what Facebook was. A friend of mine had told me that he met his fiancée on Facebook. Another friend said she gets together with her friends from all over the city on Facebook every Thursday from 7pm to 9pm Then I overheard a colleague say that he'd been looking for his first girlfriend for years and, just recently, found her on Facebook, living in Scotland with her deceased husband's family.

All these things left me confused. At first, I believed Facebook was an online dating service, then I thought it was a chatroom and then a worldwide phone directory. Then another colleague told me that members could advertise anything imaginable, from skiing to skydiving to skeet shooter's clay pigeons, on the Facebook Marketplace, for free. That sold me. I signed up that very day.

About Facebook

Facebook was launched in February 2004 by a young Harvard student named Mark Zuckerberg. It started out as a sort of virtual campus hangout for US Ivy League students, but quickly expanded from the university to the universe, and now anyone 13 or older can join.

It's growing quickly across the globe (250,000 people become members every day) with new sites in Spanish, German and, soon, in French.

Facebook is also gaining on the more established social networking site MySpace. Forrester Research analyst Jeremiah Owyang says, "We predict that the total registered users of Facebook will eclipse the total amount of MySpace users in quarter four of 2008 but, even with that said, MySpace and Facebook will coexist, because they both serve different purposes to different audiences."

According to Owyang, Facebook is more of a lifestyle site. That is, like the university campuses where it was launched, Facebook has become a central networking hub where its members can connect and share, in spite of their busy lives.

Its largest, growing audience is the 35+ crowd. MySpace tends to attract the younger social surfers who are more media conscious and therefore flock to MySpace's 'bands and brands' multimedia options, which include various forms of artistic self-expression.

NEXT PAGE: Joining Facebook is as easy as 1-2-3.

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