28 February, 2008

Facebook the Missing Manual



E.A. Vander Veer’s “Facebook, The Missing Manual” is exactly what it says it is. A manual explaining how to sign up for and use the social networking site Facebook. Not very long ago Facebook was relatively unknown outside University students and those who knew them. Now it is reported to have over 64 million users world wide. As that number has grown, it is inevitable that some of those users could use a manual to help them to navigate the site. This is who I think some of those folks might be and how I think the book might help them.

I set up an account a year or so ago and have used it to keep in touch with some friends, as well as get back in touch with old friends I had not seen in a long time. I’m not a youngster, but I am relatively active on the web and spend quite a bit of time interacting with technology on a professional and personal level. I wasn’t sure that this manual would have much to offer. At the same time, I often wondered if I was missing something with Facebook. It has been so wildly popular and I’ve talked to university students who couldn’t stand to be away from it for too long. I didn’t feel that same level of usefulness or interaction. Reading this manual has helped me clear that up somewhat.

I think I can best explain that by discussing who could use this book. I think that the person who has been using Facebook for quite a while isn’t going to find much new here. The admonitions and advice concerning security may come in handy to someone who has not considered those issues. But to find them, someone would need to start reading. Since it is a manual, this book doesn’t really lend itself well to sitting and reading it cover to cover. I just did and at times it wasn’t easy. It’s much more useful if a user wants to look up specific issues or concerns as they arise. For the experienced Facebook user, I’m going to guess this doesn’t happen very often. It is possible though that a concerned friend, seeing someone they know putting content up on Facebook that may not be wise, might want to give a copy to that friend and strongly encourage reading the chapter on security.

Someone who is considering Facebook, but isn’t sure, may find that reading through much of what Facebook has to offer might help them decide. Of course the easiest way to do that, would be to just sign up and try it out. The book is written for a user of the software – and so just reading it isn’t going to really do the job. And the book costs money where trying out Facebook is free.

So who would be able to really appreciate this book? The first group that came to my mind was parents. Parents who would like to be able to get into the world of their children and see what is going on. If they feel hesitant about signing up for the site and using it’s features, the manual can give them direct instructions. They would also be able to get specific information on what they will and wont be able to see about others, and vice versa. They may also feel better having a better understanding of the risks associated with using a Facebook account.

The second group I thought of as I read were those who might want to write the next great social network application. Rather than poking and prodding through all the various screens and forms in Facebook, Vander Veer has done all that already. It is laid out nicely and indexed. There are accompanying screen shots in color. This is a handy documentation of the Facebook user experience. Coupled with the published API information, a would be internet mogul could be well on her way to writing the next big thing.

Then there might be those who have to use Facebook. Some of you out there right now work for companies that want to develop a presence in this on-line community. But those people may not want to spend any more time on Facebook than they have to. This slim little volume could provide a shortcut to learning the ins and outs of what Facebook has to offer. There are chapters on recruiting employees, advertising and in general using Facebook from a business perspective. This includes some basic hints at how to get the most from what is available for free and what is available for the client willing to pay.

Another forced user might be someone with an employer using Facebook as a way to organize and communicate with employees. There is an entire chapter dedicated to coordinating group projects through Facebook functionality. The functionality itself didn’t sound all that great to me, but if someone is stuck using it, or will be, this book lays out how it can be done. There are also directions for the employer, who might like to set things up for their own employees.

Facebook has gained a lot of steam as I mentioned. There are millions of users, and so there are going to be more people that willingly or with a push, will be trying to connect with some segment of that audience. This manual could come in handy for any of those people. And connecting with people is the point on Facebook. I think that is why the experience has been less than overwhelming for me. It wasn’t that I was missing out on some tool or option, but rather not enough of my social circle is active on Facebook to make it really useful to me. That may change down the road, and I casually keep my account going, but the site really isn’t too difficult to use.

Of course Facebook and related privacy issues have been getting a lot of press recently. Vander Veer specifically mentions the attention garnered by Beacon and postulates that the service will be seeing some changes. I was relieved that the notes on privacy as well as the chapter dedicated to privacy are really good. They give excellent explanations of the potential issues as well as suggestions for the user who may not be inclined to worry about security. This theme is constant and where options exist to protect privacy, Vander Veer always points them out. She is very thorough on this issue, often offers advice that is good for anyone posting anything on the web.

As with many new O’Reilly titles, this one comes with 45 days free access to it electronically through Safari. The book does not come with a cd – but a handy note on the inside of the back cover explains how this saves on the cost of the book and gives directions to download all examples and anything else that would have been on a cd. To my knowledge, this is true of all the Missing Manual titles.

I’ve given this book a 9 out of 10. It is extremely thorough, easy to understand and laid out well. Any Facebook user should have no trouble finding what they need quickly. If you fall into one of the groups I’ve mentioned above, who needs to be on Facebook but doesn’t want to put in the time digging through help, this might be worth it. Or if you know someone who may not be technically inclined but who is interested in the social aspects of the network, this book given to them, could save you from having to field questions about the interface. I did get a chuckle out of O’Reilly’s tagline, “The book that should have been in the box.” It made me laugh for two reasons. Primarily because I don’t generally get software that comes with a box anymore, but also because it gave me fond memories of the days when almost all the software I bought came in a box.

Title: Facebook The Missing Manual
Author: E.A. Vander Veer
Publisher: O’Reilly Media Inc.
Pages: 268
ISBN: 0596517696
Rating: 9/10
Tagline: The book that should have been in the box.

No Comments »

No comments yet.

RSS feed for comments on this post. | TrackBack URI
You can also bookmark this on del.icio.us or check the cosmos

Leave a comment

XHTML ( You can use these tags): <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong> .