At the urging of a bunch of friends, I’d signed up for a Facebook account about 4 or 5 months ago.

For those of you unfamiliar with Facebook, it’s one of several online social-networking portals, similar to Myspace, Friendster or ConnectU. At it’s heart, Facebook is designed to let you connect and talk to all the people you liked talking to during high-school/university/work, and also all the people you didn’t like talking to that much, but didn’t want to be rude. It does this by letting you maintain a list of “Friends”, which can be people you know from school, work, or that killer party at Brad’s parent’s cottage, oh my god we totally bonded, don’t you remember that?

Once “friended”, your friends can look at each other’s profile, as well as the profiles of their shared friends. Facebook also lets them upload pictures of the beautiful spouses and offspring that you don’t have, as well as letting them provide details about their lifestyles and jobs as a doctors/lawyers/International Rockstars/Millionaire Gadabouts. At present, there are no plans for allowing you to upload clips of yourself sobbing quietly on your couch.

Using the web-based browser interface, people all over the world can log into Facebook every ten minutes to check if anyone new has added them to their friends list. They can also use Facebook to send email to potential friends, asking them “Yo dude, you on Facebook yet?” There is no time restriction on this feature. This is important, because similar to Myspace, if you don’t maintain a healthy number of Facebook friends, the government can kick you off the Internet.

In exchange for having access to a complete list of your closest acquaintances, your political and religious leanings, favorite movies, books, television shows, your marital status, gender and birthdate, as well as optionally your picture and address, Facebook lets you send text messages to your friends, which are stored in their account and can be read at a later date. Think of these messages like a sort of “mail” that is transmitted “electronically”. If that sounds too future high-tech for you, Facebook also provides each account with a”wall” that your friends can write messages on. Here’s a good way to think about it: Instead of putting your mail in an envelope and then in a mailbox, you write the mail on the outside “wall” of your house, where everyone can read it. And then, instead of having a postal service take the mail out of the mailbox and deliver it to the addressee, the addressee has to drive by your house every 10 minutes to see if there’s anything written there for them.Optionally, you can have Facebook send a message to their email account, saying that there is a message on their wall. One might question why you need Facebook to email people telling them they have email, but one would be forgetting that on the Internet, if you can’t prove you have friends, then they don’t exist.

However, not everything is so touchy-feely on Facebook. After all, ex-Harvard students with millions in venture capital and a looming 10 billion dollar IPO have to eat too! In order to do so, Facebook places ads in your browser window, and also lets you buy “gifts” for your friends from the marketplace. Each gift is a picture of a real item, and costs a real dollar. So, if you’re trying to impress the object of your affection, don’t skimp out and buy them a picture of a bouquet of roses – buy them a picture of a Porsche, Big Spender! This feature should really appeal to people who think that Xbox Achievements and six-dollar Guitar Hero 2 song packs are a great deal.

Finally, the coolest thing about Facebook is the wide variety of applets you can download for your Facebook homepage. One of the most popular applets is a Wall applet that functions completely identically to the existing Facebook Wall, but non-optionally sends all your private info to a nebulous third-party. Another is Scrabulous, which is like the word-puzzle game Scrabble, except a lot faster because it doesn’t have to spend a lot of time paying the trademark holders or performing R&D on game development.

If Scrabulous isn’t your thing, there are also a wide variety of other popular games to play, such as Zombies, in which you try to bite your friends to turn them into zombies, Vampires, in which you try to bite your friends to turn them into vampires, and Werewolves, in which you try to bite your friends to turn them into werewolves.

Oops, I just got an email saying someone scored higher in a movie quiz than I did! Gotta go!

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