College students are networking through this nationwide fad.
By KANTELE FRANKO
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN -- Vinay Vajjhala, a premed student at Youngstown State University, admits he was a compulsive user, at least for the first month or so.
When Facebook, a trendy online directory of college students and alumni, opened its portals to YSU students in early April, Vajjhala was one of many people flocking to their computers to check messages between classes.
The site, thefacebook.com, which now has about 3 million users at 832 schools in five countries, was started by three undergraduates at Harvard. Facebook creator and CEO Mark Zuckerberg was 19 when he and two fellow sophomores, Dustin Moskovitz and Chris Hughes, launched Facebook in February 2004.
The brainchild has grown so much that Zuckerberg and Moskovitz, the company's general manager, have indefinitely postponed school to run Facebook, which is based in Palo Alto, Calif., said Hughes, the Facebook spokesman.
Though it has fewer users than other networking Web sites, such as Friendster and MySpace, Facebook is different because it targets the college-age audience.
To register with Facebook, students must have a valid ".edu" school e-mail address.
Registration is free because the site is funded entirely by advertisements. Hughes wouldn't say how much profit the site earns.
Users can post a photo and edit their profiles to include as much information as they wish -- contact information, interests, occupation, classes, clubs and more.
The site is based on the Harvard Facebook, a paper directory identifying students by their photo, hometown and major.
When a student finds a person he knows or want to learn more about, he can request to be that user's "friend," and the request can either be accepted or rejected by the user.
Some students are virtual Facebook addicts who have hundreds of friends, but others find the service less appealing.
"It's something worth looking at and checking out, but it can be overwhelming," Vajjhala said.
Though it might be a bit intimidating at first, many YSU students feel the opportunity to network is an asset because the student body is largely comprised of commuters, said senior Bob McGovern, president of the Student Government Association, which led the effort to get Facebook access for YSU students.
Hughes said the company adds schools to its list as it acquires more technology and as students submit requests and lists of e-mail addresses.
The company has no direct affiliation or association with the universities, Hughes said.
McGovern said the SGA-led campaign to get Facebook at YSU spread quickly by word of mouth and with little advertisement as students submitted information to Facebook.
And then one day, it happened. "All of a sudden I woke up and we had Facebook," McGovern said.
Since April, more than 2,015 YSU students have registered for Facebook.
Josh Hiznay, SGA vice president for financial affairs, said getting Facebook access helps commuters to bond with the school and their on-campus friends.
Hiznay, who is in the 60 percent of the site's users who log in daily during the school year, said he uses the site mostly to send messages to his Facebook friends and to check their profiles.
In addition to the messaging and profiling features, McGovern said he enjoys searching for and reconnecting with old friends on the site.
But one Facebook feature remains confusing to most users, including McGovern, though he's used it before.
"The whole poking thing -- what is that?" McGovern said sarcastically.
"Poking," as the Web site calls it, is telling a friend via a special Facebook message that he or she has been "poked."
The feature is fun but relatively pointless, Hughes said.
The company plans to add more features and hopes to offer Facebook access to the nation's 1,400 accredited institutions of higher education by the end of the year, he said.