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Last Updated: Tuesday, 29 May 2007, 09:22 GMT 10:22 UK
How to make friends on Facebook
By Rory Cellan-Jones
Technology Correspondent, BBC News

Facebook profile page

Short of friends on Facebook? Wondering why you have no mates on MySpace? I have the answer. Just write a few words pondering whether social networking is for the over-40s and you will be swamped with offers of friendship.

That is what happened to me after I wrote an article here suggesting that the likes of Facebook, MySpace and bebo might well be revolutionising the social interactions of the under-30s, but would not work for my generation

A lot of people wanted to prove me wrong. On Facebook, which seems to be the hottest network right now, more than 700 people have been in touch to offer friendship.

Facebook group

To my embarrassment they have even set up a Facebook group called Befriend Rory Cellan-Jones.

In the words of a veteran presenter of Radio 4's Today Programme when I revealed this on air: "How sad is that?"

Friends list
I have also received dozens of thought-provoking messages from older networkers

After the initial excitement of being the most popular boy in school, I quickly sobered up and stopped accepting friendship requests.

After all, I reasoned, my real friends would be put off from joining my network if they had to fight their way through the crowds. That annoyed some Facebookers.

"It's not about KNOWING the people you add as friends, and you don't have to say anything to them. Just add them and make yourself look more popular - it's what all the cool kids are doing," said Beth Rowell from Oxford.

"Without being too harsh on the old guy - could it be that he doesn't understand how to add friends?" wrote Andrew Loughran on "the wall" - a sort of public space - of the Befriend group.

Fraying edges

But I have also received dozens of thought-provoking messages from older networkers, keen to prove you can be middle-aged on MySpace or fraying around the edges and still use Facebook.

"I am a 50-something student of French and German on a year abroad in France at the moment," wrote Sharon Baker. "I have quite a few friends 40 odd and I use it to keep in touch with my university friends, but also my children, nieces, children of friends of my age, lecturers etc."

"As a fellow 40-something year old, I can vouch for its usefulness for staying touch with students, " wrote Mike Peatman, a college chaplain in Lancaster.

"Personally, I think Facebook could work really well for much older people than us. One could have a social life as a housebound person with this technology. The problem would be getting people to embrace the culture."

"My wife and I just joined this week," said Douglas Scott, "Our sons sent us invitations (probably with great trepidation). I've just turned 60 and I think most of my contemporaries must be computer illiterate; which probably accounts for their online non-existence."

I am also still using Twitter to talk to a small network of half a dozen middle-aged friends.

Most of the older users seem to have joined in order to keep in touch with their offspring. But will the younger people in these online communities find the idea of Mum or Dad lurking over their shoulder that attractive?

I know my son doesn't want me spying on his Facebook profile.

And I can't help noticing that most users of these sites are people you would not think needed them - students with very active social networks all living in close proximity.

It seems the virtual worlds of Facebook, MySpace and bebo are just a way of managing a thriving real world social life.

Common room

As one departing Facebook member wrote to me, "these sites are an extension of the school/college canteen or common room. When you leave college you outgrow the need for a site like this."

So am I going to keep on networking? Well, I'm certainly spending (or in my wife's words "wasting") a lot of my time checking my Facebook wall, browsing discussions and even thinking of setting up my own group.

I am also still using Twitter to talk to a small network of half a dozen middle-aged friends.

The content of the messages on my mobile has moved beyond the state of the lawn. Suburbman and The Clackster have had an intense discussion about Bob Dylan, I have been mocked for describing an arthouse movie.

But TopDoc has gone quiet, having departed with the family to West Wales, and when I spoke to Mrs Topdoc just before their departure she made it clear that the constant twittering was driving her mad.

So I will give it a few weeks yet, and see whether social networking makes me a better connected person.

I am, though, a little concerned by the reaction of one old friend - a distinguished Welsh broadcaster - when I suggested he should join me on Facebook: "Don't be ridiculous," he said, "I'm 49."




SEE ALSO
Too old for networking?
29 May 07 |  Technology
Hyper-connected generation rises
09 May 07 |  Technology
Facing up to Facebook fears
09 May 07 |  Technology

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