Facebook, Myspace keep students glued

If you’re searching for someone’s photo, street address, favorite color or deepest, darkest secret, it may be accessible thanks to the Internet and Web sites such as Facebook.com, Myspace.com and Postsecret.com.

“It’s a good way to talk to people and meet people in your major,” said junior Sarah Nolan, a nursing major.

“You can search throughout USF specifically; it’s pretty cool,” said Cat VanVliet, a junior majoring in finance and one of Facebook’s more than 4.1 million registered users.

There are many reasons why people frequent sites such as these, but the 2 billion hits a month on Facebook alone can’t all be people with academic pursuits, right?

“I use (Facebook) now and then to pick up girls,” said W. Ryan Thomas, a junior engineering major. “But mostly I just look at the pictures and show the hot ones to my roommates.”Thomas describes the experience of virtual eye candy as exciting. “It’s like checking out someone in the mall for an hour and them never knowing.”

Facebook spokesman Chris Hughes acknowledges the draw between the sexes.

“People are able to see more details about girls or guys they find cute,” he said.Thomas uses a feature on Myspace.com that allows users to rate pictures of other users by attractiveness.

Online communities allow users to access the names, photographs and personal interests of millions of people, most of whom are in the 18-to-24 age bracket. Unlike other sites, Facebook does not allow people to view profiles unless they are a student at the same school.

“You have to add people as friends before you can view their profiles; random people from other schools can’t just talk to you,” said Brittney Lococo, a senior marketing student.If profiles and photographs are not enough for viewers, many sites, such as Myspace and Xanga.com, provide users with blogs. Management information systems sophomore Erika Jarbi said she prefers Myspace because of the blog option but said that it’s “an extension of things like Livejournal.com: just a lot of emo kids talking about killing themselves.”

For viewers and writers alike, Jarbi said that the blog phenomenon is “drama on a Web page.”

If looking at the profiles of classmates or reading others’ innermost thoughts seems too demure, there are darker corners of the Web. Sites such as Postsecret.com allow people to mail in “a regret, hope, funny experience, unseen kindness or childhood humiliation. Reveal anything as long as it’s true and you have never shared it with anyone before.”

These revelations are presented on a themed postcard and subsequently posted anonymously online. One secret posted to the site read, “I swear in front of my Mormon friends on purpose.”For those not afraid to peer out from behind the computer screen, Postsecret has the Postsecret Project, a traveling exhibit displaying the various postcards. A variety of these postcards showed up in a recent All-American Rejects music video. According to the Postsecret Web site, the band obtained the cards by donating $2,000 to the National Hopeline Network, a suicide prevention service.

Are visitors of sites such as Facebook, Myspace and Postsecret a new generation of voyeurs? Or, as Hughes said, is it just people looking to “screw around in those five minutes of downtime before an appointment or to match a face with a name that comes up in conversation?” Few people will actually tell you that they are members of online communities just to look for guys or to read others’ intimate details, but with sites like these racking up more than 70 million hits an hour, someone is always looking at something.