Learn Facebook Tutorial - How Facebook Works

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Learn Facebook Tutorial: Basics of How Facebook Works

Learn Facebook home page
Facebook's home page offers each user a personalized news feed in the middle, links to other Facebook features on the left and much more.

About This Facebook Tutorial

This step-by-step "Learn Facebook Tutorial" explains what every new Facebook user should know to understand how Facebook works in six areas listed below. Pages 2 through 7 of the steps that follow this page address each key area and feature of the Facebook network:

  • Facebook Account Set-up (2)
  • Using Facebook Profile/Timeline (3)
  • Connecting with Friends (4)
  • Understanding Facebook's Interface (5)
  • Communicating with Friends (6)
  • Privacy Settings and Controls (7)

Facebook Overview

But first, a thumbnail: Facebook is the Internet's most widely used social network, with nearly 1 billion people using it to connect with old friends and meet new ones. Its stated mission is to make the world "more open and connected" by connecting people and facilitating communication between them.

People use Facebook to create personal profiles, add other users as "Facebook friends" and share information with them in myriad ways. How Facebook works can be a bit mysterious to new users, but it's all about communication, so learning the network's core communication tools is essential.

After signing up and adding friends, people communicate with some or all of their Facebook friends by sending private, semi-private or public messages. Messages can take the form of a "status update" (also called a "post"), a private Facebook message, a comment about a friend's post or status, or a quick click of the "like" button to show support for a friend's update or a company's Facebook page.

Once they learn Facebook, most users share all kinds of content - photos, videos, music, jokes, and more. They also join Facebook interest groups to communicate with like-minded people whom they might not otherwise know. After growing familiar with how Facebook works, most people also use special Facebook applications that are available to plan events, play games and engage in other activities.

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New Facebook Account Set Up

Facebook account signup form
Facebook account signup form.

The first step in using Facebook is to sign up and get a new Facebook account. Go to www.facebook.com and fill out the "Sign Up" form on the right. You should give your real first and last name along with your email address and the rest of the form. Click the green "sign up" button at the bottom when you're done.

Facebook will send a message to the email address you provided with a link asking you to confirm your email address. You'll need to do this if you want full access to Facebook's features.

If you're signing up to create a business or product-related page on Facebook, click the link below the sign-up form that says "create a page for a celebrity, band, or business" and fill out that sign-up form instead.

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Learn Facebook - How Facebook Timeline/Profile Works

new Facebook Tmeline
New Facebook Timeline; this user has added a profile photo of himself but no Cover Photo, which will go in the gray area behind his profile pic.

After signing up for Facebook, skip the next part where it asks to import your email contacts to help build your friend list. You can do that later. First, you should fill out your Facebook profile before you start connecting with many friends, so they'll have something to see when you send them a "friend request."

Facebook calls its profile area your Timeline because it arranges your life in chronological order and displays a running list of your activities on Facebook. At the top of the Timeline is a large horizontal banner image which Facebook calls your "cover" photo. Inset below it is an area reserved for a smaller, square "profile" picture of you. You can upload the image of your choice; until you do, a shadowy avatar will appear.

Your Timeline page is also where you can upload basic biographical information about yourself--education, work, hobbies, interests. Relationship status is a big deal on Facebook, too, though you don't have to publicize your relationship status if you don't feel like it. This Timeline/profile area is where other people will go to check you out on Facebook, it's also where you can go to check out your friends because each of them has a Timeline/profile page.

Our Facebook Timeline Tutorial explains much more about how to fill out your profile and use the Timeline interface to edit what people will see when they visit your Facebook profile.

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Find and Connect with Friends on Facebook

Facebook invite friends interface
Facebook invite friends interface.

After filling out your profile, you can start adding friends by sending them a "friend request" via an internal Facebook message or to their email address if you know it. If they click to accept your friend request, their name and a link to their profile/Timeline page will automatically appear on your list of Facebook friends. Facebook offers various ways to find friends, including a scan of your existing email contact list if you grant access to your email account.

Searching for individuals by name is another option. Our Facebook search tutorial explains how Facebook search works, so you can look for people you know on Facebook. As soon as you have a few friends and have "liked' some companies, comments or products, then Facebook's automated friend recommendation tool will kick in and start showing you links to "people you may know." If you recognize their face when their profile image appears on your Facebook page, you can just click the link to send them a friend request.

Organize Your Facebook Friends

Once you have a lot of friend connections, it's a good idea to organize your Facebook friends into lists, so you can send different types of messages to different groups. The Facebook friends list feature is a great way to manage your friends to accomplish that.

You can also choose to hide Facebook friends whose messages you don't really want to see; the hide feature allows you to maintain your Facebook friendship with someone while keeping their messages from cluttering up your daily stream of Facebook updates. It's really useful for dealing with friends who publish minutia of their lives.

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Facebook Interface: News Feed, Ticker, Wall, Profile, Timeline

Facebook news feed
The Facebook publishing or status box is at the top of the page. Your news feed is a continuous stream of updates from your friends appearing below the status box, in the middle column of your home page.

What trips up people new to social networking tends to be the Facebook interface; it can be hard to understand when you first join because it's not immediately apparent what determines the material you see on your homepage or profile page--or even how to find those pages.

News Feed Appears on Your Homepage

When each user signs in, they are shown a homepage containing a personalized stream of information that Facebook calls the "news feed" or "stream;" it's full of information posted by their friends. The news feed appears in the middle column of the homepage. You can always return to your personal homepage by clicking the "Facebook" icon at upper left on every Facebook page.

In the news feed are posts or status updates that a user's friends have posted to the network, typically shown only to their Facebook friends. Each user sees a different news feed based on who their friends are and what those friends are posting. The feed can include more than just text messages; it can also contain photos and videos. But the main point is that this stream of updates on your homepage is all about your friends and what they're posting.

Ticker Appears on the Right

On the right sidebar of the homepage is the "Ticker," Facebook's name for a different stream of information about your friends. Instead of status updates or posts, the Ticker announces each activity your friends take in real time, such as when someone makes a new friend connection, likes a page or comments on a friend's post.

Timeline and Profile: All About You

In addition to a homepage featuring news from friends, each user has a separate page that is all about themselves. For years Facebook called this the "profile" or "wall" area. But Facebook redesigned and renamed the profile/wall area and started calling it "Timeline" in 2011. You can reach your Timeline page by clicking your name at the upper right on every Facebook page.

This tutorial on the Facebook News Feed, Wall, and Profile explains more about the differences between these areas.

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Facebook Communication System - Status Updates, Messages, Chat

Facebook publishing box
The Facebook publishing box is where people type status updates and post to the network. An audience selector below it controls who can see each message.

Communication is the heartbeat of Facebook and takes place in various forms, including three major ones:

Status Updates

"Status update" is what Facebook calls a message that you post via the publishing box that says "What's on your mind?" The publishing box (shown in the image above) appears at the top of both your homepage and Timeline page. People use status updates to communicate their activities, post links to news stories, share photos and videos, and comment on life in general.

Internal Messages

Messages are private notes you can send any friend you're connected with on Facebook; they're viewable only by the person to whom they're sent and do not go into the news feed or ticker for viewing by your network of friends. Rather, each message goes into the recipient's Facebook inbox which functions like a private email address. (Each user is actually assigned a username@facebook.com email address for this private inbox.) By default, messages also get forwarded to the external email address the user has provided to Facebook.

Live Chat

Chat is Facebook's name for its instant messaging system. You can engage in real-time conversation with any of your Facebook friends who happen to be online and signed in at the same time as you are. The Facebook Chat box is on the lower right side of the interface and contains a small green dot next to "Chat." Clicking it will open the chat box and show a green dot next to the name of friends who happen to be signed into Facebook at that time. Facebook Chat has a gear icon with settings you can change to determine who can see that you're online and when.

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How Facebook Privacy Works: Control Who Sees What

Facebook privacy controls
Facebook privacy controls let you select who can see each item you post.

Facebook lets each user control who can see their personal information and each bit of content they post to the network. There are global settings that every user should tweak for their personal privacy comfort level when they first start using Facebook.

There are also individual controls--through the audience selector button below the publishing box, for example--that you can apply to change the viewing permission for posts on a case by case basis. You might want to let only your closest friends see some of your wilder or ridiculous activities, for example, while keeping those hidden from your work colleagues or dear old Mom.

Our Facebook​ privacy settings tutorial explains how to set your general privacy options on the network, and how to set privacy on a case-by-case basis too. For the short version, this article explains three quick steps you can take to make your Facebook private.

More Guides to Using Facebook