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Facebook not just for kids anymore
[April 06, 2009]

Facebook not just for kids anymore


Apr 05, 2009 (The Eagle-Tribune - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- Heather Rogers never planned to join Facebook.

But her friends kept telling her she had to do it. So this January, the 37-year-old Haverhill mother of two signed up.

"Five minutes later, I got my first friend request," Rogers said. "Since then, I have become an absolute addict." Facebook may have started in a Harvard dorm room nearly five years ago, but it's become so much bigger. The Web site once restricted to college and high school students now welcomes the boss, the grandparents and even those long-lost high school friends.



The social networking Web site has been attracting an average of 25 million new users a month -- and most of those new users are over age 30.

Between June 2008 and January, the number of Facebook members ages 35-54 nearly quadrupled -- and members older than 55 tripled, according to iStrategyLabs, a digital marketing agency. Facebook does not release demographic information, according to spokeswoman Kathryn Rogers Rafter.


"It's like an avalanche that's just moving. If you're not on Facebook, your friends drag you in," said Robert Scoble, an expert in blogging and other online media. "It's in total expand-like-crazy mode." Today, about 175 million people are on Facebook. Most of them are younger than 35, but so many older people are now sending messages, sharing photos and "poking" each other on Facebook that the portion of college-age users has dropped to 41 percent.

Rogers' Facebook addiction has gotten so bad that her husband bought her a wireless keyboard to connect to the 48-inch flat screen in their bedroom so she can navigate the site in comfort.

But her time on Facebook isn't all fun and games. The professional photographer also communicates with clients and takes orders on the site.

"It's good for socializing and good for business," said Rogers, owner of Beabe Gallery in North Andover.

Rogers has also found a way to help fellow addicts -- on Friday she hosted a "Ladies Night" where friends and clients could come by her studio to have flattering photos taken for their Facebook profiles. About 25 people showed up, and she's already planning another one for May 6.

"There were so many people who wanted to come and couldn't," she said.

As Facebook's demographic has matured, so have its uses. Colleges are fundraising, politicians are campaigning, and businesses are networking on the site.

However, the grown-ups using the site aren't totally stodgy and purpose-driven. Many are hooked on Facebook for the same reason teenagers are: It's fun. You can look up old friends, keep in touch with far-flung family members, and share pictures of the backyard barbecue.

When Jennifer Hart Griffin of Salem, N.H., got on Facebook in mid-December, she started looking up people she knew, including old classmates.

"I was instantly addicted," said the 34-year-old work-at-home mom. "I don't get out of the house much. It's kept me much more in touch with the outside world and what's going on." One friend led her to another, and soon the 1992 graduate of St. Mary High in Lawrence had tracked down most of her classmates. She even organized an informal reunion for the group.

Griffin said she resisted joining Facebook initially, because the site had certain stigmas.

"I think everybody thinks it's a dating site or something, but it's not," she said. "It's about staying in touch with people. It takes a lot more energy to pick up the phone than it does to jump on your computer for a minute and send a quick note. It makes you feel in touch with a bigger group of people." Griffin said she's glad she changed her mind, after getting together with people she hadn't seen in more than 15 years.

"It went great. Some had a history and close friendship, and other people didn't know each other well. But we all had the connection of going to school together, being the same age -- it was an instant bond," she. "There were lots of laughs and pictures." Now that she's on Facebook, Griffin is finding it a lot more conducive to people her age and older.

"My stepfather is on it, for crying out loud, and he's in his early 60s," she said. "Among my friends, their parents are on it, and it allows them to stay in touch. Everyone is so busy." A way to reconnect with old friends Andy Kelley of Andover joined Facebook about four years ago, but didn't actually start using it until four or five months ago. The 48-year-old owner of an advertising agency in Andover joined for business reasons, but soon found himself addicted as well.

To learn about the site, Kelley started a group centered around the Merrimack Valley (to join, go to andykelley.com). He said the purpose of the group is to have fun and provide a forum for people to talk about their memories of Lawrence.

Kelley, who grew up in Lawrence, said he founded the group because he missed his old neighborhood and thought there might be others out there like him.

"I was just on a few minutes ago," he said of the group, which now has 1,500 members. "They are always on there, always commenting, asking interesting questions." When Kelley first signed on to Facebook, he didn't understand why so many people liked it. Then he connected with a friend he hadn't seen since middle school, followed by one he hadn't seen since high school. Then he got it.

"Before I really figured it out, I thought there were two kinds of people on Facebook, the unemployed and the about-to-be-unemployed," said Kelley, who spends about three hours a day on the site. "Then I realized if you use it properly, it's a pretty effective form of communication. It's like three-dimensional e-mail." Kids may have started it, but Kelley said it's no longer just for them. Though the young are better at adopting things sooner, older people know a good thing when they see it.

"It's allowing people to get back together and reacquaint themselves with their old friends," he said. "It makes (communication) much more efficient." Scoble, the technology expert, said Facebook's popularity will eventually wane -- but not anytime soon. And it remains cool with the college crowd.

"Having older people there doesn't affect your experience," he said. "It's segregated. You have your friends, and your whole experience there is based on who your friends are." Material from The Associated Press was used in this report.

IF YOU GO --What: Facebook night at Beabe Gallery --When: Wednesday, May 6, from 6 to 10 p.m.

--Where: Beabe Gallery, 1007 Osgood St., North Andover --How: Admission is $25. For more information, visit www.BeabeGallery.blogspot.com or www.BeabeGallery.com.

To see more of The Eagle-Tribune or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.eagletribune.com. Copyright (c) 2009, The Eagle-Tribune, North Andover, Mass. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services. For reprints, email tmsreprints@permissionsgroup.com, call 800-374-7985 or 847-635-6550, send a fax to 847-635-6968, or write to The Permissions Group Inc., 1247 Milwaukee Ave., Suite 303, Glenview, IL 60025, USA.

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