No wonder the Facebook is an Internet sensation at campuses across the nation. Constantly updated by its 2.8 million registered users at more than 800 colleges and universities, the Facebook takes the local malt shop social nexus of the 1950s and makes it universal.
Started by three Harvard sophomores in February 2004 as an online directory to connect the higher education world through social networks, the Facebook now registers more than 5,800 new users a day.
"It becomes part of your daily routine. It's e-mail, the news, the weather, Facebook," said Lucas Garza, a senior from San Antonio studying aerospace engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology.
Users of Facebook can post a photo and a profile of themselves for free. The profiles include as little or as much information as the user desires, including basic biographies, lists of hobbies and interests, even home address and cell phone number.
Users control who can see their profiles - from only friends to all other users. Other users can then search the profiles for classmates, childhood acquaintances, people who share common interests.
When users identify someone on the site they'd like to meet, they can ask to be designated as a "friend," a characteristic of other social networking Web sites such as Friendster or LinkedIn.
Facebook friend requests can come from anyone on the site, including "some random drunk person you met at a party whose name you don't remember," said Garza, who has 143 "friends" on Facebook.
The site has become so ubiquitous among college students that they tell others to "facebook" them - to look them up on the site. Browsing it is known simply as "facebooking."
Site creators Mark Zuckerberg, Chris Hughes, and Dustin Moskovitz were roommates at Harvard when they designed Facebook so fellow Harvard students could get to know those living in other dorms. (The name comes from the real-life books of freshmen's faces, majors and hometowns that many colleges distribute to incoming students). The Web site proved so popular that the trio made it available to students at Columbia, Stanford and Yale within a month.
With Facebook's success, Moskovitz and Zuckerberg left Harvard to run it as a 10-person company out of Palo Alto, Calif. Moskovitz had been studying economics; Zuckerberg, computer science and psychology. Hughes, a history and literature major, is studying abroad in Paris.
"It's all at once a `real-world' job and something surreal," Hughes said. "Instead of entering a company and working your way to the top, Mark has created something that has allowed him to start right off in the CEO seat."
Hughes said Facebook turns a profit, mostly from advertising. He refused to disclose the private company's earnings.