Despite Facebook's reputation for frivolity, digging deep into the site's features uncovers a layer of tools that are serious enough for it to replace some of your desktop team-working, scheduling and productivity tools.
Its strength is making communication within groups easy to do and easy to manage. The site's modular structure also makes it possible to add handy features that are missing from the standard version of the site.
In this article we'll focus on tweaking Facebook's privacy settings to make it more secure for serious work, and use built-in features to schedule and collaborate.
There are usable productivity tools built right into Facebook's main interface. One of the best is the Groups feature. This application includes valuable collaboration features like event listing and a full discussion board. They're ideal for scheduling work and – because they're online – can be accessed from any computer with Internet access. You'll also find the usual Facebook stalwarts: a public 'wall', posted items board, photo album and news feed.
Any Facebook member can create a group and invite users on their friends list to join. To find the Groups application in Facebook, click the 'Home' link to go to your Facebook homepage (rather than your Profile page) and choose 'Groups' from the Applications panel. If you can't see the Groups link, click 'More'. If you still can't see it, click 'Edit' next to the Applications label and check the full list of installed applications for the Groups app.
When you've found the Groups link, click on it to see a page showing groups that your friends belong to – alongside a list of groups you may already belong to. To begin making a new group, just click the '+ Create a New Group' button. A form prompts you to give the group a name, brief description and category. You can also add other information such as an email contact or the group's geographical location.
At the next stage, you can customise your group's available applications, upload a profile photo and set privacy levels. It's all very similar to setting up a new Facebook profile.
Be careful when choosing whether to make your group open, closed or secret. A secret group is desirable for work-related activity, but it won't show up in search results. A closed group may be the best option, enabling all Facebook users to find the group but requiring administrators to approve membership before a user can see the group's content.
When you save the changes that you've made at this stage, you'll be prompted to publish the story to your Facebook feed.
The final step is the trickiest. You'll be prompted to select people from your friends list to join the group. Simply ticking the box next to their name adds them. You can also invite people by email. Either enter their address manually, separating each with a comma, or click the 'Import email addresses' link to upload details from your webmail account.
You may well be wondering whether social networks and work make a wise combination. Do you really want to give your office colleagues full access to your galleries, updates and Facebook profile?
Australian call centre employee Kyle Doyle wishes he hadn't. He became infamous after admitting via his Facebook status that he was still too drunk after a heavy night to make it to work. When Doyle tried to claim the day as sick leave, his employer sent him a screenshot of his Facebook page, at the top of which was written: "Kyle Doyle is not going to work: I'm still trashed. Sickie woo!" Unsurprisingly, he didn't get his day off certified.
One way to avoid your colleagues knowing a little too much about your personal life is to create a specific friends list for them. Each friends list can have its own privacy settings, so you can control exactly what content each of your friends can see. This function replaces the old 'Limited Profile' option, and though little publicised, it's much more powerful than its predecessor.
Here's how it works. Click the 'Friends' link at the top of any Facebook page, then click 'Make a new list' in the column on the left. Give this list the title 'Work'. You can add individuals to the new list by typing in their names, but the quickest way to populate it is by clicking 'Select Multiple Friends'. You'll get a full list of your friends, with 15 results displayed per page. Save the list when you're done.
Now that you have a friends list for work, you can create bespoke settings for them. Hover over the Settings link and choose 'Privacy Settings', then 'Profile'. You can now exclude the people on your Work friends list from seeing some of your Facebook information. For example, select 'Photos Tagged of You' and choose 'Customise' from the dropdown menu.
In the 'Except these people' section, type the name of the friends list you want to exclude from viewing your photos. This works for most apps and entries on your Facebook page, except the automatic feed updates on your Profile page. However, you can choose to not publish stories to your news feed.
Return to the main Privacy Setting section then select 'News Feed and Wall'. Untick any and all feed updates that may inadvertently incriminate you to make your proile more boss-friendly.
Facebook's modularity is its real strength, enabling you to add features that are missing from the vanilla version of the site. There are several applications devoted to events management, scheduling and address book tools – but can you really trust them?
Recent changes in Facebook's privacy settings have made applications much more secure than previous iterations. Now, applications that access your friends list must declare that intention upfront – and you can tweak privacy settings on an app-by-app basis. Facebook also routinely withdraws applications that don't meet its privacy criteria.
Our picks of the best include Fonebook by Ross Dargan – an application that synchronises your Facebook contacts with Outlook 2003 or 2007. Find it by going to Facebook's application page and typing 'Fonebook' into the search box.
To install Fonebook, you'll need to go to http://ross.dargan.googlepages.com. Most add-on Facebook applications are installed in a standard manner. Go to the page for the app and click 'Go to application'. You'll be asked if you want the application to have access to your profile data.
You can use this method to install the indispensable calendar tool 30 Boxes. We would rather be recommending the Facebook Google Calendar application, but it's currently broken, so we're recommending 30 Boxes instead.
Don't worry about having yet another calendar service to enter data into: grab the free desktop application Calgoo Calendar. This synchronises with Google Calendar, 30 Boxes and other scheduling services, enabling you to share all of your appointments from all of your calendars with 30 Boxes on Facebook.
First published in PC Plus, Issue 277
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