Facebook to let public join site

Hot on the heels of new, controversial features, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg has announced that the popular networking site will open to the general public.

The new accessibility opens the site to all users, who will be categorized into about 500 geographic regional networks. Currently, membership is limited to students, alumni and employees of select corporations and institutions.

The launch date for the newly expanded Facebook has not yet been determined.

"A lot of people have friends who don't have a .edu address, but they still want them on the site," Zuckerberg wrote in an online news conference today. "Since our goal is to help people get a sense of what's going on with their friends, we want these people to be able to get on the site too."

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Zuckerberg said creating the regional feature was challenging because e-mail addresses are not regionally based. But he said new users will choose a region when they register, which they can change only every few months, so as to avoid network-hopping.

He denied that the expansion was a reaction to MySpace, a rival networking site with more members than Facebook.

"It makes [Facebook] a lot more like MySpace, a bit more sketchy," said Duncan Martin, a first-year graduate student in the Divinity School. "It's a Catch-22 for Facebook-they want to expand their market, but they become just like MySpace."

The announcement of expansion comes less than a week after two controversial options were added to the site. The news feed and mini-feed features, which were added Sept. 5, aroused the ire of users and inspired national media coverage.

Zuckerberg defended the decision to add the feeds in Thursday's news conference, adding that the features would not be removed.

"Some people have said they think the feeds are too much, but I think they just surface information that was already there in an easier way," he said. "We've received a lot of feedback from people that they learned things about their friends that they would have otherwise missed."

Zuckerberg said, however, that the change should have been preceded by the creation of better privacy controls.

Sophomore Deepika Ravi said she didn't think the new controls helped reach the site's mission, as stated in a message from Zuckerberg to members Tuesday, which was "to help people understand what was going on in their world a little better."

"If that's their goal, I think they need to try something a little different," she said. "People are going to be less comfortable with the privacy controls."

Other students said they have closed their profiles to avoid monitoring by school administrators or potential employers. In the past, students have been reprimanded based on information posted on their Facebook profiles. Last November, nine North Carolina State University students were cited by a resident assistant who saw photographs posted on the site.

"I just closed my profile to everyone but my friends," said freshman Jesse McKevitt. "I was at a job interview and I heard people talking about printing up Facebook profiles for people."

Facebook spokesperson Chris Hughes said individuals must decide what privacy setting is most comfortable for them.

"It's not really about whether we're comfortable with [employers using the site] or not," he said. "It's up to our individual users. Nothing is being forced on you."


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