Just like your email program, Facebook lets you send private messages to other Facebook members. Great, you're probably thinking, just what I need: yet another inbox to check. But before you skip ahead to the next chapter, you might want to give these tools a chance. First off, Facebook makes exchanging messages dead simple—even easier than regular email. And then there are the slightly zany—but slightly addictive—ways to keep in touch with others that no email program can match. In an effort to mimic the different ways we interact with each other in real life, Facebook lets you poke (give a virtual "hey, how ya doin'?'" wave to) friends; write on their virtual message boards; and even send whimsical digital gifts. Even if you're not persuaded by any of this, it's still worth understanding the messaging system since, soon enough, you'll no doubt get a Facebook message from one of your own friends.
Lots of Web sites offer free Web-based email, and Facebook is one of them—sort of. As a Facebook member, you can send private messages to any other Facebook member (whether or not they're on your Friend List), and to regular email addresses. But only other Facebook members can send you Facebook messages. In other words, when you register for Facebook, you don't get a YourName@Facebook.com email account; people have to sign up for Facebook and follow the steps below if they want to send a message to your Facebook inbox.
Facebook temporarily grants your message recipients limited access to your profile, even if they normally can't see it (because, for example, you've blocked them [see Fighting Back]). To prevent or customize this temporary access, mouse up to the top-right part of any Facebook screen, click "privacy", and then click "Poke, Message and Friend Request" (Hiding from Facebook and Web Searches for the details).
Most of the messages you send, of course, will be to people you already know. Facebook gives you a simple set of tools that will look familiar to anyone who's used email before. Here's what you do:
At the top of any Facebook screen, click the down arrow next to Inbox, and then click Compose Message on the drop-down menu. Or, you can click the word Inbox and then click the Compose Message tab on the right side of the page that appears.
On the Compose Message page, start typing your friend's name (if she's a Facebook member), email address (for non-Facebook members), or the name of a Friend List (Viewing a Friend List). As soon as you begin typing, Facebook displays a list of your friends and Friend Lists. To select a name, click it or use the up and down arrow keys to select the name, and then hit Enter. If you're sending a message to a non-Facebook member, simply type in the person's full email address. You can add multiple recipients, if you like; just hit the Tab key after each recipient, and Facebook takes care of the rest. (See Sending a Message to More Than One Person for more on sending messages to multiple people.)
Why would you want to use Facebook to send a message to someone who's not a Facebook member? Two reasons: First, you're already in Facebook and don't want to waste time switching over to your email program (or can't, if you're using someone else's computer). Second, you want to lure this non-member friend into your Facebook social circle by giving her a taste of Facebook's coolness. When your friend clicks the Facebook-generated "Click to Reply" link in your email, she's whisked to a Facebook page she can use to preview Facebook messaging, as well as to get more info and sign up.
After you've added a recipient's name, you can delete it by clicking the "X" Facebook displays after each name, or hitting the Delete key.
Fill in the Subject line and type your message. Then, if you want to pass along a link to a Web site (or to a photo or video on the Web), click Share Link (Writing on a Friend's Wall). When you finish, click Send.
If a security box like the one in Writing on Walls appears, type in the security words you see and click Submit. Facebook sends your message and stores a copy in your Sent Messages tab, which you can view by heading to the top of any Facebook screen and clicking the down arrow next to Inbox, and then clicking Sent Messages.
Security boxes sometimes appear when you send a message, a friend request, or a poke. They keep people from using computer programs to send unwelcome messages. Computers aren't smart enough to decipher the words Facebook displays, so typing in the words proves that you're a real, live person.
There's one exception to this rule: If a Facebook member blocks you (Fighting Back), you can't contact him on Facebook—by sending him a message, poking him, or any other way.
To send a message to a non-friend Facebook member:
Click either the "Send [Name] a Message" link (which you find on a person's profile) or the Send Message link (which you find in search results). Whichever link you click, up pops the Compose Message tab. Type your message and send it off as explained Chapter 4.
Because Facebook was designed to help people communicate online just as they do offline, the site makes it easy to send a message to an individual—but a little harder to send the same message to dozens of people all at once. If you go too far down that path, the Facebook design team reasoned, you're talking spam. After all, how often do you whip out a bullhorn and address a real-life crowd of dozens?
To send messages to your friends all at once, you first need to create a Friend List (Creating a New Friend List). Then, on the Compose Message tab, head to the To field and type the name of the list.
Another exception to the no-spam rule is that Facebook lets you send the same message to every member of a group (Chapter 6)—although even then, Facebook theoretically caps the number of group recipients at 1,000. (The cap is theoretical because some Facebook members have had their accounts suspended for sending messages to a lot fewer than 1,000 people.)