It started out innocently enough: An e-mail notification, someone from high school asking for electronic consummation of acquaintanceship, a stray raindrop ahead of the dark, swirling clouds. And then, the deluge. Ten new friend requests every day. Strange names infiltrating exclusive groups. All across the country, the Class of 2009 was joining

Only 15 years ago, prospective roommates had to communicate through snail mail. Next came e-mail, then instant messenger, and now, the latest in meet-and-greet technology, the facebook. With incoming freshmen outfriending seniors at a record pace — a few members of the Class of 2009 already have upwards of 500 friends — has emerged as an important tool for incoming freshmen to socialize before even setting foot on campus. Some see it replacing traditional orientation activities; others see it opening new avenues for incoming students to meet; still others see it as a big waste of time. But while many freshmen say that joining the facebook helps them feel more a part of college life, it remains to be seen whether these virtual friendships will last past Labor Day.

Back in the Stone Age before, Clint Cave ’06 contacted his original roommates via e-mail. But Cave, now a Pierson College freshman counselor, said the Web site is helping his frosh make the adjustment to college.

“The freshmen seem pretty close already, and they can sort of recognize each other, so it’s nice,” Cave said.

But upperclassmen who are not earning their room and board by taking care of freshmen are a bit more skeptical about the new inhabitants of their virtual procrastination playground.

“One day I was absently browsing the facebook when I noticed 2009ers popping up in my facebook groups — and getting official positions in them,” said Rebecca Blum ’07, creator of a facebook group called “The Class Of 2009 Needs To Chill Out About The Facebook Dot Com.” “I was like, ‘You’re not even going to be here for another three months!’ They all had obscene amounts of facebook friends, and they had already created about 20 different groups dedicated to the Class of 2009.”

Jillian Roland ’09, whose facebook profile says her interests include “smells, soft objects and tomatoes,” is one of many freshmen who find the site habit-forming but useful.

“It’s addictive because the facebook eases the transition, socially, into college,” Roland said. “It makes me feel connected to and a part of college, college groups, college social life, etc.”

In addition, offers freshmen a chance to carefully sculpt a new image of themselves and showcase it to thousands of their new college peers. Ned Mitchell ’09 — whose facebook group memberships include “Neds of Yale,” “Ned Mitchells of Yale,” and “Manatees are Selfish” — said the profile offers a different sort of self-packaging than the kind freshmen are used to from the college application process.

“There are some people you can tell are already running for president of the United States,” he said.

Joanna Powell ’08, who came to Yale on the crest of the first facebook fad, thinks the site is valuable for freshmen but also dangerous. Pointing out how difficult it is to go to an entirely new place without knowing anybody, Powell called the facebook a kind of “safety net” for freshmen, but said she is worried about unrealistic expectations, since freshmen may soon find that they’ll never talk to most of the people they met on the site.

In accord with that advice, some freshmen frown on the high-flying facebook lives of their peers.

“If you’re going to be ‘friends’ with someone, at least talk to them first,” Sarajane Williams ’09, who has 23 friends, said. “When I first joined I would ‘befriend’ anyone that looked interesting. I think it’s a defense mechanism for freshmen. We’re all so worried about making new friends away from home that we jump on the opportunity to be ‘friends’ with someone, anyone, before we even arrive. Now I look at these people on my list and go ‘Who are you? I’ve never even talked to you!'”

Victor Wong ’09, who has 59 friends, offers a different perspective on facebook friending, saying that the freshmen just have not yet adopted the “elitist” attitude of upperclassmen.

So will the day come when we see the “friend bubble” burst like the test tube of a sleep-deprived chemical engineering student? Will the Class of 2009 ever stop caring about

“Probably when they get to be juniors, they won’t have any time for it anymore,” Blum said. “On the other hand, [the] is evil, but I still do it anyway.”

As the beginning of the school year approaches, the facebook has lost some of its novelty for the Class of 2009.

“It’s like any other trend — Harry Potter, Uggs, the O.C. — which is why the facebook caught on so quickly,” said Sarah Keesecker ’09, who started a facebook group called “Let’s all Be Friends … and Make One Class of 2009 Group.” “It is one of those things that you hate until you jump on the bandwagon, and then you become addicted like everyone else and start telling your stubborn friends to join.”

Keesecker said she doesn’t think the gave the Class of 2009 much of an advantage in acclimating to college after all. In fact, instead of using the facebook to meet new people, many freshmen like the site because it makes it so easy to stay in touch with old friends.

“I don’t think our class will have a head start due to the facebook,” she said. “I don’t think I will recognize people just from using the facebook and at the moment, it is definitely more useful for keeping track of old high school friends.”

Now, as September nears, the eye of the storm has passed. But regardless of how useful it is, will always have a home in college campuses across the nation as long as there are people who want to know if that hottie down the hall is dating anybody, if the freshman counselor downstairs is really a Republican, or if manatees are actually selfish and what makes them that way.