Here's the situation: you're interested in what's happening in the lives of a few of your friends, but you're reluctant to open up Facebook lest you get submerged in the usual tide of branded offers, game requests, and inane updates from people you haven't seen for several years. Don't worry! There are ways to check Facebook without actually having to deal with Facebook.
Who do you want to hear from?
Unfortunately, you are going to have to dive into Facebook to set this up, but it won't take long. And once you're finished, you may never have to open the app again.
The first thing to do is to specify who you to hear updates about. The easiest way to do this is to add your favourite contacts to the Close Friends list, which Facebook has conveniently created automatically for you. Click Friends from the left-hand navigation pane then Close Friends to see who's currently on it.
Choose Manage List then Edit List to make changes. From the subsequent dialogue box, you can add or banish contacts as required. It's worth noting that your acquaintances won't know that you're basically creating a Facebook-friends caste system; your Close Friends list is kept private and can't be viewed by anyone else, so you won't be hurting anyone's feelings along the way.
All set? Good. From now on, updates from anyone in this list will appear in the alerts we're going to set up in the next step.
How do you want updates?
Open up your Facebook settings from the drop-down menu on the toolbar and head to the Notifications page. You'll see there are two sections covering which notifications you get and how you get them. Click Edit next to Close Friends Activity to reveal the option to sign up for email notifications. Activating this feature will send updates from the close friends you identified earlier straight into your inbox.
Via the Edit link next to the Email heading above, you can customise your email alerts further. Make sure the All notifications radio button is checked. You can opt out of specific types of alerts as they hit your email client by clicking on the unsubscribe link at the end of the message.
Another way of getting pertinent alerts is via SMS. Click on the Edit link by the Text message heading to get this up and running. If you haven't yet added a mobile number to Facebook, choose Mobile from the main settings menu and follow the instructions on the screen. You can change your status via text as well as receiving updates from your friends, should you wish.
If email or SMS updates don't appeal, there's always RSS. Open up your notifications bubble, click See All, and you'll spot an RSS link at the top. Plug this into your reader of choice and you get all of your notifications—including posts from your Close Friends group—injected straight into your stream. If there's anything in particular you don't want to hear about, use the Turn off cross icons on the right of the Your notifications page.
If you want to get fancy, you can always use IFTTT to do more with this RSS feed and plug it into a different service, should you want to turn your Philips Hue lights pink every time your girlfriend posts (or something similar).
So that's how it's done—everything you want to hear about on Facebook sent directly to your inbox, mobile phone, or RSS client. If you do see a notification of interest—your face tagged in a photo perhaps—then you might still have to head back to Facebook to see it, but these steps should make your social networking much more efficient—and free from T-shirt ads with your name on them.