How can a new player tell what factions are out there that may be good to join? I know where to find the list, and I've been to some websites, but for someone who is brand new there are several questions.
First, say I wanted to be a ship designer. Would I join a starship company, ie Seinar? Or can you really not actually do anything if you're a member of that faction because the function isn't rolled out in the game yet?
Second, how do we guage a faction's activity level? I would be more prone to join a faction if it had active members that actually did things even if it was a faction that I potentially wouldn't enjoy as much as another.
It's usually safe to assume that all factions, or nearly all, are hiring at any given time. (: I would recommend finding a group which interests you and investigating on their site to find out more about them.
If you aren't happy with the first group you join, you always have the option of joining another.