UK Web Focus

Innovation and best practices for the Web

UK Universities On Facebook

Posted by Brian Kelly (UK Web Focus) on 9 November 2007

Via a blog post on Michael Stephen’s Tame The Web blog I discovered that organisations can now have a presence in Facebook, which had previously been restricted to individuals.

So which have been the first UK Universities to stake their claim in Facebook? A Facebook search for organisations containing the word ‘university’ revealed (on Friday 9 November 2007) a total of 76 hits which included, in alphabetical order, the following UK Universities: Aston, Cardiff, Kent and the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan).

This raises lost of interesting issues: who set up these pages?; was approval sought?; will there be battles over the ownership of the pages?; what trends will we see over how these pages look and the embedded applications they will provide?; how popular will they be?; will the look-and-feel and history of these pages be preserved?; etc.

It’s just like 1993 and 1994 all over again. Have we learnt from our experiences when we first set up our first organisational Web sites, or are we doomed to repeat the mistakes – and perhaps, as a indication of progress, discover new mistakes that we can make?

And this time, unlike the early 1990s, will it be the marketing people who are keen to establish a presence in this popular social networking service with the techies warning about the dangers of data lock-in and lack of interoperability?

In order to ensure that a record of what one of the first UK University pages in Facebook looked like shortly after this service was launched, here is a screen image of the most active of these pages: the University of Central Lancashire, on 9 November 2007.

UCan page in Facebook (on 9 Nov 2007).

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35 Responses to “UK Universities On Facebook”

  1. Some good points there, Brian. As am finding out by setting up and maintaining groups, Facebook somewhat restricts the options and flexibility for doing this kind of thing. Why can’t a group name be changed? Why does the admin of a closed group have to approve the tagging of pictures by a non-admin group member?

    The springing up of academic organisations will make some of these restrictions more apparent and hopefully get the developers to iron them out. However, despite this and the “type and go” nature of Facebook, it’s evident that some boring planning has to be carried out. Plus a few decisions, using the options of Facebook (e.g. closed or open group), made about how the group/profile will operate.

  2. Hi John

    Yes, I wonder how long it will take to move on from “Our University presence on Facebook is great: I can install new applications easily and don’t have to face internal battles and corporate inertia” to “Oh no, more admin tasks to carry out; more flame wars to stamp out“? To be followed by “If only we had set up a presence in ‘enter name of latest environment’

    But on the other hand, who would want to be one of the few universities not to have a presence in a popular environment?

    You’re dammed if you do and dammed if you don’t” to quote one of my inspirational heroes.

  3. Will expand on that with current predicament. I set up a group called “UKOLN” which is for past and present staff to upload pictures, reminisce and so forth. Which some have started to do (15 members, 23 well-tagged pictures, 2 anecdotes to date).

    It’s a closed group i.e. for staff only, with admins from current and previous staff. Closed on the basis that it’s a more familiar and less inhibiting, more private arena. If it was an open group, then alumni may not reminisce about *that* incident in Amsterdam, or *that* one in the swimming pool post-conference dinner, you know what I mean. Also, it’s easy to turn a closed group into an open one if desired – but going the other way would mean kicking out all the non-staff people (not very nice).

    However, realised this morning after reading Brians post that UKOLN may want to set up their own group called, simply, UKOLN. An open group to publicise and engage with the community. No problem; I’ll just change the current group name to “UKOLN Staff”.

    No such luck; in the help section on “Can I change the name of a group”, it says:

    Sorry, but once the group is created the name can’t be changed. No one wants to wake up one morning and notice that their “Chuck Norris Rules” group has been changed to the “Tony Danza Fan Club.”

    Very witty. Very unhelpful :-(

    If this were a website, simple domain switching would solve the problem. But it isn’t. Options:

    1. Keep things as they are, but people will encounter a closed group when looking for a UKOLN group, which doesn’t make UKOLN look open. And if UKOLN wanted to create an official group, they’d have to call it something other than UKOLN – also not good for UKOLN.
    2. Open up the group, but lose the “alumni” cachet. Inform members first so they can remove anything they don’t want fully open. Lose of more private Facebook space.
    3. Create a new group, “UKOLN Staff”, then reinvent the wheel by re-uploading, re-tagging, re-joining – as Facebook does not offer the facilities to download, save, export pictures or other stuff. Stupid and inflexible. Turn the current group into an open group, and hand over to info team in UKOLN to run.

    Roll on Facebook 2.0 when these problems can be easily resolved :-(

  4. Hi John

    What you’ve described is a great example of the data lock-in problems which many people have criticised Facebook for – you won’t be able to get your data into other systems. In your case, you can’t get your data from one part of Facebook to another!

    This is an excellent example of such problems. I’m pleased it has been surfaced – but it’s unfortunate that it’s causing you such grief.

  5. Hmmm, interesting…

    Seems to me that it is UKOLN that have the “grief”, not John… in the sense that John has set up a group called UKOLN and is now asking you what you’d like to do with it. The issue, in this case, is not so much about lock-in as ownership. Supposing I create a group or organisation profile called ‘University of Bath’ (to be used by ex members of staff at the Uni to share their reminiscences) and then ask someone at the Uni if they mind?

    Note, this is not intended to be critical of what John has done… everything in Facebook is fair game in a sense? But there is a real lesson for institutions and other organisations here. In the case of Eduserv, I set up the ‘Eduserv’ Facebook group before some ex-member of staff did – by accident rather than design I hasten to add! That means it is under our control, at least to a certain extent (not that we’ve done anything useful with it you understand). Perhaps someone at UKOLN should have been quicker off the mark? Perhaps UKOLN are happy to have someone else set up a group in their name?

    Note that I haven’t created a Facebook profile for Eduserv yet – so that is still open and available to be abused/mis-appropriated. I have requested an Eduserv network – but I don’t think Facebook have much of an interest in creating networks for relatively small UK not-for-profits! :-)

  6. Hi Andy
    To be fair, John did inform me about this group and has invited me to be a co-owner. We have been having discussions about its role and how it may be perceived. For what it’s worth, I see advantages in an informal group for use by previous and current members of staff of an organisation. And in such cases, co-ownership would be sensible, I feel.

    I have also created a UKOLN page, in order to claim this space, but haven’t publicised it as I feel there’s a need to establish governance procedures. And as I only found out that you could have organisational page in Facebook while reading my PDA on the bus this morning, we haven’t got round to having the discussion yet!

    BTW the scope for a network for the organisation is interesting. I must admit I haven’t looked into how hierarchies of networks can be used – I’m in the University of Bath network, and also the University of Bath staff sub-network, I think. Can this be used as a communications channel just for staff, I wonder? And can the equivalent sub-networks for students be used when students want to have discussions without staff listening in?

  7. Re: ownership. Interesting concept; I don’t regard myself as group “initialiser” as also being the “owner”. One plus of Facebook is the ease of adding admins with equal powers.

    The quicker off the mark thing is also interesting. There’s a problem for universities, organisations such as UKOLN. Everytime a Web 2.0 service emerges (and thousands have done so), should each organisation:
    (a) dedicate resource to monitoring their emergence
    (b) dedicate more resource to quickly snapping up their associated title for that service e.g. UKOLN MySpace group, UKOLN Facebook group, so no-one else does

    That’s a headache, especially for PR units in HE.

    This situation has occured, and is occuring, in Second Life. One very high profile UK university discovered some students had set up an island in it’s name. There was some aggro, it got removed, and now they are creating an official one. Suspect this has happened with several other such institutions.

    (Sudden malicious thought. Like domain name “gold rushing” – what happens this afternoon if I set up an academic group for each UK university that hasn’t got one yet? Can I then sell them, as admin access, onto the universities and make some dosh, or would Facebook simply shut them down or hand them over upon receiving a complaint?)

  8. [...] allows organisations to set up their own groups. Brian Kelly described this on his blog entry today, and the comments beneath are about some of the problems this may [...]

  9. @brian yes I completely agree about the usefulness of the (UKOLN) group being open and we have tried to make the Eduserv group likewise – that is the nature of Facebook (by and large) after all – though we haven’t generated as much activity, probably because John didn’t used to work for us! I didn’t mean to imply otherwise.

    re: claiming but not publishing UKOLN profile… i have done the same for eduserv, though i clicked the publish button without thinking very hard. Suspect that your approach is better. Not that it matters too much.

  10. Note I have used del.icio.us to bookmark UK University pages in Facebook using the tag ‘uk-university-facebook-pages’.

    If others use the same tag to bookmark their own institutional presence in Facebook then Tony Hirst’s deliShow: A del.icio.us RSS Slide Show utility can be used to provide a slideshow of the pages in Facebook.

  11. spanner77 said

    Hi Brian,

    Read your post and dashed off to reserve our official name ‘University of Aberdeen’ and the thing that everyone calls it, namely, ‘Aberdeen University’ and doing so discovered an extant ‘Aberdeen University’ group with 372 folk in it. Ostensibly this is fine, but I noticed prospective student enquiries on the ‘Wall’ (groan) which obviously aren’t being answered, or worse, are being answered by the group admin (who appears to be a student).

    With Web 1.0 there’d be a cut-off where you’d say, “well, clearly this isn’t an official site”, but now since lot of us ARE setting these up and ‘embracing the half-arsedness’ the boundaries are a lot more blurred. How do you know that these presences you’ve found so far are official? Etc etc etc.

    Cheers,

    Mike

  12. How do you know that these presences you’ve found so far are official? Etc etc etc.

    Good question. Maybe if the UK HE sector agreed on certain conventions covering officially-sanctioned presences in Facebook, MySpace, Bebo, etc. this could help. We could have a logo which could only be used on such approved areas, and we’d then be able to stop people if they misused the logo – and also brand nationally the officially-sanctioned logo.

    We’re then only have to stop the in-house battles over the ownership :-)

    Would that be an approach worth pursuing? Would an organisation such as Hero be the body to get involved? They could then link to the offocial areas from the Hero portal?

  13. Mike Nolan said

    Spanner77:

    Ostensibly this is fine, but I noticed prospective student enquiries on the ‘Wall’ (groan) which obviously aren’t being answered, or worse, are being answered by the group admin (who appears to be a student).

    IME students answering questions is a good thing, even if they’re honest!

  14. so, for those unis who have a “page” (with new revised Ts&Cs) on facebook…what are your strategic objectives? key performance indicators? external target audience, or a mix of internal and external?

    it’s all gone a bit wild west around this area of SNS, because of the apparent zero cost of setting up a flickr/youtube/myspace/facebook/bebo/etc account…but the real cost, of course, lies in the maintenance, and even more fundamentally: if a site like facebook is treated like any other publication, who monitors corporate identity, tone of voice, factual accuracy of information, etc? or do many universities/departments take a cavalier “oh, it’s only facebook” approach? imagine if a single uni department produced a crappy little video and wanted to publicise the uni worldwide with it…would your organisation stand for that? so how’s facebook etc different?

  15. Good questions, Patrick.

    My (current) view is that institution should stake a (low cost) claim in Facebook, and look at automated processes for maintaining the content (i.e RSS feeds, Flickr streams, etc.) with alerting tools for walll posts which would feed into existing input channels. However I’m now not sure how much control one has over management of the applications on such pages.

    But as well as the management issues you have suggested that we need to consider I would also add the risks and missed opportunity costs of doing nothing. Remember the managers in 1993 who made similar points in seeking to defend a Gopher service.

  16. [...] Putting an institutional stamp on things Nov10 10 November 2007, Gráinne @ 10:02 am Brian Kelly is having a ‘Groundhog day’ moment with the announcement that institutions can now have a [...]

  17. These Universities already have a precence on Facebook – Kent has a network with 12,000 students on it, for example. Therefore, why are we saying that all Universities should setup their own organisation page? It wont attract the existing student base and for prospective students, they will merely see it as marketing – it has no attraction for social networking. It seems another example of the Web 2.0 concept of “we need a blog/wiki/social network/Facebook page/etc, but we don’t know what we want it for” that is rife.

    Moreover, it could be seen as a negative thing – it could look like the organisation muscling in on these unofficial networks with an official network. It also seems a bit hypocritical for people who really believe in Web 2.0 to be saying, “its really important that we get a page on Facebook where we own and control all the content on it!”. The beauty of Facebook is that the students run it their way – there is a real tipping point here, and that is the very moment a University tells or suggests students in an official capacity to “join this or that group” on Facebook. Once that happens, I believe Universities will have gone too far and will have subverted the point of Facebook.

  18. My (current) view is that institution should stake a (low cost) claim in Facebook, and look at automated processes for maintaining the content (i.e RSS feeds, Flickr streams, etc.) with alerting tools for walll posts which would feed into existing input channels.

    strangely, thats exactly what i was talking about with my colleague yesterday when we were discussing the new “pages” feature now on facebook. it’s very similar to what i personally do with my faceook page – it aggregates my content, rather than being used to create native FB content directly (apart from the odd wall post and stuff).

  19. @Mark Sammons: When you say “Universities … will have subverted the point of Facebook” I’m reminded of the time, around 1994, when the Web started to be used by commercial organisations, and we started to develop Intranets. “But the Web’s for researchers” and “The Web’s about open information” argued the purists, suggesting that the original purpose of the Web was being subverted.

    Just like the Web itself, the original purpose and audience of Facebook has changed. And now large organisations (such as the BBC) are starting to explore how Facebook can be used within an organisation context. It is not surprising that Universities are also engaging with the opportunities that the developments to Facebook are providing.

    However I do agree with you that Universities do need to be aware of the sensitivities of requiring students to subscribe to groups. But setting up an organisational page which people can chose to join is something different, IMHO.

  20. [...] Kind of like internet domain registering but without the regulatory framework. There’s a long comment thread over on Brian’s blog with several points of view on [...]

  21. @john

    Sudden malicious thought. Like domain name “gold rushing” – what happens this afternoon if I set up an academic group for each UK university that hasn’t got one yet? Can I then sell them, as admin access, onto the universities and make some dosh, or would Facebook simply shut them down or hand them over upon receiving a complaint?

    based on the general terms and conditions of facebook pages http://salford.facebook.com/terms.php

    FACEBOOK DOES NOT PRE-SCREEN OR APPROVE FACEBOOK PAGES, AND CANNOT GUARANTEE THAT A FACEBOOK PAGE WAS ACTUALLY CREATED AND IS BEING OPERATED BY THE INDIVIDUAL OR ENTITY THAT IS THE SUBJECT OF A FACEBOOK PAGE.

    however, in the additional terms http://salford.facebook.com/terms_pages.php

    Facebook Pages may only be set up for the purpose of promoting a business or other commercial, political, or charitable organization or endeavor (including non-profit organizations, political campaigns, bands and celebrities), and only by an authorized representative of the entity or individual that is the subject of the Facebook Page. By creating a Facebook Page, you represent and warrant that you are authorized to do so by the person or entity that is the subject of the Facebook Page, and to accept these Additional Terms and the Facebook Terms of Use on such person’s or entity’s behalf. When you create a Facebook Page, you must designate one or more administrators who are authorized to operate and edit the Facebook Page.

    so, you’d be in breach of the Ts&Cs and additional Ts&Cs. all it would take, i reckon, is a complaint to facebook by an official university representative to get you shut down…

  22. Mike said

    I think Paul has nailed it in his post / comment. At the end of the day this is just domain squatting but in a different guise. Facebook itself is a microcosm of the larger internet in pretty much every way you can imagine: a subset in which the real-estate is being snapped up pre-.com bust: the value in having applications on there, for example, is only magnified by the *lack* of applications (at this point in time) to compete with. Ditto with the general notion of a “presence” within sites such as Facebook.

    I could buy permutations of any (known) university domain and point them anywhere: http://www.universityoxford.net is free, for example. Buy it, point it at porn site, job done. In the same way you can cybersquat and use the domain in a different way. “worstuniversityintheuk.com” is free, for example. If I’m a disgruntled student, why not point it at the place I had a rubbish 3 years…? b3ta users do this all the time, just for the hell of it. See http://www.justintimberlake.co.uk/ or http://www.glennhoddle.com.

    Domains – like Facebook groups – get their authority from somewhere other than name. Logo, content, pagerank, design. If the copying body infringes copyright on your content, then you have the option to take action. If not, why worry? :-)

  23. Tavis Reddick said

    Wouldn’t it be risky to put too much effort into a service that may change or cease at any time without notice: terms?

    I would have thought that domains are at least a recognized way of evidencing ownership, if not foolproof. You can host some things like blogs on your own websites if you give the service appropriate access rights (incidentally, this was the only way I could think of to archive a blog off blogger.com), although plain text FTP passwords are probably not the way to go.

    If you have all of your web services hosted on your own domain, or subdomains, this would confer legitimacy, and you could still tap into some or all of the functionality of external (social networking) services. This is partly what web services are for, isn’t it?

    There are some open APIs for such web services; social networking sites may then be able to sell their tools, interface and presentation layers, without actually storing the content. When users go to such a social networking site, they may be able to see all the RSS feed-type content which is being pulled the other way, from your server. When users click on an item, they will be taken to your site with all the legitimacy that can confer. Again, search on the networking site can be done on metadata indexes pulled as feeds from your content.

    In this way, one set of content, administered on the institutional website, may be prepared for harvesting by multiple social networking sites, and possibly transformed for each one through a standard library of transform style sheets.

  24. Rob Mitchell said

    We’ve been looking at this for a little while and i’m not sure the cyber-squatting analogy is correct.

    Having sat with colleagues for a few minutes creating and deleting ‘University of Exeter’ facebook pages, it seems to me that there is no limit to the number of pages that can be created with the same name. I have also been able to create and publish (and immediately delete) alternative, identically-named pages for some of the Universities who have already taken the plunge and established their own official ones.

    [Disclaimer: We did this over a half-hour period and we may be wrong! I don't know whether Facebook run any regular checks for duplicate organisations, but they certainly didn't check for duplicates at the points of creation or publication.]

    I think this is generally a good thing.

    The good news is that if an impostor gets there first, we won’t be blocked from creating our own page. The bad news is that, well, vice versa: if we get there first, someone else can still follow.

    Ultimately this ought to mean that the pages with the best content become the most used and the most popular. Content is King.

    For us, at least this moves the discussion on to whether we ought to do anything, then what, why and how, rather than just doing something for fear someone else will.

    Rob

  25. Similarities

    1. Anyone can set up a domain, and an FB group. Identities in both media can be disguised or falsified. Example: search and you’ll find various dubious “Michael Barrymore” FB profiles.

    2. As mentioned previously on a comment, you can have different permutations of domain type (e.g. .org, .net) and name of the institution. In FB, you can also have different types and sub-types of groups, and different permutations of the same name with the same type of group.

    Differences

    1. Complaining to FB should bring down a “rogue” group quickly and at no cost. Getting a “rogue” website taken down, or getting the domain name transferred or turned off, can be costly and a lot of hassle.

    2. Setting up an FB group does not attract an automatic audience. “My” Harvard University, Princeton University and other FB “academic organization” groups are still devoid of any members or content. Unless it is promoted, few if any people will join. No Google auto-indexing, leading to lots of people finding it.

    3. Deleting a website / domain is easy. Deleting an FB group is also easy, unless it is full of members. All members have to be kicked out first, then the last admin kicks him or herself out (“Last to leave switches off the lights”). When there are no members, the group is automatically deleted.

    4. A website can have anything on it, in any format or media. A FB group restricts you to the standard template, plus whatever apps you install. For example, you can’t have an FB group that consists just of a photoshopped picture of the Vice Chancellor, and nothing else on the screen.

    5. Anyone can grab the official “Academic organization” sub-category for a group. However, only people in .ac.uk land can grab the official .ac.uk domain for an academic institution.

    6. An FB group is very easy to set-up (20 to 30 seconds for the obligatory basics) and also free; a domain/website isn’t. However…

    7. Maintaining an FB group is time-consuming if the “creator” has a specific agenda e.g. ensuring all comments are aligned to one view-point, filtering members. Maintaining a similar website is little or no hassle (I guess).

    Interim conclusion

    Interim conclusion from experiment: agree with Rob Mitchell; FB group “squatting” is markedly different from domain squatting. There’s also a much higher risk with the FB group route, that a malicious person could invest a lot of effort merely to see their group immediately wiped.

  26. The issue of confusion over the official names of educational institutions is echoed in yesterday’s Education Guardian. This articles highlights the confusions over Bath University and Bath Spa University (confused even further by the fact that the ncity’s railway station is called Bath Spa.

    In this case, the confusion is caused not by domain or Facebook squatters, but by dithering in the privy council (for those unfamiliar with the politics of the naming of British Universities “because universities are medieval institutions, their names remain in the gift of the privy council“.

  27. [...] on things Grainne Conole, professor of e-learning at the Open University responses to my post on UK Universities On Facebook, and reminisces about the problems she’d encountered in the early days of the Web: The powers [...]

  28. [...] by Brian Kelly (UK Web Focus) on 16 June 2008 Back in November 2007 I wrote a post on UK Universities On Facebook, shortly after Facebook had announced that organisations could have a presence on their social [...]

  29. [...] blog post was found to be one of the most widely read posts in a 24-hour period: the post on “UK Universities on Facebook” published on 9th November [...]

  30. The issue of institutions (corporations, universities, etc.) setting up pages at social networking sites raises some serious concerns. Individuals who are angry at the institution for whatever reason may appear to be representing the institution, and may cause it harm by what they say. There needs to be a better way to “credentialize” authors so that an individual’s social networking pages are not mistaken for those representing the institutions they may be commenting about.

  31. [...] posts I’ve written over the past 3 years. Back in November 2007 I wrote a post on “UK Universities On Facebook“. Back then I reported that “A Facebook search for organisations containing the word [...]

  32. [...] have previously provided snapshots of institutional use of Facebook from November 2007 up to January 2011, together with similar surveys of institutional use of services such [...]

  33. [...] launch of the Facebook Platform.  A few month’s later, in November 2007 a post entitled UK Universities On Facebook reported that “a Facebook search for organisations containing the word ‘university’ [...]

  34. [...] in November 2007 a post on UK Universities On Facebook provided early evidence of use of Facebook by early adopters, when there were only about 76 [...]

  35. [...] November 2007 I post entitled UK Universities On Facebook described how “A Facebook search for organisations containing the word ‘university’ [...]

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