Briefing Document on Facebook: Opportunities and Challenges
Posted by Brian Kelly (UK Web Focus) on 12 November 2007
UKOLN is running a one-day workshop on “Exploiting The Potential Of Blogs And Social Networks” which will be held in Birmingham on 26th November 2007. The event is now fully subscribed. However we will be making the various materials for the event freely available to those who could not attend.
A series of briefing documents will be provided in the delegate pack. This will include a document on “Facebook: Opportunities and Challenges” (written, incidentally, before it was possible to create organisational pages in Facebook).
The contents of this document are included below. Comments are welcomed – but please note that the documented is formatted as an A5 briefing document and it is not possible to add any additional content unless stuff is removed.
I’d alway invite people who have already produced documents, course materials, etc. related to use of Facebook to share it. Note that a Slidecast (slides plus audio) I produced some time ago is available on Slideshare, and there is a Facebook group on Slideshare which provides access to other slides on this topic. Feel free to add URLs to comments to this post.
About This Document
This document was produced for the UKOLN workshop on “Exploiting The Potential Of Blogs And Social Networks” held in Birmingham on 26th November 2007.
The document summarises the opportunities which Facebook can provide, together with the challenges to be addressed in order for such opportunities to be realised.
Why The Interest In Facebook?
Facebook has generated much interest over recent months. Much of the interest has arisen since Facebook announced the Facebook Platform  which enabled third party developers to build applications which could be used within the Facebook environment.
Since Facebook was developed initially to support students it is not surprising that student usage has proved so popular. This interest has also spread to other sectors within institutions, with researchers and members of staff beginning to explore Facebook possibilities.
What Can Be Done Within Facebook?
Social networks can provide a range of benefits to members of an organisation:
- Connections with Peers:
- The main function of Facebook is to provide connections between people with similar interests. (The term ‘friends’ is used to describe such relationships, but it should be noted that this does not have to imply a relationship based on friendship – a more appropriate term might be ‘contacts’.) Friends can then send messages to each other (either closed messages or open for others to read).
- Facebook users can set up discussion group areas, which can be used by people with interests in the topic of the group. Creation of details of events, which allows users to sign up to, is another popular use of Facebook.
- Sharing Resources:
- Many of the popular Facebook applications are used for sharing resources. Some of these replicate (or provide an interface to) popular social sharing services (such as Flickr and YouTube) while other applications provide services such as sharing interests in films, books, etc.
- An environment for other applications:
- The opening of the Facebook Platform has allowed developers to provide access to a range of applications. Newport University, for example, provide access to their MyNewport portal  from within Facebook.
Many reservations about use of Facebook within an institutional context have been expressed. These include:
- Privacy: There are real concerns related to users’ privacy. This will include both short term issues (embarrassing photos being uploaded) and longer term issues (reuse of content in many years time).
- Ownership: The Facebook terms and conditions allow Facebook to exploit content for commercial purposes.
- Misuse of social space: Users may not wish to share their social space with other colleagues, especially when there may be hierarchical relationships.
- Liability: Who will be liable if illegal content or copyrighted materials are uploaded to Facebook? Who is liable if the service is not accessible to users with disabilities?
- Sustainability and Interoperability: How sustainable is the service? Can it provide mission-critical services? Can data be exported for reuse in other systems?
Institutional Responses To Such Challenges
How should institutions respond to the potential opportunities provided by Facebook and the challenges which its use may entail? The two extreme positions would be to either embrace Facebook, encouraging its use by members of the institution and porting services to the environment or to ban its use, possibly by blocking access by the institutions firewall. A middle group might be to develop policies based on:
- Risk assessment and risk management:
- analysing potential dangers and making plans for such contingencies. Note that the risk assessment should also include the risks of doing nothing.
- User education:
- developing information literacy / staff development plans to ensure users are aware of the implications of use of Facebook, and the techniques for managing the environment (e.g. privacy settings).
- Data management:
- Developing mechanisms for managing data associated with Facebook. This might include use of Facebook applications which provide alternative interfaces for data import/export, exploring harvesting tools or engaging in negotiations with the Facebook owners.
- Major Facebook Announcement Thursday: Facebook Platform, Mashable, 21 May 2007, <http://mashable.com/2007/05/21/facebook-f8/>
- MyLearning Essentials for Facebook, Michael Webb’s Blog, 11 July 2007,