UK Web Focus

Innovation and best practices for the Web

Facebook Saves Lives

Posted by Brian Kelly on 25 December 2008

But let’s be honest – not all Facebook applications allow data to be exported. But need this be a overriding reason why Facebook should be avoided?” I asked recently. And Stephen Downes’s response was unequivocal – “Yes“.

Now Stephen is an intelligent man and I’m a regular reader of his blog.  But I feel that he’s wrong in his seemingly fixed position on Facebook – and note I say ‘seemingly’ as Stephen is a Facebook contact of mine! :-)

And when I read the article in the Guardian recently on how “Facebook is new tool in transplant donor appeals” which described how “Facebook users are coming to the aid of children who need life-saving transplants”  it struck me that if I or a friend or family member needed a transplant, I wouldn’t have a blinkered view on the mechanism used to provide the solution.

But it’s true that their are issues which need to be acknowledged and decisions which need to made for organisations which are thinking about making use of Facebook – and, let’s be honest, many organisations do make use of Facebook.

Richard Akerman (who, like Stephen Downes is from Canada – the country which has the highest Facebook usage) touched on the complexities in a recent comment on my blog post:

Facebook is quite a complex example of a walled garden unfortunately. In a way, it’s more like a one-way mirrored garden. You can easily bring content *in*, but it’s hard to let content *out*. And when we talk about wall, it has a couple meanings: 1) can’t be seen unless you’re logged in 2) can’t be indexed by Google (more important to me than #1). I guess the main issue I have with Facebook is it’s a garden where the plots have no markers. *Some* things are indexed on the public web. Others are not. *Within* Facebook, some kinds of content (e.g. notes) are very hard (impossible?) to search.

From this perspective we might regard Facebook as being like paper – it’s easy to get digital content into paper content but more difficult to get it back to digital format again, especially if you want to get it into a rich digital format.  And Facebook, like paper, isn’t easy to search.

Perhaps, also like paper, we should be less fixated with having an institutional ‘position’ on Facebook. And yet the development community does seem to want to continually discuss the problems with Facebook. I can appreciate the need for user education on best practices for making use of Facebook (I was surprised when recently I learnt that one museum was creating content about forthcoming events in Facebook rather than surfacing an RSS feed of its events).  Andf there’s a need to understand the terms and conditions – not many, people, for example, seem to have read that “Facebook does not assert any ownership over your User Content; rather, as between us and you, subject to the rights granted to us in these Terms, you retain full ownership of all of your User Content and any intellectual property rights or other proprietary rights associated with your User Content“.

Last year the evidence showed us that “A student campaign using the social networking website Facebook has forced a multinational bank into a U-turn over charges” and now Facebook seems to be saving lives.  And maybe it can attract potential students to a university or visitors to an exhibition. Is this so bad?

And to revisit the question “”not all Facebook applications allow data to be exported. But need this be a overriding reason why Facebook should be avoided?” perhaps the answer has to be “It all depends on the context”.

An answer which reflects a moral relativism which I suspect the Irish catholic  priests who were responsible for my education when I was young would not agree with – particularly on Christmas day. But lets leave the moral simplicities to the past .  And remember that as Kathryn Greenhill recently pointed out on this blog “… the recent change to the Facebook video platform – which allows the user to upload a video to Facebook and then embed it for public viewing outside Facebook – may be indicate a bit of experimentation with the usual “lock out” approach ??”  Perhaps we should be rejoicing for the sinner who has repented :)

Merry Xmas to all.

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2 Responses to “Facebook Saves Lives”

  1. Mike said

    Stephen’s response is slightly sad, IMO.

    Ignoring a potential market with the size and embedded nature of Facebook is pretty foolish. That’s not to say we should stop putting pressure on sites like Facebook to open up, but avoiding it wholesale? Really? Whatcha gonna do – go build an “open Facebook” using vast sums of cash and time, launch it and then find no one cares enough to visit?

    Give me a walled garden with passionate and engaged users over a worthy, open and **empty** community site any day of the week.

  2. [...] Facebook Saves Lives (UK Web Focus) [...]

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