UK Web Focus

Innovation and best practices for the Web

We Can’t Ignore Facebook

Posted by Brian Kelly (UK Web Focus) on 23 September 2011

An Example Of Facebook’s Success

During the summer I was involved in using Social Media to promote the Bath Folk Festival. Although I set up a Bathfolkfest Twitter account, I discovered that, apart from a small number of the performers, folkies don’t appear to make significant use of Twitter. The Bath Folk Facebook page, in ccontrast, was very popular, and currently has 124 ‘likes’ in contrast with the 27 people who are following the Twitter account. But how, specifically, widely used was it?

From viewing the Insight statistics for the page it seems that during the week of the festival there were no fewer than 10,854 views of the status updates with 166 people interacting with the page during the week.  As might be expected views of the page peaked during the festival, as is illustrated below.  But since those people are still connected with the page we will be able to reuse the connections which have been established for next year’s festival, as well as providing updates of folk events held in Bath throughout the year.

I haven’t posted about this previously, in part because my involvement with the folk festival was a personal interest. But in addition I suspect that many readers of this blog will regard Facebook as many Microsoft products: they both tend to be disliked for a variety of reasons but they are also very successful.

However in light of yesterday’s Facebook’s F8 conference I feel those involved in development activities, as well as those involved in mainstream marketing and student engagement activities, can’t afford to continue to disregard the potential relevance of Facebook.

Areas of Interest

Looking at the various articles and blog posts about yesterday’s news it seems that much of the focus focussed around links with Spotify, with the BBC News having the headline “Facebook focuses on media sharing and adds timeline“. However I would like to highlight two specific areas: the implications of the decisions by the Guardian to release a Guardian Facebook app and how, behind the scenes, Facebook seem to be endorsing use of RDFa and how this could help growth in use of Linked Data.

Guardian Facebook App

I was surprised when I saw yesterday’s announcement of the launch of a Facebook app for the Guardian newspaper. I currently have access to articles published in the Guardian provided as RSS feeds or via the Guardian app on my iPod Touch and Android phone. In addition I recently made use of the Kindle app on my Android phone to read the Guardian for about  a number before I decided that, although the experience was better than using the Guardian app or an RSS reader (to view articles not included in the view provided by the app). It was very interesting, therefore, to discover that the Guardian had chosen to invest resources to develop yet another app which allowed the content to be viewed within the Facebook environment.

I have installed the app. As can be  seen one can choose to view a variety of sections including the main Guardian section, Guardian Technology, Guardian Football and Guardian Data all of which I have ‘liked’.

In the accompanying image (of the Guardian data section) I have removed details of my Facebook friends who have also liked the page (and the NPR page). Clearly there are privacy issues in allowing one’s Facebook friends to not only see the games you may be playing but also the content you may be reading.

But in addition to being able to see the sections of the Guardian which one’s friends have liked I was surprised to spot in the app’s activity stream that using the app will disclose the sections you are reading.  As illustrated, a friend of mine has been reading an article on “Why we need a debate on the British way of death”. As I described in a recent post which asked “Is Smartr Getting Smarter or Am I Getting Dumber?” sharing, perhaps unknowingly,  details of what one has been reading whether, as in the case on Smartr, links to pages posted on Twitter or, in this case, Guardian articles, does raise interesting tensions related to sharing, openness and privacy.   It is perhaps surprising that the Guardian newspaper doesn’t seem to be unduely concerned about such issues, with the Guardian Facebook App FAQ simply stating:

Can everybody see what I “Read”?
The Guardian Facebook app is a “social reading” environment. Your Facebook friends will be able to see links to articles you have read within the Guardian app environment, and you will be able to see what they have been reading. We think this will help people discover content that they might be interested in.

Facebook’s Social Graph

I have recollections of attending a Linked Data session at the WWW  2010 conference and hearing from a senior Facebook developer about the technologies used in Facebook’s Open Graph Protocol. The response to the question “Why are you developing your own approach? Why aren’t you using RDFa?” was (I paraphrase) “We were unaware of RDFa until this conference. It seems cool – we’ll use it!“.

Last night on Twitter two Linked Data experts whom I follow seemed to be pleased with the news announced at thre Facebook F8 developer conference.  Manu Sporny, “Founder/CEO of Digital Bazaar. RDFa/RDF WebApps Chair @ W3C. Champion for art/science, distributed banking/commerce, @PaySwarm, JSON-LD, semantics and puppies.tweeted:

Facebook’s new OGP launch today uses RDFa 1.1 (developer docs): http://ow.ly/6CafT #rdfa #w3c

whilst Kingsley Idehen, “Founder & CEO, OpenLink Software, An Open Linked Data Enthusiast”, provided an interesting reweeet:

RT @aliriop: #Facebook #OpenGraph Seeks to Deliver Real-Time Serendipity on.mash.to/qKEoBg . #SDQ #LinkedData

The Linked Open Data Graph has been used to demonstrate the growth and size of the Linked Data environment. However critics have argued that it shows that Linked data seems to be over-reliant on content provided by DBpedia. It will be interesting to see if the large-scale use of RDFa across Facebook will demonstrate the value of Linked Data and help to encourage take-up in other areas.

Implications for the Sector

On Twitter Linda Bewley commented last night:

My Facebook cynicism is balanced out by respect for their ability to innovate. Direct access to phone’s native app data = result!

Although the issues of privacy are still very relevant, as I highlighted in the case of the Guardian app, it does seem to me that there will be a need to reflect  on the potential for greater business uses of Facebook. I’ll be interested to if, over time, Facebook’s Timeline oculd have a role to play in enhancing the Bath Folk page.  And whilst this is a trivial example, Universities will no doubt be considering the implications of yesterday’s announcements in the support of their marketing activities. But who, I wonder, will be in a position to take advantage of the Collective Intelligence which Facebook will be gathering?

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6 Responses to “We Can’t Ignore Facebook”

  1. PeteJ said

    I don’t think Facebook OGP use of RDFa is a new thing? e.g. “We’ve based the initial version of the protocol on RDFa”
    http://ogp.me/ “Last updated December 10th, 2010.” I think maybe they’ve just updated to RDFa 1.1? I could be wrong though.

    On the broader point of “we can’t ignore Facebook”: oh, I agree, I follow with interest and concern their ongoing attempts to erode privacy, shape the information we see, and to extract ever more information from individuals in order to support their customer base of advertisers.

    I’m always mightily relieved I don’t have an Fb account though! :)

  2. Thanks for your comment. You are correct – Facebook’s use of RDFa in the Open Graph Protocol isn’t new – the news item referred to developments which were mentioned in yesterday’s conference. Sorry that my post was ambiguous.

    You’re right that we should continue to monitor the implications of Facebook developments. As well as the privacy implications which, for example, I highlighted in the context of the Guardian app, there’s also a need to monitor associated user behaviours. Looking at the stats for the Guardian app in the short period of time since the app was announced it seems that as of today at 13.15 there have been 115,794 likes of the main section, 6,895 of the Guardian Media, 5,294 of Guardian Football, 4,025 for the Guardian Culture, 3,776 for Guardian Music, 3,678 of Guardian Technology, 3,174 of Guardian Science, 2,039 of Guardian Data and 1,965 of Guardian Society. Will these numbers drop as people become aware of the implications – or grow, perhaps indicating that privacy issues aren’t felt to to outweigh the benefits?

  3. Hazel Edmunds said

    Don’t play down your interest in “folk” a) because many of your serious followers are also into folk in its many guises and b) many innovations come from leisure interests (setting up event pages for a folk festival, sharing information on a local knitting group etc).

  4. [...] We Can’t Ignore Facebook [...]

  5. [...] how popular is the Guardian Facebook app? A post which suggested that We Can’t Ignore Facebook described how the Guardian Facebook app was launched on 22 September 2011. Statistics for a number [...]

  6. [...] extends beyond global events such as the Olympic Games. Last year in a post which argued that We Can’t Ignore Facebook I described use of Facebook and Twitter to promote the Bath Folk Festival.  Facebook, it turned [...]

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