UK Web Focus

Innovation and best practices for the Web

Archive for September 26th, 2011

Is It Time To Ditch Facebook, When There’s Half a Million Fans Across Russell Group Universities?

Posted by Brian Kelly (UK Web Focus) on 26 September 2011

Implication of Changes To Facebook

The changes to Facebook announced at Facebook’s F8 Developers conference last week haven’t gone down well in some circles with a number of the people I follow on Twitter expressing their concerns at the privacy implications of recent changes and one or two having gone as far as to delete their Facebook accounts.

Might those technically-savvy people be setting a trend which will become more widespread as the privacy concerns become more widely known beyond those who read blog posts which describe in detail how Facebook can monitor your interactions, even when you are logged out of the service? Or are these people in a minority and will we see that once the changes have been fully deployed and problems fixed in light of user feedback could be see an increase in Facebook usage?

Gathering Evidence of Institutional Use of Facebook

In order to be able to gather evidence of possible changes in usage patterns within the UK HE sector I have updated a survey of Use of Facebook by Russell Group Universities which was carried out in January 2011. A summary of the numbers of people who have ‘liked’ the pages, together with details of the changes from the previous survey are given in the following table.

Institution and Web site link
Facebook name and link
Nos. of Likes
(Jan 2011)
Nos. of Likes
(Sep 2011)
Percentage
increase
1 InstitutionUniversity of Birmingham
Fb nameunibirmingham
8,558 14,182 66%
2 InstitutionUniversity of Bristol
Fb nameUniversity-of-Bristol/108242009204639
2,186 7,913  262%
3 InstitutionUniversity of Cambridge
Fb namecambridge.university
58,392 105,645 81%
4 InstitutionCardiff University
Fb namecardiffuni
20,035 25,945 29%
5 InstitutionUniversity of Edinburgh
Fb name: University of Edinburgh/108598582497363
(None found in first survey)
- 12,053 -
6 InstitutionUniversity of Glasgow
Fb Name: glasgowuniversity
(None found in first survey)
- 1,860 -
7 InstitutionImperial College
Fb nameimperialcollegelondon
5,490 10,257  87%
8 InstitutionKing’s College London
Fb nameKings-College-London/54237866946
2,047 3,587 75%
9 InstitutionUniversity of Leeds
Fb name: universityofleeds
(None found in first survey)
- 899 -
10 InstitutionUniversity of Liverpool
Fb nameUniversity-of-Liverpool/293602011521
2,811 3,742 33%
11 InstitutionLSE
Fb nameLSE/6127898346
22,798 32,290 42%
12 InstitutionUniversity of Manchester
Fb nameUniversity-Of-Manchester/365078871967
1,978 4,734 139%
13 InstitutionNewcastle University
Fb name: newcastleuniversity
- 115 -
14 InstitutionUniversity of Nottingham
Fb nameThe-University-of-Nottingham/130981200144
TheUniofNottingham
3,588 3,854 9,991 7% 178%
15 InstitutionUniversity of Oxford
Fb namethe.university.of.oxford
137,395 293,010  113%
16 InstitutionQueen’s University Belfast
Fb nameQueens-University-Belfast/108518389172588
- 5,211 -
17 InstitutionUniversity of Sheffield
Fb nametheuniversityofsheffield
6,646 12,412  87%
18 InstitutionUniversity of Southampton
Fb nameunisouthampton
3,328 6,387  92%
19 InstitutionUniversity College London
Fb nameUCLOfficial
977 4,346 345%
20 InstitutionUniversity of Warwick
Fb namewarwickuniversity
8,535 12,112 42%
TOTAL 286,169
287,767 
560,554
566,691 
96%
97%

Summary

In brief in a period of nine months we have seen an increase in the number of ‘likes’ for the twenty UK Russell Group Universities of over 274,000 users or almost 100% with the largest increase, of over 155,000 occurring at the University of Oxford.

Discussion

The previous survey highlighted emerging patterns of institutional use of Facebook and provided some suggestions on best practices (such as providing a Facebook page rather than a group and having a short and branded URL).  It seems that institutions are implementing such best practices more widely.  We are also seeing a huge increase in the number of Facebook ‘likes’ with apart from Nottingham’s 7% increase, all of the other institutions seeing a growth of between 33% and 345%.

But might this represent a peak for institutional use of Facebook?   Since we have over half a million users, many of whom will be staff or students at Russell Group Universities we might expect this particular demographic to have a better understanding of the dangers of misuse of Facebook than the general public.  It will be interesting to see how these figures change over the next academic year.

Beyond the Evidence of Usage – Is Facebook a Walled Garden?

This post has focussed on institutional use of Facebook to provide services to end users (a business-to-consumer relationship).  Of course there are privacy implications associated with use of Facebook and it might be argued that Universities shouldn’t be using unethical network providers – just as there were pressures on universities not to support businesses which had links with South Africa during the apartheid era.

I’ve not heard people seriously suggesting that Universities should stop their institutional use of Facebook, but there is a need to have a better understanding of the concerns people have regarding Facebook, in part so that we can ensure that possible alternatives to Facebook don’t repeat such concerns. The one particular areas of concerns I’d like to address in this post is that Facebook is a ‘walled garden.’

This morning I was involved in a brief Twitter discussion in which Twitter was dismissed as a ‘walled garden’. It was suggested that, just like AOL, you need to sign up to access content hosted on Facebook. Surely not? So I logged out of Facebook and visited the University of Warwick page and, as can be seen, I can view the page.

But rather than restrictions on accessing public information, perhaps Facebook is described as a walled garden because you can put information in, but not get it out again?

This was the case at one point, but know there is a Facebook Export service which “uses the Facebook Open Graph protocol to export your Facebook data to an xml file. Facebook Export does not store any data about you. You can then use this xml file to import your data to other services and websites that support the Facebook Export (FBE) format.

Or perhaps the concern is that use of Facebook apps locks information into a particular application? I feel there may be an element of truth to this concern – you can develop Facebook apps which do trap the data into the app.  But the Russell Group University Facebook pages seem to be using the default Facebook features, so this isn’t really a current concern. And even apps such as the Guardian Facebook app shouldn’t be regarded as acting as a walled garden since the same data can be accessed in several other ways, such as via RSS feeds, Android and iPhone apps and on the Web itself.

I, therefore, am unconvinced that current institutional use of Facebook can be regarded as using a Walled Garden and that Universities are promoting a propriety service.  Of much greater relevance will be how people react to the recent changes in Facebook. If people start to leave, there will be a need to reconsider Universities’ uses of Facebook as a marketing and engagement service.

Posted in Evidence, Facebook | 31 Comments »