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MTSR 2015, the 9th Metadata & Semantics Research Conference (and its use of Facebook)

Posted by Brian Kelly on 24 Feb 2015

MTSR 2015, the 9th Metadata and Semantics Research Conference

MTSR 2015 conference web siteThe 9th Metadata and Semantics Research Conference has recently announced its call for papers, which is also available as a PDF document.

Metadata has been a area of interest to UKOLN, my former organisation and Cetis, my current organisation, also have interests in this area including recent support for LRMI, the Learning Resource Metadata Initiative.

MTSR 2015, to use the conference’s abbreviation, will take place at the University of Manchester on 9-11th September 2015. As described on the conference home page:

the ninth International Conference on Metadata and Semantics Research (MTSR’15) aims to bring together scholars and practitioners that share a common interest in the interdisciplinary field of metadata, semantics, linked data and ontologies. Participants will share novel knowledge and best practice in the implementation of these semantic technologies across diverse types of Information Environments and applications. These include Cultural Informatics; Open Access Repositories & Digital Libraries; E-learning applications; Search Engine Optimization & Information Retrieval; Research Information Systems and Infrastructures; e-Science and e-Social Science applications; Agriculture, Food and Environment; Bio-Health & Medical Information Systems.

The deadline for submission is 9th May and authors will be notified of acceptance or rejection of their submission on 16th June.

What have you noticed is now a mainstream practice?

MTSR 2015 Facebook pageIn a post on his OUseful blog over a year ago Tony Hirst described the “What did you notice for the first time today?” exercise which he used in a workshop on Future Technologies and Their Applications which Tony and I co-facilitated at the ILI 2013 conference.

Tony describe how this approach could be important for trend spotting: “it may signify that something is becoming mainstream that you hadn’t appreciated before“. However I found that trying to reflect on something I’ve notice for the first time today too constraining, so I proposed a tweaked version: What Have You Noticed Recently?

However another variant may be “What have you noticed is now a mainstream practice which may have been considered inappropriate in the recent past?“: this might be particularly useful in identifying acceptance of emerging practices and a willingness to accept some level of risk.

This came to me when I notice that, as shown in the image at the top of this post, the MTSR 2015 conference home page provides details of the MTSR Metadata Semantics Research Conference Facebook page. The Facebook page, which currently has 217 ‘likes’, contains a small number of updates: the launch of the Facebook page, the first announcement of the call for papers, an update to the page’s photograph, details of the conference Twitter account, dates for the call for papers and award details.

In addition to this content (which are primarily links to content hosted on the conference web site)  as can be seen from the screen shot the Facebook page also provides links to Facebook pages for related content including Open Repositories 2015 (283 likes including 3 researchers/librarians I am connected with), the Research Data Alliance (363 likes) and ICCMI 2014 (309 likes).

In answer to the question I posed “What have you noticed is now a mainstream practice which may have been considered inappropriate in the recent past?” I can answer “Use of Facebook to promote research conference and apparent ‘liking’ of the page by hundreds of researchers and practitioners“.

Or, to generalise this “An acceptance of the risks of using Facebook by well-educated researchers and library practitioners and an acknowledgement of the benefits which can be gained“.

MTSR 2015 Facebook statisticsThe use of Facebook to promote research conferences seems to no longer be one of “should we?”  but instead one based on a cost-benefit analysis – can the effort in updating a Facebook page for a conference be justified? Fortunately the Facebook statistics for the page provides usage data for helping to answer this question (it should also be noted, incidentally, that the conference’s MTSR 2015 Twitter account currently only has 9 followers).

Would you agree that this is now a mainstream practice? Would you also agree that in the past this type of use was frowned upon?


Posted in Events, Evidence, Facebook | Leave a Comment »

Implications for Institutions of a Backlash Against Facebook

Posted by Brian Kelly on 10 Dec 2014

Moves Away from Facebook?

We are apparently seeing a backlash against use of Facebook. Over the weekend a post on Facebook’s struggle to keep teens described how, although in September 2014 had 864 million daily active users, 703 million mobile daily active users and 1.35 billion monthly active users, “the company faces a significant challenge keeping the service relevant to younger users“. Earlier this week Niall Sclater provided a personal anecdote in a post on How a fifteen year-old Scottish girl uses social media which suggested “Facebook is mainly for older people who want to share baby photos“.

Also over the weekend the Observer included an article by Ben Goldacre entitled When data gets creepy: the secrets we don’t realise we’re giving away. The popularity of this article can be gauged by the 323 comments made on the article to date as well as, ironically, the 7,390 shares made on social media.

But Continued Use By Professionals in Higher Education?

Linkedin Facebook groupThe article on Facebook’s struggle to keep teens suggests that  teenagers may be moving towards use of messaging applications although a post published  by Piper Jaffray earlier this year described how a Survey finds teens still tiring of Facebook, prefer Instagram.

However moves towards use of messaging applications do not seem to be reflected in my professional uses of social media services. Twitter continues to be a valuable tool but I also seem to be making greater use of Facebook for professional purposes, in part  helped by the release earlier this year of a bookmarking facility for Facebook posts. I also find that there are various Facebook groups for professional purposes which have been subscribed by my professional contacts who also make use of Twitter. A good example of this is the Linked Web Data for Education Facebook group which has 102 members, including 35 I am connected with on various social networks.

In additional to use of Facebook by professionals to support their work in additional to social interests we also see continued use of Facebook by institutions.

Back in July 2014 a post on Facebook Usage for Russell Group Universities, July 2014 provided figures related to Facebook usage by the 24 Russell group universities and summarised growth since similar surveys were published in 2011 and 2012.

An updated survey was carried out on 8 December 2014 which includes metrics which weren’t collected fin previous surveys, including the numbers of Facebook users ‘talking’ about the institutional Facebook page and the numbers of new ‘likes’ for the page. I hope that this data will provide a benchmark which could help to indicate a decline in interest in Facebook use: we might expect Facebook ‘likes’ to continue to grow users probably don’t ‘unlike’ pages, but the number of new pages ‘likes’ should provide a better indication of current levels of interest. Clearly Facebook page administrators will be able to view the metrics for their institutional Facebook page but will not be able to detect trends unless such data is shared.

It should also be noted that, as described in a Facebook support page,  an apparent decline in the numbers of ‘likes’ may be due to Facebook users managing their privacy settings:  Earlier this year Facebook announced new privacy controls for Making It Easier to Share With Who You Want and we are now seeing a range of resources, such as this poster on “How to Stay Safe on Facebook” which can help to educate users on how to manage Facebook more effectively.

Should Institutions and Experienced Professionals Cease Using Facebook?

However rather that making decisions on professional use of social media services such as Facebook on business criteria such as the level of use, the audience profiles, the costs of providing the services and the estimated benefits, might there be an argument that organisations and individuals who place a high value on ethical business practices should cease making use of services which infringe users’ privacy and exploit their intellectual property from unfairly using their dominant position in the market place. We have been here before – back in 2004, the EU ordered Microsoft to pay a fine of over £380 million for abuse of its dominant position in the market. But beyond such infringement of monopoly legislation which are decided by a court case, might the business decisions being taken by social media companies such as Facebook be regarded as a social injustice which individuals and organisations should face up to, just as many did by disinvesting in South Africa during the apartheid era?

I’ve already mentioned Ben Goldacre’s Observer article which highlighted such dangers: When data gets creepy: the secrets we don’t realise we’re giving away.  And a few days ago Pete Johnston posted a comment on this blog in which he summarised his concerns:

Targetting, profiling and “personalisation” are central, and vast resources are ploughed into trying to gather or infer information about individuals’ activities and preferences based on our behaviour on the Web. Sometimes that data collection is overt and explicit: we are invited to volunteer personal data to a social media service in exchange for access to communication channels and the creation of an online profile without which we are told we are a second-class citizen. Sometimes it is rather more covert, as in the surreptitious tracking of our behaviour across Web sites through ever more complex digital sleight of hand tricks. And that tracking increasingly extends into our physical world behaviour (tracking mobile wireless signals in shopping malls, linking email addresses to “loyalty” cards and so on).

That personal information is gathered, stored, merged with other information, analysed/mined, transferred/bought/sold/brokered/requisitioned/intercepted/lost/found/stolen, and (re)used by different parties for purposes and in contexts over which we have no control – from “personalised offers” to spam to profiling to surveillance to identity theft to ending up on Theresa’s Big List of Domestic Extremists because someone on your “friends” list once “liked” a Bad Book. Services’ promises of ephemerality, security and anonymisation appear to mean little when the price is right (ba-dum-tish) and they can fall back on that get-out clause buried deep in the terms of service.

 Your Thoughts

Facebook currently has 864 million daily active users and 703 million mobile daily active users. The data provided in Appendix 1 gives some figures for Facebook’s use across official pages for the 24 Russell Group universities. But is such data irrelevant? I’d welcome your thoughts.

Appendix 1: Institutional Use of Facebook by Russell Group Universities, December 2014

Note that the data provided in the following table is also available as a Google Spreadsheet.

Ref. No. Institution and Web site link
Facebook name and link
Nos. of likes
(Dec 2014)
Nos. of visits
(Dec 2014)
Nos. talking
(Dec 2014)
Nos. of new page
likes (Dec 2014)
 1 InstitutionUniversity of Birmingham
Fb nameunibirmingham
   10,853 118,057  4,020 4,020 [Link]
 2 InstitutionUniversity of Bristol
Fb namebristoluniversity
    32,715   3,053     950      183 [Link]
 3 InstitutionUniversity of Cambridge
1,081,801 14,240   8,336 [Link]
 4 InstitutionCardiff University
Fb namecardiffuni
      57,660  –     241     200 [Link]
 5 InstitutionDurham University
Fb nameDurham-University/109600695725424
     32,636  11,004  –  – [Link]
 6 InstitutionUniversity of Exeter
Fb nameexeteruni
      34,572   47,314    2,242   202 [Link]
 7 InstitutionUniversity of Edinburgh
Fb nameUniversityOfEdinburgh
      87,865    32,402     1,598    552 [Link]
 8 InstitutionUniversity of Glasgow
Fb Name: glasgowuniversity
     82,736  69,505     4,646     555 [Link]
 9 InstitutionImperial College
Fb nameimperialcollegelondon
     83,629     1,391    437 [Link]
10 InstitutionKing’s College London
Fb nameKings-College-London/54237866946
     44,189    32,020       544    190 [Link]
11 InstitutionUniversity of Leeds
Fb nameuniversityofleeds
    29,410   20,856     1,557    237 [Link]
12 InstitutionUniversity of Liverpool
Fb name: University-of-Liverpool/103803892992025
    70,647  48,447  – [Link]
13 InstitutionLSE
Fb name: lseps 
   163,854   50,554   2,140  1,070 [Link]
14 InstitutionUniversity of Manchester
Fb name:TheUniversityOfManchester
     67,346  23,170   6,709     567 [Link]
15 InstitutionNewcastle University
Fb namenewcastleuniversity
    42,868  19,383    3,038    379 [Link]
16 InstitutionUniversity of Nottingham
Fb nameTheUniofNottingham
     72,015  85,596    2,381     279 [Link]
17 InstitutionUniversity of Oxford
2,038,667   25,012 13,531 [Link]
18 InstitutionQueen Mary, University of London
Fb name: QMLNews
     85,861   21,478       1,132       291 [Link]
19 InstitutionQueen’s University Belfast
Fb nameQueensUniversityBelfast
     25,162     2,930     209 [Link]
20 InstitutionUniversity of Sheffield
Fb nametheuniversityofsheffield
  76,932    83,375    1,011      279 [Link]
21 InstitutionUniversity of Southampton
Fb nameunisouthampton
  58,409   71,726   2,039     384 [Link]
22 InstitutionUniversity College London
Fb nameUCLOfficial
  105,048    83,375   4,938    489 [Link]
23 InstitutionUniversity of Warwick
Fb namewarwickuniversity
   55,146  –    1,459   285 [Link]
24 InstitutionUniversity of York
Fb nameuniversityofyork
  20,785 14,605      467    56 [Link]
TOTAL  4,460,806    835,920     84,685          37,731


Posted in Evidence, Facebook | 5 Comments »

Facebook Usage for Russell Group Universities, July 2014

Posted by Brian Kelly on 14 Jul 2014

Facebook Usage for Russell Group Universities

In order to gather evidence of use of Facebook in the higher education sector periodic surveys of usage of official institutional Facebook pages have been carried out for the Russell Group universities since January 2011. The last survey was carried out 0n 31 July 2012, the day before the number of Russell Group universities grew from 20 to 24.

The aim of the surveys is to provide factual evidence which can be used to inform policy decisions on institutional use of social media and corresponding operational practices and stimulate debate.

The latest survey has just been carried out. It is intended that the survey will help inform discussions at the IWMW 2014 event, which starts on Wednesday.

Note that the data provided in the following table is also available as a Google Spreadsheet.

Ref. No. Institution and Web site link
Facebook name and link
Nos. of Likes
(Jan 2011)
Nos. of Likes
(Sep 2011)
Nos. of Likes
(May 2012)
Nos. of Likes
(Jul 2012)
Nos. of Likes
(Jul 2014)
% increase
since Aug 2012
 1 InstitutionUniversity of Birmingham
Fb nameunibirmingham
8,558  14,182  18,611   20,756   88,694    327%
 2 InstitutionUniversity of Bristol
Fb nameUniversity-of-Bristol/108242009204639
2,186   7,913  11,480  12,357   27,071    219%
 3 InstitutionUniversity of Cambridge
58,392 105,645 153,000 168,000  787,347    369%
 4 InstitutionCardiff University
Fb namecardiffuni
20,035  25,945   30,648  31,989   51,108      60%
 5 InstitutionDurham University
Fb nameDurham-University/109600695725424
N.A.  N.A.   N.A.  10,843   31,153   187%
 6 InstitutionUniversity of Exeter
Fb nameexeteruni
N.A.  N.A.   N.A. 15,387    29,054    89%
 7 InstitutionUniversity of Edinburgh
Fb nameUniversityOfEdinburgh
(Page URL changed since first survey)
 12,053   24,507   27,574    70,667  156%
 8 InstitutionUniversity of Glasgow
Fb Name: glasgowuniversity
  1,860   27,149  29,840    68,667  130%
 9 InstitutionImperial College
Fb nameimperialcollegelondon
5,490  10,257  16,444  19,020    68,347   259%
10 InstitutionKing’s College London
Fb nameKings-College-London/54237866946
2,047   3,587   5,384   7,534   37,370   396%
11 InstitutionUniversity of Leeds
Fb nameuniversityofleeds
   899   2,143    3,091   20,722    570%
12 InstitutionUniversity of Liverpool
Fb name: livuni University-of-Liverpool/103803892992025
(Page URL changes since survey in May and August 2012)
2,811  3,742   4,410   5,239    63,790   1,118%
13 InstitutionLSE
Fb name: lseps 
22,798  32,290 43,716   50,287  134,799     168%
14 InstitutionUniversity of Manchester
Fb nameUniversity-Of-Manchester/365078871967  – TheUniversityOfManchester   (Page URL changed for this survey)
1,978   4,734   9,356   13,751  51,659    278%
15 InstitutionNewcastle University
Fb namenewcastleuniversity
    115      693    1,084    34,975   3,126%
16 InstitutionUniversity of Nottingham
Fb nameTheUniofNottingham
3,588    9,991  14,692   17,133   119,444      597%
17 InstitutionUniversity of Oxford
137,395 293,010 541,000 628,000 1,564,871     149%
18 InstitutionQueen Mary, University of London
Fb nameQueen-Mary-University-of-London/107998909223423 – QMLNews (Page URL changed for this survey)
N.A.  N.A.  N.A.  13,362    55,545     316%
19 InstitutionQueen’s University Belfast
Fb name: QueensUniversityBelfast
5,211   10,063   16,989    19,783       16%
20 InstitutionUniversity of Sheffield
Fb nametheuniversityofsheffield
6,646 12,412  19,308   22,746    67,472     197%
21 InstitutionUniversity of Southampton
Fb nameunisouthampton
3,328 6,387  18,062   19,790   49,876    152%
22 InstitutionUniversity College London
Fb nameUCLOfficial
977 4,346  33,853  37,493    91,152   143%
23 InstitutionUniversity of Warwick
Fb namewarwickuniversity
8,535 12,112 14,472   15,103    47,204     212%
24 InstitutionUniversity of York
Fb nameuniversityofyork
N.A.  N.A.   N.A.    11,212  19,256      73%
TOTAL 287,767 566,691 998,991 1,116,077   3,600,2652    208%



Overall Facebook Usage over time: 2011-2014

Figure 1: Overall number of Facebook ‘likes’ for Russell Group universities from January 2011 – July 2014

As can be seen from Figure 1 which shows the growth in the overall number of Facebook ‘likes’ for Russell Group universities from January 2011 – July 2014 there has been a significant growth since the last survey. However please note the following caveats:

  • There has been a gap of two years before the latest survey.
  • There are now 24 Russell Group universities as opposed to the 20 covered in the initial set of surveys.

It should also be noted that comparisons of the numbers of ‘likes’ across individual institutions are probably not very meaningful due to the differing numbers of staff and students across the institutions. However the trends may be more meaningful. especially the trends across the aggregation of the institutions.

The survey published on 2 August 2012 reported that the number of Facebook ‘likes’ for the 24 Russell Group Universities had exceeded 1 million for the first time. However as shown in Figure 2 over half of these likes were for the University of Oxford with the University of Cambridge being the next most popular: these two institutions represent 67% of the total. As can be seen from Figure 3 these two institutions have maintained their positions and now represent 65%.

Figure 2: Facebook ‘Likes’ for Russell Group universities in August 2012


When Facebook was first launched access was restricted to approved institutions (which the University of Cambridge being the first in the UK to provide accounts for its students). In may 2007 John Kirriemuir felt that Something IS Going On With Facebook! after spotting weak signals of its potential importance. We then saw doubts expressed regarding its relevance for institutions characterised, perhaps, by the statement “stay out of my space“). However the popularity of the service led to suggestions that there was a need for an open alternative – but Diaspora was felt to have the potential to provide an open alternative, but as the post on Whatever Happened to Facebook-Killer Diaspora? concluded the answer was “nothing“.

Now, it would appear, institutional use of Facebook is no longer a policy issue (should we have an account) but rather raises a number of operational issues to be addressed: How should we manage it? How much effort should we allocate to it? and what metrics should we measure to demonstrate the value we get from the service?

Perhaps these are questions which will be asked at IWMW 2014 later this week.

Posted in Evidence, Facebook | 5 Comments »

One Million ‘Likes’: What Can The Sector Learn From Oxford University?

Posted by Brian Kelly on 22 Apr 2013

One Million ‘Likes’

Oxford University on FacebookOn Thursday 18 April 2013 the University of Oxford’s Facebook page reached one million ‘likes’. The University took this opportunity to promote a video they had made when it became clear that they were approaching this figure:

Wow! Our Facebook page has more than one million likes. Many thanks for following us! Have you seen our Twitter page @UniofOxford too? Here is a special thank you video from us – why not share this video with your friends and see how quickly we can get to two million!

Monitoring Weak Signals

As part of my work for the JISC Observatory I have an interest in observing weak signals which can help to spot technological developments at an early stage which may turn out to have a significant impact across the sector.

It was back in May 2007 when I wrote a post entitled Something IS Going On With Facebook! which highlighted “the announcement of Facebook’s F8 platform – a development which lets users embed other services inside their pages in Facebook“.

In November 2007 I post entitled UK Universities On Facebook described how “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: AstonCardiffKent and the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan)“.

For a period of several years I monitoring growth in use of Facebook, focussing on the Russell Group universities in order to have a manageable sample to analyse. The accompanying blog posts were Use of Facebook by Russell Group Universities (January 2011), Is It Time To Ditch Facebook, When There’s Half a Million Fans Across Russell Group Universities? (September 2011) and Survey of Institutional Use of Facebook (May 2012) with the final survey in August 2012 which recorded Over One Million ‘Likes’ of Facebook Pages for the 24 Russell Group Universities capturing a snapshot the day after the numbers of Russell Group universities had grown from 20 to 24 institutions.

It was the final post in which I realised that the most significant growth in Facebook likes was taking place at the University of Oxford, as can be seen from the accompanying image.


What are the implications of the popularity of Facebook at the University of Oxford for the wider community?

I hope we have moved away from the instinctive dismissive of Facebook for reasons such as “It’s not open source“, “It’s a walled garden” and the strange arguments that we sometimes encounter in the sector: “It’s popular but so is the Daily Mail” and “It’s popular, but so was MySpace and look what happened to it“.

Some questions which may be appropriate to ask include:

  • What benefits can be gained by institutional use of Facebook?
  • What level of resources should be allocated to managing institutional use of Facebook?
  • What ROI can be gained from institutional use of Facebook?

I appreciate that some people feel very uncomfortable with the notion of ROI in an educational context? But since students are now paying £9,000 per year we need to acknowledge that going to university is a significant financial investment for students, with the provision of the leaning experience also clearly having significant costs. Understanding cost effective ways of engaging with students, listening to students, supporting informal learning, etc. will therefore be important.

Facebook fan valueThere is also a need, I feel, to embrace what could be regarded as a ‘post-digital’ perspective on social media, in which the important issues shouldn’t address the technical aspects of services, but their relevance as part of the accepted infrastructure.

Issues such as the institution’s brand value on such services then become relevant. It is then appropriate to see what can be learnt from the commercial sector’s valuation on Facebook.

A post entitled “Facebook Fan value rises 28% since 2010” was published yesterday by BizReport which described how:

Fans of brands on Facebook have significantly upped their worth over the past three years, according to new figures released by social media marketing firm Syncapse, with some brands averaging Fan values in the thousands of dollars.

and went on to provide estimated values:

Fashion brand Zara’s Fans are worth over $405.54, found the research, followed by Levis at $312.01. Meanwhile, the value of Coca-Cola Fan is relatively low at $70.16.

Analytics for Oxford University's Facebook pageIn his tweet which alerted me to this people Dion Hinchcliffe gave a caveat:

Tho’ fans are just 1 measure of #socbiz value & not a good one.

How then can we measure the value of an institution’s Facebook page? What should we make of the (public) analytics for the University of Oxford’s Facebook page which tell us that as of Monday 22 April 2013 there are:

  • 1,002,967 like for the page. 
  • 7,794 people are talking about the page.
  • 9 December 2012 was the most poplar week (why was this?).
  • The most poplar age group are 18-24 year old.

In order to enable others with responsibilities for managing institutional Facebook presences to be able to compare their experiences, discuss operational practices and, perhaps, develop mechanisms for helping to measure ROI and allocate appropriate levels of resources, at this year’s IWMW 2013 event there will be a birds-of-a feather session on “Institutional Use of Social Media Services“.

I hope this session will be of interest to those who, perhaps quietly, are using Facebook to engage with potential students, have conversations with current students (and staff) and, perhaps, looking at enhance use of Facebook.

In order to inform the session a simple survey has been set up which aims to gain feedback on respondents views on institutional use of Facebook. The form is embedded below or can be accessed on the PollDaddy Web site.

The “A million likes: how big is a million?” Video

The video produced by the University of Oxford is available on YouTube and is embedded below.

View Twitter conversation from: [Topsy] | View Twitter statistics from: [TweetReach] – []

Posted in Facebook | 1 Comment »

What Could Facebook’s New Search System Offer Researchers?

Posted by Brian Kelly on 16 Jan 2013

Facebook’s Graph Search Beta Targets Google

Metro headlineYesterday my Twitter stream was full of tweets about Facebook’s announcement that they were Introducing Graph Search Beta – and this morning the headline Facebook’s Search for Supremacy featured on the front page of the Metro newspaper.

The significance of this announcement can be gauged by the BBC news headline: Facebook’s Graph targets Google in which Rory Cellan-Jones, the BBC’s technology correspondent, describes how his initial scepticism may have been misplaced: “If [Facebook’s] Graph Search more closely resembles what Bing describes, then users will be able to stay on Facebook, earning the company huge advertising revenues as they search for goods and services“.

A TechCrunch article which asks “What Can You Search For On Facebook Graph Search?” has focussed on the social aspects of this development (dating, finding places to eat and drink, etc.). But what could Facebook’s new search system offer researchers?

What Does The Evidence Tell Us?

Importance of Evidence

Although people may be tempted to be instinctively dismissive of any developments to Facebook, as described in a paper on “What Next for Libraries? Making Sense of the Future” (available in PDF and MS Word formats)” involvement with work of the Jisc Obervatory has led to a greater emphasis on evidence-gathering. In addition the Jisc Inform article which announced “A Bright Future for Independent Jisc in 2013” described how a greater emphasis for development work will be based on the needs of the institutions. There will therefore be a need to gather evidence on how Facebook is being used across UK higher and further educational institutions in order to understand whether Facebook developments can enhance uses of made of Facebook to support institutional activities.

Institutional Use of Facebook

Facebook ‘Likes’ Across Russell Group Universities

Back 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 universities with a Facebook presence. A year later a post on Revisiting UK University Pages On Facebook started to keep a record of Facebook usage by the early institutional adopters. More recently a post on Over One Million ‘Likes’ of Facebook Pages for the 24 Russell Group Universities provided an indication of the scale of use of Facebook across a selection of UK universities.

This might suggest that the enhanced searching techniques announced yesterday may be relevant for those involved in university marketing activities, although there may be some interesting privacy issues to be addressed.

But beyond use of Facebook by students, what about its potential to support researchers?

Use of Facebook by Researchers

Blog referrers for the yearAs described in a post of The Sixth Anniversary of the UK Web Focus Blog Facebook is “in third place behind Search Engines and Twitter in referring traffic to this blog” (as illustrated). This suggests that Facebook may have a role to play in supporting dissemination activities for bloggers. But does Facebook have any relevance for enhancing the dissemination of research papers, beyond the indirect dissemination which research blogs may provide?

A year ago a post entitled Facebook and Twitter as Infrastructure for Dissemination of Research Papers (and More) described the SpringerLink mobile app.

Springerlink appEarlier today I used the app to search for papers on ‘Web Accessibility. As illustrated a relevant paper can be shared across my professional networks using Twitter or Facebook as well as sharing with selected individuals using email.

As I described in the blog post “the Springlink app suggests that Facebook and Twitter may be becoming part of the dissemination infrastructure for research papers, especially on mobile devices“. But is there any evidence that researchers are using Facebook, in particular, to facilitate access to research papers?

Back in October 2012 a series of guest blog posts were published during Open Access Week 2012 in order to share the experiences of a number of institutional repository managers. In the posts on SEO Analysis of WRAP, the Warwick University Repository by Yvonne Budden, University of Warwick and on SEO Analysis of LSE Research Online by Natalia Madjarevic, LSE there was no evidence that Facebook was a significant driver of traffic to the two repositories, according to the MajesticSEO tool used to carry out the analyses. This was echoed by William Nixon in his post on SEO Analysis of Enlighten, the University of Glasgow Institutional Repository. William described how:

Social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter don’t appear in these initial results, it may be because the volume is insufficient to be ranked here or there may be breach of service issues. Google Analytics now provides some social media tools and we have been identifying our most popular papers from Facebook and Twitter.

Reading William’s post on the Enlighten blog it seems:

Looking at the data for the past year the following papers have had significant numbers of referrals from Facebook:

van Dommelen, P., Gómez Bellard, C., and Pérez Jordà, G. (2010)Produzione agraria nella Sardegna punica fra cereali e vino. In: Milanese, M., Ruggeri, P., Vismara, C. and Zucca, R. (eds.) L’Africa Romana. I Luoghi e le Forme dei Mestieri e della Produzione nelle Province Africane (Atti del XVIII Convegno di Studio, Olbia, 11-14 Dicembre 2008). Series: L’Africa Romana (18). Carocci, Rome, Italy, pp. 1187-1202. ISBN 9788843054916.

Cockshott, W.P., and Zachriah, D. (2012) Arguments for Socialism.Amazon. ISBN B006S2LW6U.

So at this stage it would appear that this is little evidence that Facebook has a significant role to play in enhancing access to papers hosted in institutional repositories. But are the experiences from these three institutional repositories typical across the sector? Might the early adopters, such as P van Dommelen and W. P. Cockshot and their co-authors be gaining advantages in enhancing access to their papers? And, finally, might the announcement of Facebook’s Graph Search prove of relevance to those with an interest in enhancing the discoverability of research papers?

I’ve asked questions, rather than suggested answers in this post. In part that is because the potential relevance of Facebook’s Graph Search will be based on the use of Facebook, rather than advocacy or critique of use of Facebook in a scholarly context. I’d therefore welcome comments from repository managers, in particular, on evidence of Facebook as a driver of traffic (whether large or small) to institutional repositories. For those who may not wish to leave a comment I’ve created two polls: one of the amount of traffic provided by Facebook and the other on interest in understanding the potential of use of Facebook’s Graph Search in a repository context.

Finally, if you’d like to know more about Facebook’s Graph Search, the following links may be of interest:

View Twitter conversation from: [Topsy] | View Twitter statistics from: []

Posted in Facebook | Tagged: | 2 Comments »

The Sixth Anniversary of the UK Web Focus Blog

Posted by Brian Kelly on 1 Nov 2012

This blog was launched in 1 November 2006. A year after the launch I described The First Year of the UK Web Focus Blog. The following year I provided a summary of  The Second Anniversary of the UK Web Focus Blog) in which I provided a link to a backup copy of the blog’s content, hosted on Scribd. In a post on The Third Anniversary of the UK Web Focus Blog I commented that “with over 600 posts published on the UK Web Focus blog, I can’t recall all of the things I have written about!“. In 2010 a post on Fourth Anniversary of this Blog – Feedback Invited provided a link to a SurveyMonkey form and I subsequently published a post which gave an Analysis of the 2010 Survey of UK Web Focus Blog.

Last year’s anniversary post, entitled How People Find This Blog, Five Years On concluded that “most people now view posts on this blog following alerts they have come across on Twitter rather than via a Google search or by subscribing to the blog’s RSS feed“. I went on to say that “to put it more succinctly, social search is beating Google and RSS“.

Figure 1: Referrer Traffic to this blog, 2011-12

But what do usage statistics now tell us about the previous year? Looking at the referrer statistics for the last 365 days (as illustrated in Figure 1) it seems that has changed how it displays the referrer statistics compared with last year.

Figure 2: Referrer Traffic, 2006-11

Last year’s findings (illustrated in Figure 2) had Twitter in first place, followed by Google Reader and the UKOLN Web site. However this year we find Search Engines in first place, by a significant margin.

This reflects comments made last year by Tony Hirst who felt that the statistics were somewhat misleading:

my stats from the last year show a lot of Twitter referrals, but also (following a three or four day experiment by WordPress a week or so ago), inflated referrals from “”. The experiment (or error?) that WordPress ran was to include RSS counts in the stats. The ‘normal’ stats are page views on; the views over the feed can be found by looking at the stats for each page.

It would appear that last year’s conclusion: “social search is beating Google and RSS” was incorrect. In fact Google continues to be significant in driving traffic to this blog. However I think we can say that “social services, especially Twitter, are beating RSS readers“.

The importance of Twitter is widely appreciated as a means of ensuring that the intended target audience  – those with whom you are likely to share similar professional interests – are alerted to your content. But the thing that surprised me was the importance of Facebook – in third place behind Search Engines and Twitter in referring traffic to this blog.

Perhaps I should not have been surprised by Facebook’s high profile. After all, a post by Daniel Sharkov, an 18 year old student and a blogger, which provided a 9 Step Blog Checklist to Make Sure Your Posts Get Maximum Exposure included the following suggestion:

Did You Share Your Post on Facebook?

An obvious one. What I do is share the post both on my personal wall and on my fan page right after publishing the article.

I appreciate that use of Facebook won’t be appropriate in all cases, but for blogs provided by individuals who have a Facebook account and who wish to see their content widely viewed, it would appear that Facebook can have a role to play in supporting that objective; the evidence is clear to see – even, or perhaps especially, if you’re not a fan of Facebook.

Posted in Blog, Evidence, Facebook | 2 Comments »

Thoughts on Wolfram|Alpha Personal Analytics for Facebook

Posted by Brian Kelly on 5 Sep 2012

Recent News: Wolfram|Alpha Personal Analytics for Facebook

Tony Hirst alerted me to the recent post on Wolfram|Alpha Personal Analytics for Facebook. Facebook is, of course, one of those services which generates strong opinions, rather as Microsoft used to do. In the case of Microsoft the criticisms have been centred around its proprietary file formats and its misuse of its dominance in the desktop computer environment. For Facebook, the criticisms have focussed on Facebook being a “walled garden” and its misuse of personal data.

Facebook Was a Walled Garden

It was back in 1993 when Novell claimed that Microsoft was blocking its competitors out of the market through anti-competitive practices. However as described in Wikipedia the European Union Microsoft competition case resulted in the EU ordering Microsoft to divulge certain information about its server products and release a version of Microsoft Windows without Windows Media Player, in addition to paying a fine of £381 million. Microsoft also eventually migrated its proprietary file format to XML and the Open Office XML format which became an ISO standard in December 2006.

Might we see similar changes happening with Facebook? Back in December 2008 I asked Just What Is A “Walled Garden”? – a post which generated interesting discussion on the pros and cons of walled gardens, with Ben Toth commenting:

I don’t like the phrase at all. Firstly it’s one of those phrases which gives the impression of being meaningful but in practice doesn’t bear too much analysis. Secondly, walled gardens were a pretty clever Victorian technology for creating micro-climates in order to boost food production (, so it seems a shame to use the term in a negative way. Finally, all gardens have walls of one sort or another – an un-walled garden wouldn’t be a garden. So the phrase is a tautology.

Max Norton concluded the discussion by observing that:

to leap to judgement just because something can be described as a walled garden is hasty. While my instinct is towards openness I try to be pragmatic about these things and where I feel there are gains to be had in using “walled garden” solutions I’ll use them.

A willingness to accept the benefits that can be provided by walled gardens can clearly be seen by fans of Apple products, with, as described by the Wikipedia entry for Walled Garden (technology) Apple’s iOS devices are “restricted to running pre-approved applications from a digital distribution service“.

In October 2010 I pointed out that Planet Facebook Becomes Less of a Walled Garden following the announcement that “Facebook lets users download data, create groups“; news that was welcomed as “A step in the right direction, by the vice-chair of the DataPortability Project“.

Back in September 2011 ZDNet published an article which provided an update on Facebook’s export options and argued that Facebook finally makes your exported data useful. Since there are also tools such as SafeGuard which enable you to export data from Facebook and other social networking services it seems that we can say that not only can a walled garden provide a safe managed environment, but that it would be wrong to describe Facebook as a walled environment.

Accessing Facebook Activity Data

There are now a number of ways of migrating one’s personal data from Facebook. Facebook provide advice on how to do this, and this approach has been described in an article published in C|net. Meanwhile applications such as Social Safe provide alternative ways of accessing one’s Facebook data – and I learnt that I updated my Facebook profile picture on 13 December 2007.

But it was Tony Hirst’s tweet which interested me that most, since the Wolfram|Alpha service goes beyond the simple exporting of one’s content (status updates and images and videos which have been uploaded) and provides information and visualisations of one’s activity data.

Figure 1: Facebook activities, by time and day of week

Once you have given permission to the Wolfram|Alpha app to access your Facebook data visualisations of how you use Facebook are provided, such as the day of the week and time of posting status updates, posting links or uploading images. As shown in Figure 1 it seems that I tend to use Facebook mostly between 6pm and 9pm, which is not unexpected as I use it primarily for social purposes.

Figure 2: Facebook apps used

Figure 2 shows the Facebook apps which I use. It seems that the one I use most is the app which provides an automated status update when I publish a new post on this blog.

This information simply gives me a better understanding of my use of Facebook. This personal understanding of one’s Twitter use was the angle taken in a post on the Mashable tech blog which described how This App Knows More About Your Facebook Account Than You Do.

Figure 3: Visualisation of my Facebook community

However of greater interest to me is the way in which the Wolfram|Alpha app provides a visualisation of my Facebook community and the connections between the members of the community.

In Figure 3 you can see the various communities, which includes my sword dancing and folk communities and my profession contacts. I can also see the various outliers, of people who have few connections with others, which includes the landlady of a pub I often visit.

Such visualisation of one’s connections will be familiar to anyone who keeps an eye on Tony Hirst’s work in this area. In the past Tony has made use of Twitter APIs in order to visualise the growth and development of Twitter connections, including connections based around an event hashtag.

Facebook and Twitter Social Graphs

Assuming that you are willing to trust Wolfram|Alpha, their Facebook app may be of interest to anyone who would like to gain a better understanding of their own use of Facebook – as well as understanding what Facebook may know about you. Apart from the automated updates when I publish a new blog post, I update my Facebook status in the evening, often when I’m listening to live music in a local pub. Being able to process such information in an automated and global way will be of interest to the service providers who are looking to optimise targetted advertising.

Beyond the individual’s interest in such tools, clearly of greater interest will be developments around the global social graphs provided by Facebook, Twitter and, to a lesser extent, Google+

Tony Hirst has addressed this issue recently when he asked Is Twitter Starting to Make a Grab for the Interest Graph? As Tony pointed out:

If targeted advertising is Twitter’s money play, then it’s obviously in their interest to keep hold of the data juice that lets them define audiences by interest. Which is to say, they need to keep the structure of the graph as closed as possible.

Will Twitter’s increased control over their APIs mean that there will be less opportunity for developers such as Tony Hirst (and Martin Hawksey with his developments based on processing the Twitter data stream) to continue their work which helps to provide a better understanding of how social networks are being used to enhance teaching and learning and research activities? And will, ironically, we find that Facebook provides a more open environment for such work?

NOTE: Following publication of this post Tony Hirst informed me of his posts on Getting Started With The Gephi Network Visualisation App – My Facebook Network, Part I and Social Interest Positioning – Visualising Facebook Friends’ Likes With Data Grabbed Using Google Refine which described his experiments in analysing and visualising Facebook data.

Twitter conversation from Topsy: [View]

Posted in Facebook, openness | 2 Comments »

Over One Million ‘Likes’ of Facebook Pages for the 24 Russell Group Universities

Posted by Brian Kelly on 2 Aug 2012


On 1 August the 20 Russell Group universities was enlarged from 20 to 24, following the incorporation of Durham and Exeter University, Queen Mary, University of London and the University of York. As described on the Russell Group University Web site “[the] universities are to be found in all four nations and in every major city of the UK. They operate globally, attracting international students and academic staff from many different countries, but also have a strong role and influence within their regional and local community.” But how effective are they in using popular social media services to attract potential students, engage with existing students and staff and with the wider community? In order to provide a benchmark of use of the most popular social networking service a survey of the number of likes for the official institutional Facebook presence has been carried out.

Facebook Usage for Russell Group Universities

In order to gather evidence of use of Facebook in the higher education sector a survey of Facebook usage, determined by links for institutional pages, have been carried out for the Russell Group universities. This survey follows on from previous surveys carried out in January and September 2011 and May 2012 for the 20 Russell group universities which enabled trends to be detected which can inform discussions and policy decisions on institutional use of Facebook. Note that the data provided in the following table is also available as a Google Spreadsheet.

 Ref. No. Institution and Web site link
Facebook name and link
Nos. of Likes
(Jan 2011)
Nos. of Likes
(Sep 2011)
Nos. of Likes
(May 2012)
Nos. of Likes
(Aug 2012)
% increase
since Sep 2011
 1 InstitutionUniversity of Birmingham
Fb nameunibirmingham
8,558  14,182  18,611   20,756    46%
 2 InstitutionUniversity of Bristol
Fb nameUniversity-of-Bristol/108242009204639
2,186   7,913  11,480  12,357    56%
 3 InstitutionUniversity of Cambridge
58,392 105,645 153,000 168,000    59%
 4 InstitutionCardiff University
Fb namecardiffuni
20,035  25,945   30,648  31,989     23%
 5 InstitutionDurham University
Fb nameDurham-University/109600695725424
 –   –  10,843    –
 6 InstitutionUniversity of Exeter
Fb nameintouniversityofexeter  exeteruni
 –   –    1,765
 7 InstitutionUniversity of Edinburgh
Fb nameUniversityOfEdinburgh
(Page URL changed since first survey)
 12,053   24,507   27,574  112%
 8 InstitutionUniversity of Glasgow
Fb Name: glasgowuniversity
  1,860   27,149  29,840 1,504%
 9 InstitutionImperial College
Fb nameimperialcollegelondon
5,490  10,257  16,444  19,020    85%
10 InstitutionKing’s College London
Fb nameKings-College-London/54237866946
2,047   3,587   5,384   7,534   110%
11 InstitutionUniversity of Leeds
Fb nameuniversityofleeds
   899   2,143    3,091    243%
12 InstitutionUniversity of Liverpool
Fb name: livuni
(Page URL change since last survey)
2,811  3,742   4,410   4,655 5,239     40%
13 InstitutionLSE
Fb name: lseps
Page URL changed for this survey)
22,798  32,290 43,716   50,287    56%
14 InstitutionUniversity of Manchester
Fb nameUniversity-Of-Manchester/365078871967
1,978   4,734   9,356   13,751   190%
15 InstitutionNewcastle University
Fb namenewcastleuniversity
    115      693    1,084   840%
16 InstitutionUniversity of Nottingham
Fb nameTheUniofNottingham
3,588    9,991  14,692   17,133     71%
17 InstitutionUniversity of Oxford
137,395 293,010 541,000 628,000  114%
18 InstitutionQueen Mary, University of London
Fb nameQueen-Mary-University-of-London/107998909223423
 –   –  13,362    –
19 InstitutionQueen’s University Belfast
Fb nameQueensUniversityBelfast
(Page URL changed for this survey)
5,211   10,063   16,989  226%
20 InstitutionUniversity of Sheffield
Fb nametheuniversityofsheffield
6,646 12,412  19,308   22,746   83%
21 InstitutionUniversity of Southampton
Fb nameunisouthampton
3,328 6,387  18,062   19,790  209%
22 InstitutionUniversity College London
Fb nameUCLOfficial
977 4,346  33,853  37,493  760%
23 InstitutionUniversity of Warwick
Fb namewarwickuniversity
8,535 12,112 14,472   15,103    25%
24 InstitutionUniversity of York
Fb nameuniversityofyork
 –   –    11,212    –
TOTAL 287,767 566,691 998,991 1,184,958



Facebook ‘Likes’ for Russell Group Universities in August 2012

There are now over a million ‘likes’ for the institutional presence on Facebook of the 24 Russell Group universities.

A post on this blog previously described a significant increase over  a period of eight months in the number of ‘likes’ for the twenty UK Russell Group Universities, which totalled about 999K in May. The current increase over a period of about ten weeks is primarily due to the additional numbers provided by the four new Russell group universities, which come to a total of over 37K likes.

It should be noted that, as illustrated 67% of the likes are provided by just two institutions: the Facebook pages for the University of Oxford (with 628K likes) and the University of Cambridge (168K likes).

Note that a Google Spreadsheet of these figures, together with the accompanying charts, is available.


In some circles providing evidence of Facebook usage is an activity which  people feel should be avoided, since Facebook is a ‘walled garden’ and has a blatant disregard for individual’s privacy.

In the higher education sector I would argue that we have a need for policy decisions to be informed by evidence. There is therefore a need to gather evidence of use of such services in order to inform decisions on their use and also to learn from their strengths and weaknesses and their popularity, so that such lessons can be used in order to make more effective use of existing services and also to be prepared to use new social media service which could replace or complement today’s popular services. Anyone who would like to see Facebook replaced by Diaspora, say (described in Wikipedia as “a nonprofit, user-owned, distributed social network that is based upon the free Diaspora software … is not owned by any one person or entity, keeping it safe from corporate take-overs, advertising, and other threats“)  would surely benefit from gaining an understanding of Facebook’s popularity.

From looking at the names of institutional Facebook accounts and the corresponding URLs and the popularity of the accounts it would appear beneficial to have an easily remembered name, to avoid fragmentation of official accounts and  to avoid the need to rename an accounts address.

This might suggest that it would be useful for institutions to claim a meaningful name on social networks which may gain in popularity in the future. As suggested in a post on Institutional Use of Social Media in China this has been an approach which has been adopted by 19 of the first 20 institutions with an official presence on China’s Sina Wēibó social media service.

But at a time in which it is increasingly important to be able to justify the return on investment in using new services, it will be important to document the intended purposes of such new services and the benefits which may be gained. Back in May 2007 in a post entitled Something IS Going On With Facebook! I commented on early signals of growth in interest in Facebook following the launch of the Facebook Platform. A few months later, in November 2007 a post entitled UK Universities On Facebook reported that “a Facebook search for organisations containing the word ‘university’ revealed ) a total of 76 hits which included, in alphabetical order, the following UK Universities: AstonCardiffKent and the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan)” – and it is interesting to note that the links to the Facebook pages for these early adopters still work even though the URLs have changed.

The post generated a large number of comments with Patrick Lauke asking:

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?

Looking back it would be interesting to see if an institutional Facebook presence has supported strategic objectives. Would the 24 Russell Group Universities  have regarded having a total of over a million as providing a proxy measure of some objective? On the other hand, might this be regarded as a failure?  We have five years of experience of institutional use of Facebook, which includes a number of snapshots of quantitative evidence. It will be interesting to see how this evidence of the recent past can shape and inform discussions and decisions on use of social media over the next five years.

I should add that following the survey in May  2012 Tom Wright, Digital Engagement Manager at the University of Nottingham, commented:

Interesting to see these stats, but to gauge how successful universities are with Facebook you really need to look at other metrics around engagement, reach, influence, etc. You can have plenty of likes but very little engagement and measuring likes is very much like judging a web page’s success based on simple page view numbers – a very raw measure that doesn’t tell you an awful lot. 

I would agree with these comments, although I should add that since such information is restricted to Facebook page administrators it is not possible to get a picture across a community.  However a follow-up post which provided a Survey of Institutional Use of Facebook was also published in May which contained information about a survey in which Tom and I invited those involved in using Facebook to support institutional activities to provide details of their work. In order to gain a broad picture of Facebook use across the sector this survey is still open.

Posted in Evidence, Facebook | 5 Comments »

Survey of Institutional Use of Facebook

Posted by Brian Kelly on 22 May 2012

Total nos. of Facebook Likes for Russell Group universities.

A recent post entitled  What Next, As Facebook Use in UK Universities Continues to Grow? summarised growth in institutional use of Facebook in the 20 Russell Group universities in the UK, based on the number of ‘likes’ for the official institutional Facebook page. As can be seen in the accompanying histogram, there has been significant growth since the surveys in January and September 2011.  However as Tom Wright, the Digital Engagement Manager at the University of Nottingham commentedto gauge how successful universities are with Facebook you really need to look at other metrics around engagement, reach, influence, etc.

This is certainly true, but such metrics are not always publicly available and so in order to be able to answer the question “Are universities successful in their use of Facebook?” it will clearly be advantageous to be able to see a greater range of metrics. But in addition, the metrics themselves need to relate to the intended purpose(s) of the services and institutions may be using Facebook for a range of different purposes.

In order to help gain a better understand of how Facebook is being used across the sector, Tom and I have set up a SurveyMonkey form on institutional use of Facebook which invites respondents to summarise the purposes of institutional Facebook pages and the metrics they use to monitor the effectiveness of Facebook to achieve these purposes.  As Tom describes:

Understanding the roles which social networks such as Facebook can have in supporting business requirements is important for universities such as Nottingham with campuses in China and Malaysia and students from around the world. Facebook, with its international audience, has huge potential for today’s higher education institutions with their increasingly global reach, in the areas of student recruitment, marketing, internal communications and alumni support.

The survey is intended primarily for those working in institutional Web management or marketing teams in UK universities or FE colleges.  However we appreciate that universities around the world will have similar interests in the role of Facebook, together with concerns regarding the sustainability of the service, privacy issues and its relevance in supporting educational needs.

Such issues have been described in a paper on “Social Networking and Education: Using Facebook As An Edusocial Space” published in the Proceedings of Society for Information Technology & Teacher Education International Conference 2011 (pp. 3330-3338). This paper is also available on Scribd. The abstract for the paper states that:

The acceptance of Facebook by school-aged users is evident, but the potential of using social networking sites for educational purposes is still being debated. This paper explores the use of Facebook within a high school science-mentoring program. Results indicate that the use of Facebook positively affected the relationships between mentors and mentees. In addition, students believed that they learned more by using Facebook and would like to use Facebook for other educational purposes.

and concludes:

Social networking is already one of the most common ways that communication occurs virtually. While the majority of users spend time communicating with those who they have already built relationships with in reality, it may also have the potential to build relationships virtually.

Participation of a mentor and mentee on the Facebook group page was seen to positively affect their relationship both online and offline. Students and mentors that interacted regularly, posting questions and receiving feedback through the page, were observed as having a stronger relationship than other mentor-mentee pairs.

Might this suggest that there is a role to play in the development of Facebook apps which can support such collaborative activities? Back in March 2010 in a post entitled OU Facebook Apps, Reprise Tony Hirst mentioned work at the Open University which was “looking at rebooting the OU’s Facebook strategy. With a bit of luck, this means that we’ll be doing another push on the OU Facebook apps that were developed several years ago now and which I still believe provide a sound basis for a range of community building and social learning support services“.

But although the Open University might be working in this area, what is happening in the wider sector?  The concluding section on “Recommendations for future research” in the paper mentioned above described how:

Additional research is needed to explore the most beneficial design for an edusocial space. Though Facebook has been used for some educational purposes, research could explore the specific kinds of activities that are most beneficial to learners. Using social networking sites, however, is still a controversial issue with most schools blocking the site from students and faculty. Thus, it must also be understood if students can view sites like Facebook as educational spaces and be able to engage in learning activities at appropriate times.

The survey on institutional use of Facebook aims to gather information on such development activities.  We intend to present the findings at UKOLN’s Institutional Web Management Workshop, IWMW 2012, in Edinburgh on 18-20 June.  We hope that people within the sector will respond to this survey in order that we can gain a comprehensive picture of use of Facebook across the higher and further educational sectors.

Posted in Evidence, Facebook | 4 Comments »

What Next, As Facebook Use in UK Universities Continues to Grow?

Posted by Brian Kelly on 18 May 2012

Facebook IPO

On Tuesday a headline in the Guardian announced Facebook raises price range ahead of IPO with the article describing how “Facebook has increased the price range of its stock in what will be Silicon Valley’s biggest-ever initial public offering to raise more than $12bn (£7.4bn), giving the social network a valuation that could exceed $100bn“.

What will the reaction be after today’s IPO launch? I suspect that my Twitter network will be talking about a bubble which is about to burst (if the shares go up in price) or will gloat if the price goes down. I don’t expect people to say “the financial injection can support developments which will be beneficial to use of Facebook within higher education“!

But how widely used is Facebook within higher education? And are the trends suggesting that usage has peaked, with users becoming disillusioned with social networks such as Facebook or, perhaps, moving to other services, such as Twitter – as the recent announcement in the Guardian that “Twitter now has 10m users in UK” with the “UK [being] the fourth-largest country for Twitter users in the world, with 80% accessing it with mobile phones” may suggest?

Facebook Usage for Russell Group Universities

In order to gather evidence to support discussions on the relevance of use of Facebook in the higher education sector a survey of Facebook usage, determined by links for institutional pages, has been carried out for the 20 Russell Group universities. This survey follows on from previous surveys carried in in January and September 2011 which will enable trends to be detected. Note that the data provided in the following table is also available as a Google Spreadsheet.

Institution and Web site link
Facebook name and link
Nos. of Likes
(Jan 2011)
Nos. of Likes
(Sep 2011)
Nos. of Likes
(May 2012)
% increase
since Jan 2011
% increase
since Sep 2011
 1 InstitutionUniversity of Birmingham
Fb nameunibirmingham
8,558  14,182  18,611 117%    31%
 2 InstitutionUniversity of Bristol
Fb nameUniversity-of-Bristol/108242009204639
2,186   7,913  11,480  425%    45%
 3 InstitutionUniversity of Cambridge
58,392 105,645 153,000 162%    45%
 4 InstitutionCardiff University
Fb namecardiffuni
20,035  25,945   30,648  53%    18%
 5 InstitutionUniversity of Edinburgh
Fb nameUniversityOfEdinburgh
(Page URL changed since previous survey)
 12,053   24,507   103%
 6 InstitutionUniversity of Glasgow
Fb Name: glasgowuniversity
  1,860   27,149  1,346%
 7 InstitutionImperial College
Fb nameimperialcollegelondon
5,490  10,257  16,444 200%    60%
 8 InstitutionKing’s College London
Fb nameKings-College-London/54237866946
2,047   3,587   5,384 163%    50%
 9 InstitutionUniversity of Leeds
Fb nameuniversityofleeds
   899   2,143    138%
10 InstitutionUniversity of Liverpool
Fb nameUniversity-of-Liverpool/293602011521
2,811  3,742   4,410  57%    18%
11 InstitutionLSE
Fb nameLSE/6127898346
22,798  32,290 43,716  92%    35%
12 InstitutionUniversity of Manchester
Fb nameUniversity-Of-Manchester/365078871967
1,978   4,734   9,356  373%    98%
13 InstitutionNewcastle University
Fb namenewcastleuniversity
    115      693  503%
14 InstitutionUniversity of Nottingham
Fb nameTheUniofNottingham
3,588    9,991  14,692  309%   47%
15 InstitutionUniversity of Oxford
137,395 293,010 541,000   294%   85%
16 InstitutionQueen’s University Belfast
Fb nameQueens-University-Belfast/108518389172588
5,211   10,063   93%
17 InstitutionUniversity of Sheffield
Fb nametheuniversityofsheffield
6,646 12,412  19,308  199%   56%
18 InstitutionUniversity of Southampton
Fb nameunisouthampton
3,328 6,387  18,062  443%  183%
19 InstitutionUniversity College London
Fb nameUCLOfficial
977 4,346  33,853 3,365%  679%
20 InstitutionUniversity of Warwick
Fb namewarwickuniversity
8,535 12,112 14,472    70%   19%
TOTAL 287,767 566,691 998,991  241%    76%


  • The data for the surveys was collected on 11 January 201125 September  2011 (estimate) and 16 May 2012.
  • The Facebook page for the University of Edinburgh has changed since the last survey.


Figure 1: Growth in total nos. of Facebook ‘Likes’ for Russell Group universities.

In brief in a period of eight months we have seen an increase in the number of ‘likes’ for the twenty UK Russell Group Universities of over 432,300 users with the largest increase, of almost 248,000 occurring at the University of Oxford. The largest percentage increase in that time has taken place at University of Glasgow, which has seen a growth of 1,346% from 1,860 to 27,149 and UCL which has seen a growth of 679% from 4,346 to 33,493.

The overall trends are illustrated in the accompanying histogram. As can be seen this shows a significant growth in the overall number of Facebook likes across the Russell Group universities.

It should also be noted that according to Russell Group University Web sitehalf a million students are enrolled at Russell Group universities – one in five of all higher education students in the UK“. Although the numbers of Facebook likes will include members of staff and other interested parties, the data does seem to suggest that a significant proportion of students are using Facebook.


I suspect that social media consultants who advise the higher education sector will find the evidence presented in this post useful in demonstrating the importance of Facebook. However some caveats need to be pointed out:

  • There may be significant growth when six formers are deciding which universities to apply to. The ‘liking’ of a university may provide a bookmark which is not an indication of engagement with the institution.
  • New students may like their new institution’s Facebook page when they arrive, but may not use the service during their time at the institution.
  • Students may not unlike their institution’s Facebook page when they graduate, meaning that the number of Facebook likes will include people who have left the institution and may no longer use the service or have an interest in the information provided.

In addition to the need to the interpretation of the data there will also be a need to make policy decisions which should be informed by such evidence, but may not need to be determined by the evidence. It may be that Facebook can be regarded in a similar way to mailing lists: people use them and gain some value from them but development work is likely to take place using other technologies. Alternatively the popularity of Facebook may mean that that it has a role to play as a platform for development of new services. As described in a post on Facebook and Twitter as Infrastructure for Dissemination of Research Papers (and More) publishers such as Spring are providing mechanisms for researchers to share peer-reviewed papers using Facebook and Twitter, so perhaps Facebook could have a role to play as a sharing tool which is embedded within institutional tools.

Alternatively might Facebook have a role to play in more significant development work. The initial popularity of the Guardian’s Facebook app suggested that Facebook could have a role to play in sharing one’s reading activities across one’s networks, although more recent evidence, as described in a post on “Facebook Social Readers Are All Collapsing” suggests that Facebook apps which provide ‘frictionless sharing’ are declining in popularity. A more recent post TechCrunch post which described how Decline Of Reader Apps Likely Due To News Feed Changes, Shows Facebook Controls The Traffic Faucet provided a more thoughtful analysis of the reasons for the decline in usage, but also highlighted the dependencies which organisations will have in reliance on commercial companies whose business decisions may adversely effect organisations which rely on their services.

Figure 2: Facebook ‘Likes’ for Russell Group universities
(see Table for institution names)

The question “What next for Facebook use in UK Universities?” will be an interesting one. And with over half a million ‘likes’ will Oxford University be thinking about benefits which can be gained from such a large network? Alternatively will institutions such as Newcastle University with small Facebook networks shrug their metaphorical shoulders at such suggestions and argue that Facebook has no value to their teaching and learning and research activities? Or might the popularity of Facebook at Oxford and Cambridge Universities, which, as can be seen from the histogram, has a significant effect on the overall totals for Russell Group universities, simply reflect the brand awareness for these two institutions?

What are your thoughts? And what evidence will you need to gather if you feel that alternatives to Facebook will have a significant role to play?

Footnote: A follow-up post about a Survey of Institutional Use of Facebook has been published. This contains information about a survey in which we invite those involved in using Facebook to support institutional activities to provide details of their work. We invite people to complete this survey in order to provide a better understanding of Facebook use within the sector.

Posted in Evidence, Facebook | 6 Comments »

Further Reflections on My Predictions for 2012

Posted by Brian Kelly on 23 Jan 2012

“Massively Scalable Sensemaking Analytics”

A recent post outlined My Predictions for 2012. However rather than just posting some idle speculations on technological developments which I feel will have an impact across the higher education sector this year, I also pointed out that there was a need  at a later date to be able to identify ways of gauging whether the predictions were accurate or not.

This suggestion followed on from a recent post in which I described “The Need for an Evidence-based Approach to Demonstrating Value“.  This post was highlighted by Stephen Downes who introduced me to “people like Rudolf Carnap [who] used to talk about ‘the requirement of total evidence’ and the ‘principle of indifference’” and went on to add that “These are as valid today as when they wrote it“. These two post inspired further discussion by Keith Lyons in a post on Probability and Sensemaking on the Clyde Street blog who cited a post on massively scalable sensemaking analytics which has links to other posts in this area including:

Sensemaking Systems Must be Expert Counting SystemsData Finds DataContext AccumulationSequence Neutrality and Information Colocation to new techniques to harness the Big Data/New Physics phenomenon.

This provides another take on my suggestion of the importance of Collective Intelligence. I’m therefore pleased to have been alerted to further relevant posts in this area. Indeed I can repeat the final two paragraphs in Keith’s posts as they are equally applicable to me:

It is fascinating that two early morning links can open up such a rich vein of discovery. At the moment I am particularly interested in how records can be used to inform decision making and what constitutes necessary and sufficient evidence to transform performance.

I have a lot of New Year reading to do!

But in addition to the analysis of big data in order to help make sense of future trends, it can also be useful to explore what other experts are predicting.

16 Predictions for Mobile in 2012

In my list of predictions I made uncontroversial comments regarding the growth in ownership of tablet computers. My interest was  not in tablet computers per se but in the implications of increased opportunities for content creation and curation, as well as content consumption which such devices would seem to provide.

On the GigaOm blog Kevin C. Tofel provides his more detailed predictions on development in mobile computing. Here are my thoughts on the implications of some of Kevin’s predictions:

Wearable computing becomes the next mobile frontier: Even more opportunities for content consumption, creation and curation. And, as explained in a post which described how “It Ain’t What You Do, It’s The Fact That You Did It” favouriting a tweet or +1ing a post can be useful and valuable activities.

A jump in wireless home broadband adoption: More opportunities for online access in the home environment.

Windows Phone usage grows, but slower than expected: There will continue to be a diversity in devices, operating systems and applications, so it will be important to provide device- and application-specific services.

Windows tablets in 2012 will sell like Android tablets did in 2011. There will continue to be a diversity in devices, operating systems and applications, so it will be important to provide device- and application-specific services.

Research In Motion will no longer exist as we know it today: Some platforms will fail, so it can help to minimise the risks by minimising developments of platform-specific services.

Nokia uses Symbian as a backup plan (but doesn’t call it Symbian): See above.

The patent wars worsen: Sigh :-( The W3C will seek to avoid standards which are encumbered by patents, but the devices themselves, their networking connective, etc. may be covered by patents which could, as we have seen recently in the case in which Dutch court blocks Galaxy phones in parts of Europe | ZDNet UK, can lead to devices not being allowed to be sold. Best avoid developing device specific services, then!

Apple’s next iPhone will be the iPhone 4GS: When will 4G arrive in the UK, I wonder?

There will be an iPad Pro available in 2012: Ooh, so we should develop apps for the iPad, should we?

Android’s momentum will continue thanks to Android 4.0: Oh, and the Android?

Hybrid apps with HTML5 will be the norm: Maybe not!

Predictions from the BBC

The BBC News blog has a post entitled Mind-reading, tablets and TV are tech picks for 2012 in which a panel of experts “look ahead to the technologies that will change the way we live and work in 2012 and beyond“.

Mt predictions of the continuing growth in importance of tablet computers and social networks, including Facebook, are echoed by Robert Scoble who points out “in terms of the businesses I follow – start-ups – they’re all building into Facebook’s Open Graph technology” and adds “I think business is going to have to have a Facebook Open Graph strategy next year. Even if we’re ignoring it because it’s too freaky on the privacy side, they’re going to have to at least consider it.“.

I suspect that universities will be amongst those businesses which will be exploring how to make greater use of Facebook. As Scoble pointed out “I visited Yahoo recently and they said they’re seeing 600% more visits from Facebook because of it” – with an increasingly competitive market place across higher education I suspect we will be seeing even greater use being made of Facebook during 2012 and, as mentioned above, there will be a need to consider “the requirement of total evidence” and the “principle of indifference“.

But in addition to Facebook as an application environment, Scoble’s comment reminded me of the importance of Facebook’s Open Graph Protocol.  I wonder whether it will be possible to gather evidence of Facebook’s success by monitoring the growth of the social graph rather than simply the numbers of Facebook users.

The continuing importance of social networks was also the key message given by Tim Barker of Barker felt that:

The big one is the social enterprise revolution.

It’s the idea that you can see the power shifting from companies to consumers. There are more than 1.7 billion people on social networks now; Facebook is the size the entire internet was in 2004.

It’s really defining the way that consumers and customers interact with companies and what they expect from them.

Such issues are equally relevant for the university sector, in part because the increasing costs of going to university will mean that future intakes of students will see themselves regarding themselves as customers who are paying a lot of money for the ‘product’ they are buying. In addition something that both staff and students have in common is that we are all consumers when we leave our ivory towers and go into town for the January sales!

We may not like such terminology and be concerned about how the future seems to be arriving, but remember “the requirement of total evidence” and the “principle of indifference“.  On the other hand, perhaps we shouldn’t be so fatalistic about the future.  But if we do wish to build an alternative reality we will still need to gather the evidence.

Posted in Facebook, jiscobs, Social Web | Leave a Comment »

Should Higher Education Welcome Frictionless Sharing?

Posted by Brian Kelly on 16 Jan 2012

Frictionless Sharing and The Guardian Facebook App

I recently described developments which suggest the potential for Facebook and Twitter as Infrastructure for Dissemination of Research Papers (and More). The post pointed out that links Facebook and Twitter seem to becoming more embedded within services, such as bibliographic services, in order to make it easier for researchers to share papers of interest across their professional network. Recently Martin Belam (@currybet) tweeted “Frictionless sharing – exploring the changes to Facebook” – a piece I’ve written for FUMSI magazine and his article explored other developments we are seeing which can make sharing of resources even easier than clicking on a Like or Tweet button. Martin is the Lead User Experience & Information Architect for the Guardian Web site and blogs about UX/IA, digital media & journalism on He is also a contributing editor for the FUMSI online magazine. His opening paragraph, in an article aimed at information professionals, suggests that he feels that Facebook can bring benefits to this sector:

As 2012 begins, Facebook remains one of the amazing growth stories of the internet. Some argue that an eventual flotation will mark the high tide of a second internet bubble, whilst others are awe of the fact that a website that started in a college dorm has grown to have nearly one billion members

The main focus of his article are the recent technical developments which make sharing of resources transparent:

One of the biggest changes for content providers is “frictionless sharing”. In the past, users had to actively share content by pressing a “Like” button on a website, or “Like”-ing a Facebook page, or including a URL in their status update. Facebook is changing this. They have opened up what they call their “Open Graph”, which allows apps and publishers to automatically insert “actions” into a user’s Facebook timeline. And, in plain English, that means that for some sites or apps, simply listening to a song or reading an article is enough to see it posted to your Facebook activity stream without you lifting so much as a mouse-finger.

At the time of writing only a handful of applications have been launched which take advantage of the feature, including those by Yahoo!, Spotify, the Guardian, Independent and the Washington Post’s “Social Reader” app. That is sure to change in 2012, but the roll-out of further apps seems tied into Facebook launching “Timeline” – a new way for users to view their profile pages.

As an example of what is meant by frictionless sharing a screenshot of my Facebook news updates showing the Guardian articles I read using the Guardian’s Facebook app is shown. As can be seen the articles I read included ones on “Sherlock: BBC will no remove nude scenes” and “A Thatcher state funeral would be bound to lead to protests“. Note that the links I have provided go directly to the Guardian Web site so you can follow the links in the knowledge that your interest in nudity and right wing politicians will not be disclosed to your liberal colleagues :-)

This provides an interesting example of the risks of sharing the articles you read, without having to manually select an article of interest and consciously share it, whether on Twitter, Facebook, Delicious or whatever, across your network. And this is a reason why some people, including people in my network whose opinions I respect, have concerns over this development. On the other hand, the Guardian Facebook app does seem to be popular. It seems I was not alone in reading the article on how “Footage of nude dominatrix shown before 9pm watershed have prompted more than 100 complaints” and the hypocrisy of the Daily Mail in expressing their outrage whilst including the ‘shocking’ images in their web site.

But the 8,995 people who viewed the article shortly after it had been published was beaten by the 11,686 people who read the article on how Pale octopus, hairy-chested yeti crab and other new species found (warning the first link is to the Guardian Facebook app).

So 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 of the Guardian sections collated on 14 January 2012, just over three months after the app’s launch, are given below.

Section Like this Talking about this
Main 242,326 13,593
Society 13,451      862
Technology 16,662   1,053
Data 3,486      100
Football 14,820      888
Sport 905       68
Culture 38,261   3,699

These figures seem to suggest the popularity of the Guardian Facebook app although, as ever, care must be taken in interpretting figures. In particular I do not know if these figures may include use of a pre-frictionless sharing app. In addition this single set of figures doesn’t provide any comparisons with views of the Guardian Web site or shown trends.

But returning to the recent FUMSI article Martin Belam provided some suggestions aimed at information professionals

Think again about Facebook metadata
Facebook’s Open Graph is a metadata standard for marking up your web content. It sits quietly in the HEAD of your HTML, and replicates many fields that you might be familiar with from metadata standards like Dublin Core. The fact that anyone can access it via a web request allows Facebook to say the standard is “open”, although they tightly control the spec themselves. To take advantage of the new frictionless sharing, even if you don’t build an app yourself, making that metadata available is going to be a requirement to have your content display properly within the many social reading experiences that are sure to be developed.

Think again about audit trails
“Frictionless sharing” changes the nature of our digital audit trails on Facebook. From a competitive intelligence point of view, it is great news, because potentially seeing what someone from a particular company is reading about and watching can give you clues as to where their work may be heading. It also means being careful not to leave audit trails yourself if you want the research you are doing to be kept “under the radar”.


The ‘Frictionless Sharing’ Term

Martin Belam’s article generated some interesting Twitter debate on the day it was published. I spotted the initial tweet from @currybet and shortly afterwards read @ppetej’s comment that:

Much as I loathe the whole ghastly “frictionless sharing” thing, some useful thoughts/pointers by

and @mweller’s response:

@ppetej frictionless sharing is interesting I think for academics – it certainly shaped the way I wrote my last book

I curated the discussion on Storify since I felt it raised several interesting issues, in particular in taking the discussion about frictionless sharing beyond one particular instance (Facebook, which tends to focus concerns on other aspects of Facebook’s activities) into the more general issues of frictionless sharing in an educational context. Indeed, as Pete Johnston pointed out, a post on Martin Weller’s The Ed Techie blog published back in 2008 described The cost of sharing in which Martin made the point that “The ‘cost’ of sharing has collapsed, but institutions don’t know this“. Martin went on to point out that:

Clay Shirky argues that the cost of organisation has disappeared, and I believe this is because sharing is easy, frictionless. If I come across something I share it via Google shared items, Twitter, my blog, etc. If I want to share I stick it up on Slideshare, my blog, YouTube. There is a small cost in terms of effort to me to do the sharing, and zero cost in anyone wanting to know what I share. Sharing is just an RSS feed away.

Hmm, so back in November 2008 Martin Weller stated that “sharing is easy, frictionless“. Can anyone find an early reference to use of this term in this context? In a post on Sharing Learning Resources: shifting perspectives on process and product Amber Thomas used the term to describe activities taking place in the 1990s: “For example, the late 90s to early 2000s emphasised the benefits of collaborative resource development. Later on, some advocates of Open Educational Resources (OER) brought to the fore the concept of content as by-product, exhaust, frictionless sharing” but was not using the term at the time. I wonder if the Sharing article in Wikipedia should include a reference to ‘frictionless sharing’ and whether Martins’ blog post would be an appropriate reference for an early citing of the term in the context of sharing resources on social networking services?

Whenever the term first originated (and on Twitter Martin Weller suggested that “around the time of the dot com bubble ppl talked about the frictionless economy“) by December 2011 the ReadWriteWeb was predicting a Top Trends of 2011: Frictionless Sharing. This article illustrated frictionless sharing initially by Facebook are doing but also sharing music and news items.

But what of the potential for frictionless sharing in higher education?

Martin Weller feels that such approaches are already becoming embedded in some of his working practices, in particular: “frictionless sharing is interesting I think for academics – it certainly shaped the way I wrote my last book“. In My Predictions for 2012 I suggested that we will see an increase in the amount and types of ‘open practices’ including not only the well-established areas of open access and open educational resources, but also open approaches to being recorded and videoed. But such areas are still related to the creation of content. Frictionless sharing is interesting as it relates to openness in a more passive content: openness about what you may be reading (and as well as Faceboook, apps such as GoodReads allow one to share information on what you are reading).

Tony Hirst explored these ideas in a post published in October 2010 entitled in which he asked Could Librarians Be Influential Friends? And Who Owns Your Search Persona? when he asked “: if librarians become Facebook friends of their patrons, and start “Liking” high quality resources they find on the web, might they start influencing the results that are presented to their patrons on particular searches?“. Tony referred to this post last week when he revisited the potential role of librarians in supporting sharing of resources in a post in which he asked Invisible Library Support – Now You Can’t Afford Not to be Socials? His comment that:

The idea here was that you could start to make invisible frictionless recommendations by influencing the search engine results returned to your patrons (the results aren’t invisible because your profile picture may appear by the result showing that you recommend it. They’re frictionless in the sense that having made the original recommendation, you no longer have to do any work in trying to bring it to the attention of your patron – the search engines take care of that for you (okay, I know that’s a simplistic view;-). [Hmm.. how about referring to it as recommendation mode support?]

was particularly interesting in that Tony seems to have changed from using ‘invisible’ to ‘frictionless’ during the course of writing the post.

The Challenges

In some respects pragmatic advice regarding privacy issues and uncertainties as to how such data could subsequently be used would suggest that you should avoid the risks associated with frictionless sharing. Indeed, I made this point in a post in which I asked Is Smartr Getting Smarter or Am I Getting Dumber? following the Smartr app’s unannounced release of frictionless sharing for reading Twitter links read by members of one’s Smartr network.

But as the evidence of the Guardian app seems to suggest, people may be willing to share their interests in a passive fashion, and benefit from ways in which members of their networks reciprocate.

I guess the questions to be answered are:

  • What other types of frictionless sharing are there?
  • What benefits can frictionless sharing provide?
  • What are the risks in frictionless sharing?
  • Will the benefits outweigh the risks?

But before we can start to discuss these questions we perhaps need to define the terms. So what is ‘frictionless sharing‘? On this occasion Google currently seems to suggest that the term relates primarily to a recent Facebook developments, but I’m interested in the generic meaning of this term.  And perhaps we can use the Wikipedia entry for Frictionless sharing to agree on a definition.

Posted in Facebook, jiscobs, Social Networking | 12 Comments »

Facebook and Twitter as Infrastructure for Dissemination of Research Papers (and More)

Posted by Brian Kelly on 4 Jan 2012


A tweet from @Wowter (blogger, information specialist and bibliometrician at the Wageningen UR Library) alerted me to the news of the “Free new #SpringerLink mobile app: Access 2,000+ peer-rev. journals, 49,000 books,127,000 #OA articles.“.

I installed the app on my iPod Touch and was interested to note that there were just three ways of sending information about the 2,000+ peer-reviewed journals, 49,000 books and 127,000 open access articles: as illustrated the three dissemination tools are email, Facebook and Twitter.

Via @Wowter’s Twitter timeline I also found the news, initially announced by @MFenner, of the “New blog post: CrowdoMeter goes Mobile“.

The blog post describes how “Two weeks ago Euan Adie from and myself launched the website CrowdoMeter, a crowdsourcing project that tries to classify tweets about scholarly articles using the Citation Typing Ontology (CiTO) … This project is far from over, ideally we want 3-5 classifications per tweet or an additional 1,000 classifications“. In order to “make the classifications as simple as possible, and to help further with this we today [4 January 2012] launched a mobile version of CrowdoMeter. Simply browse to with your iPhone or Android phone [and] sign in via your Twitter account“.

I did this and captured the following screenshots:

Initially in this post I intended to highlight how the Springlink app suggests that Facebook and Twitter may be becoming part of the dissemination infrastructure for research papers, especially on mobile devices. However when I read Martin Fenner’s blog post I realised that Twitter, in particular, may have a role to play in the curation of information about research papers and scientific data.

Hmm, I wonder if Twitter will catch on outside this niche area?

Twitter conversation from Topsy: [View]

Posted in Facebook, Mobile, Twitter | 15 Comments »

Things We Can Learn From Facebook

Posted by Brian Kelly on 4 Oct 2011


Are you pleased, angry or indifferent to Facebook developments (photograph taken at Kelvingrove Museum, Glasgow)

Looking at the Evidence

What is your take on recent Facebook developments? Are you feeling angry and have perhaps already deleted your Facebook account as have one or two of my Facebook followers? Or perhaps you are indifferent or even unaware of recent Facebook developments. In which case you are probably just using Facebook as a tool and aren’t taking part in the discussions about Facebook and privacy.

Shortly before a trip to Glasgow this weekend I asked for suggestions on places to visit and things to do. I decided to use my three main social networks in order to gain some anecdotal evidence on current usage of Twitter, Facebook and Google+.

In response to my query I received three responses from four people on Twitter (including one who suggested that I should visit Edinburgh!), 16 comments from fifteen people on Facebook and four comments on Google+.

Whilst that would suggest that Facebook is the most effective social networking environment for me, there is a need to related the numbers of responses to the size of the social network.   But since I have 2,583 followers on Twitter, 625 friends on Facebook and 417 followers on Google+ this seems to confirm the personal value of Facebook to me.

But what about the bigger picture? In a post entitled “Why Facebook’s new Open Graph makes us all part of the web underclass” by Adrian Smart and published recently on the Guardian Web site Adrian argued that “If you’re not paying for your presence on the web, then you’re just a product being used by an organisation bigger than you“. This was, I felt, a very elitist article, with the suggestion that:

When you own a domain you’re a first class citizen of the web. A householder and landowner. What you can do on your own website is only very broadly constrained by law and convention. You can post the content you like. You can run the software you want, including software you’ve written or customised yourself. And you can design it to look the way you want.

suggesting that you are a second class citizen if you primarily use your institutional Web site or, as I do. on the site which constrains the plugins used and look-and-feel for this blog. Actually, you’re worse than a second class citizen:

When you use a free web service you’re the underclass. At best you’re a guest. At worst you’re a beggar, couchsurfing the web and scavenging for crumbs. It’s a cliché but worth repeating: if you’re not paying for it, you’re aren’t the customer, you’re the product. 

In this elitist view, it seems that unless you control your own domain you’re a member of the underclass. The article goes on to take a sideswipe at Facebook, in particular. But it was amusing when I saw the tweet from the Guardian’s @currybet (Martin Belam) which pointed out that:

That “peril of Facebook” post by @adrianshort has 2,000 Likes and has been read nearly 3,000 times in our Facebook app

Yes, it seems that the “Web underclass” is willing to share their engagement with their peers  using a Facebook  Like or the walled garden provided by the Guardian Facebook app – and in quite large numbers.

Avoiding The Echo Chamber

I have described a polarised situation in which posts describing the various problems with Facebook such as the reasons series of articles which have described how Facebook tracks you online even after you log outFacebook denies cookie tracking allegations, Facebook fixes cookie behavior after logging out and US congressmen ask FTC to investigate Facebook cookies.

But whilst Nik Cubrilovic, author of the post in which he accused Facebook of tracking its users even if they log out of the social network has subsequently written a post on how Facebook made changes to the logout process in which he describes how the cookies in question now behave as they should (they still exist, but they no longer send back personally-identifiable information after you log out) we are still seeing tweets in which the initial findings are being repeated.  We also seem to fail to hear other perspectives including the comment from Facebook engineer Gregg Stefancik:

I’m an engineer who works on these systems. I want to make it clear that there was no security or privacy breach. Facebook did not store or use any information it should not have. Like every site on the internet that personalizes content and tries to provide a secure experience for users, we place cookies on the computer of the user. Three of these cookies on some users’ computers included unique identifiers when the user had logged out of Facebook. However, we did not store these identifiers for logged out users. Therefore, we could not have used this information for tracking or any other purpose. In addition, we fixed the cookies so that they won’t include unique information in the future when people log out.

I feel there is a need to have a better understanding of the complexities of the issues and  be willing to listen to the views of others and not just respond to views expressed on ‘echo chambers‘ such as Twitter.

What Can We Learn From Facebook?

In order to move the discussion on from the Twitter echo chamber I’d like to summarise some aspects of Facebook which should be considered in more depth.

“Seamless sharing” could be an appealing concept: A recent post on the Bashki blog announced “Facebook Wants to Change the Way You Share” and described how “Facebook wants to remove as much friction from sharing as possible so that it’s seamlessly integrated with a user’s online activity“. When I heard the term ‘seamless sharing’ it reminded me of the JISC’s vision, over 10 years ago, for the Distributed National Electronic Resource (the DNER as it was initially referred to).   As I described in a poster entitled “Approaches To Indexing In The UK Higher Education Community” presented at the WWW 9 conference in May 2000: “The DNER aims to provide seamless access to electronic resources provided by JISC service providers“. The ideas in the paper were a reflection of the vision for the DNER described by Reg Carr, Director of the Oxford University Library Services who, in a paper on “Creating the Distributed National Electronic Resource, argued that “if the DNER is to deliver the goods in the way envisaged, it will have to do so in a carefully integrated, flexible and seamless way“.

Let’s be honest and admit that in higher education we too are looking to provide a seamless sharing environment.  This is a positive term and we should avoid misinterpretting this term.

We want to understand and respond to user interactions: I recently attended a meeting on learning analytics which Wikipedia describes asthe measurement, collection, analysis and reporting of data about learners and their contexts, for purposes of understanding and optimising learning and the environments in which it occurs“.

Back in 2008 Dave Pattern in a post on “Free Book Usage Data Available from the University of Huddersfield” described how the Library Service had “released a major portion of our book circulation and recommendation data“. Eighteen months later in a post on “Non/low library usage and final grades” Dave described how analysis of the library usage data had showed that “it’s those students who graduate with a third-class honour who are the most likely to be non or low-users of e-resources“. In this case analysis of user interactions (and non-interactions) can lead to an institution taking actions, which could include promotion of appropriate Library resources, training, etc.

Facebook  also analyses its user attention data.  If it notices that I am following England’s rugby team’s exploits in the Rugby World Cup it might also respond to failings, but rather than providing an advert for a Library training course, it might suggest I console myself with a pint of Carling!

Walled gardens can provide a nurturing environment: The term ‘walled garden’ is widely used to dismiss Facebook as a closed environment. Facebook clearly was a closed environment when it was launched, with access restricted to those working in approved academic institutions. However now anyone can have a Facebook account (including organisations) and content can be made public too all or access restricted (in ways not easily achieved on conventional Web sites).  Facebook can be used as a platform for walled garden application, with users needing to install the app in order to access the content – but since standard Facebook content can be published openly it would probably be incorrect to describe Facebook as a walled garden, unless we wish to use the term to describe Intranets.  However a mobile phone app which can only be deployed on a singly platform could, possibly, be described as a walled garden – and as several institutions are developing such apps we need to avoid inconsistencies in the terminology we are using.

In addition to the need to be more rigourous in defining the term there is also a need to reflect on the potential benefits of walled gardens.  I have heard a walled garden being described a providing a ‘managed’ or ‘nurturing’ environment. The institutional VLE may be regarded as a walled garden, but this point is very rarely heard when the term is being used to dismiss technologies one doesn’t approve of.

Users understand the need for sustainable business models: I have always been rather bemused by the statement: “if you’re not paying for a service you’re the product“. When I watch the Rugby World Cup matches on ITV I can also be described as ‘the product’.  ITV isn’t broadcasting the matches as a favour to me and other sports’ fans: it’s doing so in order to make money from the associated advertising.  And just as TV viewers understand the business models so too will users of social networking services understand that the service providers need to make money, both to fund the service and to provide a profit for the owners.

Let’s be honest and admit that faced with a choice of business models based on subscription services, advertising or even nationalised services, the evidence suggests that many users are willing to use services which provide adverts.

Isn’t there a lot which we can learn if we avoid the simple slogans and reflect on the Facebook experiences and successes which users seem to find beneficial?

Posted in Facebook | 17 Comments »

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

Posted by Brian Kelly on 26 Sep 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)
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
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)
6 InstitutionUniversity of Glasgow
Fb Name: glasgowuniversity
(None found in first survey)
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)
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
14 InstitutionUniversity of Nottingham
Fb nameThe-University-of-Nottingham/130981200144
3,588 3,854 9,991 7% 178%
15 InstitutionUniversity of Oxford
137,395 293,010  113%
16 InstitutionQueen’s University Belfast
Fb nameQueens-University-Belfast/108518389172588
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


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.


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 | 34 Comments »

We Can’t Ignore Facebook

Posted by Brian Kelly on 23 Sep 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): #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 . #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?

Posted in Facebook | 6 Comments »

Thoughts on Facebook, Linked Data and Other Developments

Posted by Brian Kelly on 29 Mar 2011

A Week of Facebook Developments

Last week saw a number of interesting Facebook developments which may have implications for the higher and further education sector.  A new Facebook feature, Facebook Questions, was rolled out to all users on March 24 and the following day an Operation Developer Love: Facebook Hack Day took place in Berlin which generated some interesting discussions on Twitter.   Whilst I am aware that many developers and others who have interests  in the use of networked technologies to support educational and research activities have concerns regarding various aspects of the Facebook environment I feel that there is a need to monitor significant developments and to have an open discussion about the potential of such developments as well as possible concerns.

Facebook Questions

A post was published on Mashable on 27 March 2011 which outlines reasons why “Why Facebook’s New Questions Tool Is Good for Brands & Businesses“. The post began:

Brands and businesses are looking for ways to leverage Facebook’s recently unveiled Questions tool in ways that differ from what they’re already doing on Q&A sites such as Quora, Yahoo Answers and LocalMind.

This new feature, which functions as a recommendation engine, was rolled out to all users on March 24. According to Ben Grossman, communication strategist for marketing agency Oxford Communications “It also presents a major opportunity for businesses to conduct market research and crowdsource in a far more elegant way than was previously possible“.

Looking at my Facebook contacts I’ve found that an early user of the new feature was Euan Semple who responded to the questionCheck out the new Facebook Questions what do you think? :)“. The answer, it seems, is that 8 people aren’t sure, 4 love it, 16 feel it could be a useful tool whilst one person doesn’t like it at all.

Whilst many of my other Facebook contacts have been answering fairly trivial questions (such as “FOOTBALL OR RUGBY ? WHICH IS BETTER ? ” and “WHO WOULD WIN IN A FIGHT“)  Aaron Tay, a librarian at the National University of Singapore (who was also recently named as a Library Journal Mover & Shaker 2011), has started to explore how the service can be used to support his professional interests, asking, for example, What is your favourite database/ search engine (excluding Google & Wikipedia)?

I have not yet come across any universities making use of Facebook Questions to gather feedback but as described in the Mashable blog post the feature can be used by organisations and groups and not just individuals. Once a Facebook page owner has set up the appropriate configuration options:

Brands, businesses, groups and organizations can then use Questions in several ways. For example, Grossman said:Ice cream parlors can find out what the flavor of the week should be.

  • A gym can find out what time is best for its new hip-hop yoga class.
  • Radio stations can determine the hottest concerts for the summer.
  • Manufacturers can do a pulse check on fans’ holiday shopping plans.

In light of the increased importance of marketing an institution to new and existing customers (and since many new students will be paying £9,000 per year to attend University we should be regarding them – or their parents – as customers) I suspect we will start to see greater use of Facebook Questions. Is any University already using it, I wonder?

The Operation Developer Love: Facebook Hack Day

The #fbdevlov Twitter Discussion

On its own Facebook Questions is simply a new feature which has been deployed by a large scale social networking environment. Of greater interest to the develop[er community was the Operation Developer Love: Facebook Hack Day (see also the Facebook page) which took place in Berlin on Friday 25 March.

I became aware of this event through spotting tweets from three people in my Twitter stream: @gkob, @kidehen and @ldodds. I follow these three individuals as I am aware of their active involvement in Linked Data developments, which is illustrated in the following biographical details provided on Twitter or, in @ldodds case, his personal Web site:

@gkob (Georgi Kobilarov):
CEO at Uberblic Labs. data geek. building data infrastructure for the Web. trying to change the world. linked & open data advocate. ex dbpedia developer.

@kidehen (Kingsley Uyi Idehen)
Founder & CEO, OpenLink Software, An Open Linked Data Enthusiast.

@ldodds (Leigh Dodds)
Until recently Leigh Dodds was the CTO of Ingenta where he was responsible for the ongoing development of their publishing platform based on Semantic Web technologies. Leigh has recently joined Talis as Programme Manager for the Talis Platform

Since I am aware of their involvement in Linked Data development activities I was fascinated by the Twitter discussion which took place around the tweets for the Facebook Developer Love Hack Day. The Twitter hashtag for the event was #fbdevlove. I created a Twapper Keeper archive for the hashtag and also used Storify to keep an archive of the discussions around structured data available through Facebook and Linked Data developments. In brief  Georgi Kobilarov (@gkob) initiated the discussion with a message to other Linked Data developers::

#linkeddata folks: forget all your RDF & Sparql, you’ll have to compete with Facebook’s Graph API, and that war is about developer love

Kingsley Idehen (@kidehen) responded:

@gkob Facebook (#FB) is just another Data Space plugged into the global #WWW Data Space. It’s all good re. #LinkedData. “AND” is good :-)

@gkob #Facebook has been creating a massive#LinkedData hub since inception. It doesn’t have to be hardcore #RDF to be useful Linked Data.

@gkob key thing is this: #Facebook is a massive#LinkedData Space plugged into the global #WWWdata space. User Agents can query it.

@gkob I don’t have any problems querying#Facebook or meshing its data with data from other places en route to richer #LinkedData. All good.

@gkob #RDF != #LinkedData. What #Facebook#Microsoft #Google #Yahoo! etc.. r doing re. structured data (without #RDF) is quite valuable.

An interesting perspective, I thought. To put it another way, the global Social Web providers, such as Facebook, are well positioned to significantly enhance deployment of Linked Data by providing access to the large-scale structured information repositories they host.

Facebook’s Open Graph API

An example of a tool which developers can use to explore Facebook’s Open Graph API  was mentioned by @sicross: his Facebook Graph API Explorer. I have used this tool to retrieve data for two institutional Facebook pages: the University of Bath and the University of Cambridge. You can view the output for the Universities of Bath and Cambridge.

I have previously surveyed institutional Facebook pages for Russell Group Universities in order to identify emerging patterns of usage.  This survey provide a manual comparison which would be resource intensive to carry out across all UK Universities (and even more so if international comparisons were to be made).  However use of the Facebook Graph API Explorer has helped to identify patterns of usage which could be carried out in an automated way including the following numerical data:

University of Bath:

Nos. of likes: 3,357
Nos. of checkins: 1,081

University of Cambridge:

Nos. of likes: 69,824

We can immediately see that people have been using the Facebook Places feature has been used a significant number of times at the University of Bath but not at all at the University of Cambridge.  I must admit that I initially found this surprising: I would have expected an institutional geo-location service to have taken off in an institution which has many buildings scattered throughout the city as opposed to a primarily campus-based institution.  However, on reflection, it seems the opposite is true: checking in will have little value for an institution which has based in a large number of locations.  Of course it may be that geo-location services provide little value in the context of institutional use. Alternatively it may be that Facebook Places has failed to have an impact in this market – a suggestion which seems to be confirmed by an article published yesterday in the Daily Telegraph which informs us that “Foursquare has doubled its users since Facebook Places launched says chief“.

The potential to gather statistics on the number of Facebook ‘likes’ in an automated way will, I feel, help to provide evidence which can be used to inform policy decisions on institutional  use of Facebook and the resources which should be assigned to such work.  There could, of course, be dangers that such statistics would be used to publish league tables – but since the aims of higher educational institutions aren’t about maximising numbers of users on  Social Web services, such concerns shouldn’t be taken too seriously.  However the data gathered  could be used in order to help identify the effectiveness of online marketing activities.  And if an aim is to ensure that UK Universities are best positioned to market their services to overseas students the UK economy as a whole would benefit from a shared understanding of the benefits and the best practices.

“Is Facebook Killing Off The Company Website?”

A white paper entitled “The Effect of Social Networks and the Mobile Web on Website Traffic and the Inevitable Rise of Facebook Commerce” (PDF format) was published by Web Trends on 17 March 2011. In response Jeff Bullas published a blog post in which he asked “Is Facebook Killing Off The Company Website?“. This discussion centred around evidence of traffic to Fortune 100 company Web sites. The study revealed that “68% of the top 100 companies were experiencing a negative growth in unique visits over the past year, with an average drop of 23%“.  In order to identify whether Facebook was responsible for the significant decrease in numbers (as opposed, for example, to the effect of the recession) the numbers of visits to a number of company web site were compared with unique visits to equivalent Facebook pages  In a sample of 44 companies it was found that “40% exhibited higher traffic to their Facebook page compared to their website“.

It might be argued that University Web sites are very different from those provided by commercial companies – Universities are concerned with the complexities of teaching and learning and research whereas companies such as Coca Cola and Ford are simply produce drinks or motor vehicles. Such views were made on the Twitter channel during Ranjit Sidu’s talk at the IWMW 2010 event entitled “‘So what do you do exactly?’ In challenging times justifying the roles of the web teams” in which he suggested that the higher education sector could learn from the way companies which sell cars identify the effectiveness of their online activities). It was interesting to note that several participants echoed such sentiments.  So let’s be honest and admit that commercial companies and higher educational institutions are not dissimilar in having many diverse objectives and sometimes little understood complexities – and that both sectors may be in a position to exploit social Web services such as Facebook for a variety of purposes (marketing, sales consumer engagements, etc.)  but may also feel threatened by such services.

A Challenge For Developers

It was interesting to observe the tweets from the Facebook Developer’s Love hack day and not only to see the enthusiasm for making use of Facebook APIs but also hearing about how Facebook content could be made available as Linked Data on the Web.  There are still unresolved issues such as privacy and ownership of data associated with Facebook – but as we have seen similar issues are also faced by Twitter, with still some uncertainties regarding the copyright and ethical issues associated with use of tweets published by others and the ways in which Twitter can enforce their conditions of use of their service. But just as Twitter subsequently toned down the conditions governing reuse of their data, we are also seeing Facebook moving away from their ‘walled garden’  approach and providing APIs to allow others to reuse their content.

As can be seen from the recent post on Use of Facebook by Russell Group Universities Facebook clearly has a role to play across higher educational institutions. Managers and policy-makers within institutions will need to make decisions on how such services should be used and how much effort should be allocated to support such work.  Such decisions should be informed by evidence such as “How extensively is Facebook being being used across the sector?” and “What patterns of usage are emerging?“.

Since APIs are available such answers need no longer have to be based on manual surveys. A challenge I would like to pose developers is to provide answers to the following questions:

It should be possible to provide answers to these questions be simply using the Facebook API to query the Facebook data store. However Linked Data developers may relish the challenge to combine this data store with DBPedia in order to answer the following additional question:

  • Is there a correlation between the numbers of Facebook ‘Likes’ and the size of the institution – or to put it another way, which institution has the largest number of ‘Likes’ per student?

In the longer term it will be useful to monitor trends in institutional use of Facebook – which may, of course, include a decline in such usage if alternative offerings, such as Diaspora service (which will not claim any rights on content uploaded to the service).  But in order to be able to help identify a decline in Facebook usage it will be helpful to have a benchmark of current usage – so even developers who do not approve of Facebook terms and conditions may wish to participate in this challenge.

Posted in Facebook | 6 Comments »

Use of Facebook by Russell Group Universities

Posted by Brian Kelly on 18 Jan 2011


At a time of flux and upheaval in the higher education sector there is a need to be able to understand how institutions are responding to a changed environment. There may be a particular need to understand how networked services are being used which may have previously been regarded, in some areas, as inappropriate for institutional use. This is particularly true of Facebook which has been the subject of criticism for being a ‘walled-garden‘ and for what may be regarded as a cavalier approach to privacy.

But are institutions now making significant use of Facebook because of the benefits it is perceived to bring, such as the large ability to provide marketing to large numbers of users and the ability to embed other services within an environment which many users may be familiar with? Anecdotally we are hearing suggestions of the benefits which Facebook can provide,  such as the recent tweet from Stuart Brown which stated that  “10 course registrations attributable to OU FB apps Course Profiles and My OU Story“.

In order to provide a better understanding of how UK higher education institutions may be using Facebook a brief survey of official usage by Russell Group Universities has been carried out. The aim is to ensure that evidence is available to inform discussions on policies and practices.

Profiling Use of Facebook by Russell Group Universities

A recent post summarised “Institutional Use of Twitter by Russell Group Universities“. The twenty Russell Group Universities have also been used for a survey of institutional use of Facebook. There have been suggestions that a more comprehensive survey across all UK Universities would be useful. Whilst this may be true it would be resource-intensive to carry out such a survey. The Russell Group Universities has therefore been selected partly because of the geographical diversity of these institutions, which includes institutions based in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. In addition since these institutions describe themselves as “the 20 leading UK universities which are committed to maintaining the very best research, an outstanding teaching and learning experience and unrivalled links with business and the public sector” we might expect the institutions tom be taking a leading role in exploiting social media to support their activities and provide examples of best practices which the wider community can learn from.

The survey of institutional Facebook usage by Russell Group Universities was carried out on 11 January 2011. The survey used Google to find an official institutional Facebook presence. Note in a number of cases no obvious institutional Facebook page could be found (note that Facebook pages for departments were not included).

A summary of the numbers of Facebook users who ‘liked’ the institution’s page is given, together with the numbers of ‘favourite pages’ the institution provides.   A list of additional pages available via the tabbed interface is also provided.

The results are given below.

Institution/Facebook page and Description Type Nos. of Likes Additional Pages (in addition to Wall and Info)
1 InstitutionUniversity of Birmingham
Fb name: unibirmingham 

Description: “The official page for the University of Birmingham.”

Branded URL 8,558 Welcome, Heroes, Events, Flickr, YouTube
2 Institution: University of Bristol
Fb name: 2202911691 

Description: “For all University of Bristol students, past, present and future.”

Facebook group 2,186 Photos, Discussions

NOTE Appears full of spam.

3 Institution: University of Cambridge
Fb name: 

Description: “We are one of the world’s oldest universities and leading academic centres, and a self-governed community of scholars. Cambridge comprises 31 Colleges and over 150 departments, faculties, schools and other institutions”

Branded short URL 58,392 YouTube, Photos, Twitter, House Rules, Notes
4 Institution: Cardiff University
Fb name: cardiffuni 

Description: “We want you to enjoy using our pages. To improve your experience, commercial posts & URLs are welcome in ‘Discussions’ but we will remove at our discretion anything we think could bring the University into disrepute. Thank you.”

Branded URL 20,035 About Us, Quick Links, Discussions, Photos, Events
5 InstitutionUniversity of Edinburgh

No official institutional page found (The Edinburgh University page seems to be a student page and the wall contains spam)

6 Institution: University of Glasgow

No official institutional page found

7 Institution: Imperial College
Fb name: imperialcollegelondon 

Description:  “Consistently rated amongst the world’s best universities, Imperial College London is a science-based institution with a reputation for excellence in teaching and research.”

Branded short URL 5,490 Photos, Discussions, Boxes, Video, Events
8 Institution: King’s College London
Fb name: Kings-College-London/54237866946 

Description: None

Facebook page 2,047 Photos, Boxes
9 Institution: University of Leeds

No official institutional page found. A University of Leeds Latest Update application is available but this does not seem to be being used.

10 Institution: University of Liverpool
Fb name: University-of-Liverpool/293602011521 

Description: None

Facebook page 2,811 Photos, Discussions
11 Institution: LSE
Fb name: LSE/6127898346 

Description: “The official page of the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE). This page will be updated with recent news from the School as well as information about forthcoming public events.”

Facebook page 22,798
12 Institution: University of Manchester
Fb name: University-Of-Manchester/365078871967 

Description: “Britain’s largest single-site university with a proud history of achievement and an ambitious agenda for the future.”

Facebook page 1,978 Photos, Discussions, Events, Video
13 Newcastle University

No official institutional page found

14 Institution: University of Nottingham
Fb name: The-University-of-Nottingham/130981200144 

Description: None

Facebook page 3,588 Photos, Boxes
15 Institution: University of Oxford
Fb name: 

Description: “This is the official University of Oxford Facebook page. Our website is at

Branded URL 137,395 Boxes, Photos
16 Institution: Queen’s University Belfast

No official institutional page found

17 Institution: University of Sheffield
Fb name: theuniversityofsheffield 

Description: “Founded in 1905, the University of Sheffield is one of the UK’s leading Russell Group universities with an outstanding record in both teaching and research.”

Branded URL 6,646 Photos, Events, YouTube, Discussions, Videos, RSS/Blog
18 Institution: University of Southampton
Fb name: Southampton-University/77399508053 

Description: None

(Note as described in a comment the unisouthampton Facebook page was recently created and currently has 71 ‘likes’. This note added on 21 Jan 2010)

Facebook page 3,328 Photos, Boxes
19 Institution: University College London
Fb name: UCL/92637159209 

Description: “UCL is London’s leading multidisciplinary university, with 8,000 staff and 22,000 students. UCL was the first university in England to welcome students of any class, race or religion, and the first to welcome women on equal terms with men.”

Facebook page 977 Photos, Discussions
20 Institution: University of Warwick
Fb name: warwickuniversity 

Description: “The official Facebook page for the University of Warwick. This Facebook page was created and is maintained by the University of Warwick Communications Office and is the only ‘official’ university page.”

Branded URL 8,535 Discussions, Photos, Video, YouTube, Events
TOTAL 286,169


A summary of the data collected is given below:

  • Nos. of institutions with branded Facebook URL: 7
  • Nos. of institutions with Facebook page: 7
  • Nos. of institutions with Facebook group: 1
  • Nos. of institutions with no easily found institutional Facebook presence: 5
  • Nos. of institutions with neglected (or unofficial) institutional Facebook presence: 1
  • Range of ‘likes’:  2,047 – 137,395

Related Surveys

The popularity of Facebook usage at the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge has been confirmed by a recent post on “Top 10 of Social Media in HE” published by the Science Guide blog. The Science Guide survey “conducted research and created a Top 10 list of [European] HE of the best in social media and presents three prestigious universities that lose out in the race for Twitter, Facebook and co“.

The survey went on to point out that:

UK universities are by far outperforming other countries in communicating via social media. More than 60% of all university twitter followers are connected to UK institutions. They also account for 42,4% of all Facebook members.

In addition the “institutions that are widely regarded as elite and prestigious in Europe …  are ranked highest in quality of research, but … still have to find their way into the 21st century” due to very limited or no use of Social Web service did not include any UK Universities.

Such comments suggest that UK Universities should be pleased with ways in which Social Web services are being integrated into existing services. But what additional observations can be made from the survey results published in this blog?


How important might Facebook be to institutions?  I heard that at the recent Learning Without Frontiers conference it was suggested that Facebook users find the management capabilities of Facebook valuable as it makes it more difficult for content, such as embarrassing comments and photos, to escape into the wild.  Perhaps the ‘walled garden’ nature of Facebook is being regarded as a positive aspect of the service.

But is Facebook something which is only useful as a marketing  tool to attract new students or might it have a more significant role to play?  And rather than a one-way marketing channel might it have a role to play in facilitating discussions and debate and, if so,  might Facebook prove useful for internal discussions as well as engaging with new students?

I suspect the answers to such questions will be answered by observing patterns of usage, with, despite Facebook’s growth, the service is not liked by many who engage in actively discussions on blogs.  But looking at evidence of evidence of how Facebook is being used, rather than speculating on the relevance of Diaspora “privacy aware, personally controlled, do-it-all, open source social network” I feel it is worth looking at the approaches being taken by Cambridge University, with its page on “House Rules” and Cardiff University, who, from the information provided on their Facebook page appear to be positive about the benefits the service can provide.

Is it realistic to argue against the popularity of Facebook (142,176,215 unique visitors according to and for institutions, at a time of cuts, to promote alternatives? Or should we be making use of the service to support a variety of institutional activities?   If you feel the latter is a decision  we need to make (and many of the Russell Group Universities already have) then in order to ensure Facebook is being used effectively there is a need to share emerging best practices. Wouldn’t you agree?

Posted in Evidence, Facebook | 22 Comments »

Librarians Experimenting With Facebook Groups

Posted by Brian Kelly on 12 Nov 2010

Where can Librarians discuss topics of interest?  Clearly lots of places, including mailing lists such as the LIS-* lists hosted by JISCMail; many similar lists based in the US; Web 2.0 collaborative environments such as the Library 2.0 Ning site and, of course, on Twitter.

And now there’s the Library Related People Facebook group. There was set up by Aaron Tay on Saturday 6 November and as he described in a blog post later that day:

We librarians are consummate users of social media. We are all over Friendfeed, masters of IM, Twitter & Skype. But Facebook is still the 500 pound gorilla in the room and most of us even the least techie librarian probably spends most of our time logged into Facebook.

The Facebook group chat option will allow us to chat with any of the librarians in the group. My hope is for this group to grow such that at anytime there are at least a dozen librarians online when you want to pick the brains of librarians who might be logged into facebook, you can just go to Facebook chat and send out a message.

I do feel that there is a need for such experimentation and so it is good to see that Aaron has set up this group to allow librarians from around the world to gain experience of the role, if any, which Facebook groups might provide for their users as well as possibly providing a forum for discussions by those working in the library sector.

And whilst several concerns related to use of Facebook Groups were discussed on the launch day (which I spotted in the chat window but now seems to have disappeared) it perhaps might be more interesting to discuss possible success criteria for an online community.  After all, I suspect that if an online social network had been set up using an open source software (such as Diaspora, the “The privacy aware, personally controlled, do-it-all, open source social network“) for some the political-correctness of the software environment would result in being unwilling to ask questions such as What is the environment for?; Do we need it?; how much will it cost?; What are the risks?; How will be know if it is a success and, conversely, How will we know if it’s a failure? But such questions will be asked about use of Facebook as an environment for hosting such a community.

When I joined  on Saturday 6 November 2010 the group had 46 members and by Saturday evening there were 192 members. On 8 November there were 299 members – and the current number can be see by visiting the members’ page.  But before anyone comments that the success of a social network environment shouldn’t be gauged simply by the number of members and growth rates (which, in this case, will be more to do with the extent of Aaron’s professional network and his esteem in the library community)  remember that I am seeking to understand how one can identify the success or not of a social network which could be applied equally to a Diaspora environment and a Facebook group. And if you reject the notion of success or failure, then you will be in a weak position to make criticisms of Aaron’s experiment.

My question,then, is does anyone have any suggestions for ways of identifying the success or failure of such social networks?

Posted in Facebook | 3 Comments »

Facebook as an eLearning Platform?

Posted by Brian Kelly on 8 Nov 2010

Facebook has been described as a walled garden, but following a recent announcement that users can download their own data we found that Planet Facebook has become less of a Walled Garden, with Steve Repetti, chair of the Data Portability Project, feeling that this news was “A step in the right direction“. But could Facebook evolve to be something more than just  a social networking service and be used as an e-learning delivery platform?

Back in 2007 Michael Webb, Director of IT Services at the University of Wales, Newport described “MyNewport – MyLearning Essentials for Facebook“, a Facebook application that allows students to access to Newport’s MyLearning Essentials resources from Facebook.

Michael described how this “allows students to start creating their own personal learning environment in a platform other than the one provided by the University“, adding that “we’ve targeted Facebook at the moment as it’s the fastest growing community, but if our users like the idea but want to work in another environment then that is fine – we can create applications for them as well“.

How much development effort did this take, you may wonder? “It took about a day and half from conception of the idea and joining the Facebook developer community on 10th July to launching it as a viable application for our students to use (or comment on) on the 11th July. It was straight forward as our VLE is built from components that can easily be repurposed, and uses open standards such as RSS to allow information to be passed to the Facebook application.

Since then I’ve not been aware of much discussion about development of Facebook applications to support institutional requirements, apart from a document on COURSE PROFILES – A Facebook Application for Open University Students and Alumni written by Tony Hirst, Liam Green-Hughes, Stuart Brown and Martin Weller. Until Friday, that is, when I came across an article in Computer Weekly which described how “London School of Business and Finance offers MBA on Facebook“:

Facebook users can now study an MBA for free at the London School of Business and Finance (LSBF) after the college launched a course that will be available on the social networking website.

Students will be able to study for free and will only pay if they want to be formally assessed for an MBA. The LSBF GlobalMBA, which has received £7.5m investment, is awarded by the University of Wales.

Valery Kisilevsky, group managing director of the London School of Business and Finance, said Facebook was chosen to host its The LSBF GlobalMBA application because it offered the chance to widen the availability of education.

We looked at how our current students communicate with each other and the college and Facebook is the platform of choice‘ said Kisilevsky.

Now the London School of Business and Finance (LSBF) isn’t a University, rather it’s an “educational institution [which] offers industry-focussed programmes designed to reflect global market trends. LSBF attracts the most talented and ambitious candidates from more than 150 countries worldwide“. The Web site goes on to sate that LSBF “offers an unrivalled portfolio of professional qualifications, as well as innovative degree programmes at postgraduate and undergraduate level, with the flexibility to tailor your studies to your own career aspirations“.

Is LSBF setting a trend in exploiting a popular global social networking environment which could provide a cost-effective solution appropriate for today’s economic environment? Or will it be seen to be irrelevant?  I don’t think we can say.  But I think we do need to keep an eye out on weak signals which may hint at possible trends, especially those that might go against our preferred visions of future developments.

So is anyone engaged in development work using the Facebook platform? And what lessons can be learnt from the early work at Newport and the Open University?

Posted in Facebook | 3 Comments »

Planet Facebook Becomes Less of a Walled Garden

Posted by Brian Kelly on 8 Oct 2010

“Facebook Lets Users Download Data”

An article published in yesterday’s ZDNet announced that “Facebook lets users download data, create groups“. Soon Facebook users “will be able to go to their account settings and click a link to download all their data into a browsable zip file“.

On the DataPortability blog Steve Repetti felt that this news was “A step in the right direction, says vice-chair of the DataPortability Project“. His post began by pointing out that “Today’s announcement from Facebook represents the most important statement from them to-date regarding Data Portability. But to be clear, it is by no means the ultimate solution we all seek. Still, it represents major movement in the right direction.“and concluded “From a pure data portability perspective, there is still much more that Facebook can do, but I applaud their direction and effort. This is way more than PR, this is policy that has grown from within and is now escaping into the light. Today’s announcement is the beginning; the Sleeper is waking; and openness lives on with more on the way.

The DataPortability’s communications chair Alisa Leonard pointed out the good news: “they now allow more access to your data through the download feature” whilst reminding us that “the Facebook [terms of service have] not changed — meaning your data is still on their server and while you can download, you cannot remove your data entirely (if you wished to do so)“.

Whatever your views on this announcement it can’t be denied that we have seen significant growth in usage of Facebook since I pointed out that “Something IS Going On With Facebook!” in May 2007.

But in what ways has Facebook grown in popularity over the past three years and how have institutions been making use of Facebook over that period?

Facebook’s Growth

Back in July the front page of the Metro announced Planet Facebook, with an accompanying graphic informing readers that “Globally Facebook has 500 million users“, “26 million Britains use it (that’s more than a third of the population)“, “More than 3 billion pictures are uploaded every month … and there are more than 60 million a status updates a day” and “collectively users spend more than 700 billion minutes a month on Facebook“.  The headline accompanied the news that Facebook had passed 500 million users, almost 8% of the global population.

More recently an article in the Guardian recently pointed out that “Shareholder trading values Facebook at more than $33bn“. It seems that Facebook is worth nearly twice as much as Yahoo! Meanwhile another recent article in Hitwise tells us that “Facebook accounts for 1 in 6 UK page views, but is it reaching saturation point?“. This article informed us that Facebook is the second most visited website in the UK: in June it accounted for 7.14% of all UK Internet visits and over half (54.48%) of all visits to a social networking websites. In terms of total visits it continues to trail Google UK (9.59% market share in June) … However, using the measure of total page views rather than visits, Facebook is way ahead. … the social network accounted for 16.73% of UK page views during June. In other words: 1 in every 6 Internet pages viewed in the UK was a Facebook page.

Last month at a symposium on Web Science held the Royal Society Tim Berners-Lee “let slip an interesting observation. Many people, said the web’s inventor, no longer make a distinction between Facebook and the web“. This comment was made by John Naughton in a column published in The Observer on “A Flickr of interest…” who pointed out that “When it was announced a couple of weeks ago that Flickr, the photo-hosting site, had hosted its five billionth picture, someone pointed out smugly that Facebook already has over three times that number.” Meanwhile a Techcrunch article reveals that  “Facebook is Now the Second Largest Video Site in the U.S.”

The Observer article went on to point out that many photographs uploaded to Facebook tend to be very similar, and typically don’t have the impact of those provided on Flickr. I wouldn’t disagree with this. Facebook does have its limitations, It’s also true that Facebook isn’t universally liked, and there are many in, for example, the developer community who will point out concerns over Facebook’s cavalier approach to privacy and Facebook’s ‘walled garden’ which can suck content in but not allow content to be easily moved out of the environment – although that statement seems to have changed with the recent announcement that users will soon be able to download their data.

It is also worth pointing out that the Facebook statement on rights and responsibilities states that ‘You own all of the content and information you post on Facebook” whilst pointing out that (in order for Facebook to generate an income) Facebook users “specifically give us the following permission, subject to your privacy and application settings: you grant us a non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, worldwide license to use any IP content that you post on or in connection with Facebook“.

Institutional Use of Facebook

Whilst criticisms of Facebook’s terms and conditions featured frequently across the  blogging community a couple of years ago there now seems to be a growing recognition that Facebook does have a role to play within our institutions. Facebook’s acceptance within the e-learning community struck me when I saw a tweet from Alan Cann about the Facebook pages for the ALT-C 2010 conference and the pages which have already been set up for ALT-C 2011.  Looking at the pages for ALT-C 2010 it seems to me that Facebook is being used as an aggregator of blog posts which are hosted in a more open environment. Such an approach can provide benefits for blog authors as it provides greater exposure to their content  and allows the virality of users ‘Liking’ the posts to reach out to people who are friends of those linking the content.

[NOTE Alan Cann has alerted me to the fact that ALT “have now decided not to have a separate page for each conference but to focus on to try to build a more enduring community“. Use this page if you’d like to participate rather than the two links I published initially].

And what of institutional use of Facebook?  In a report on CASE Europe’s recent annual conference Dan Martin summarised a talk by Alex Schultz, Internet Marketing Manager of Facebook by saying  “there is really no escaping the fact Facebook is the dominant force in Social right now, and that institutions can benefit from its reach and penetration“.

The way in which Facebook has taken off across the higher education sector can be seen gauged from various 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 ‘university’ revealed (on Friday 9 November 2007) a total of 76 hits” – the total is no longer easily found but is over 500. The post included a screen image of the Facebook page for the University of Central Lancashire which showed that the University had a total of 8 fans – today almost 8,000 Facebook users ‘like’ the Facebook entry.

The following year, in June 2008 I wrote a post on Revisiting UK University Pages On Facebook. This post provided the following summary of the UK University entries will the largest number of fans:

The Open University Facebook page is the top of all University pages, with 7,539 fans (with the University of Michigan way behind in second place with 5,313 fans (up from a count of 2,874 a month ago). The other most popular UK Universities are Aston University (2,976 fans), Royal Holloway (1,765), Aberystwyth University (1,655 fans), University of Central Lancashire (1,475 fans), Keele University (1,420 fans), Cardiff University (1,357 fans) and the University of Surrey (1,166 fans).

The figures today are the Open University Facebook page (liked by 28,949 fans), Aston University (liked by 8,445), Royal Holloway (liked by 9,093), Aberystwyth University (liked by 7,326), University of Central Lancashire (liked by 7,982), Keele University (liked by 6,716), Cardiff University (liked by 18,698) and the University of Surrey (liked by 8,063).

From these figures we can see a 380% increase for the Open University, almost 700% for Surrey, over 470% for Keele, 540% for University of Central Lancashire, over 440% Aberystwyth and a massive 13,000% for Cardiff.

Clearly those predicted that Facebook would be a flash in the pan or would quickly be replaced by an open source competitor were mistaken.

But what is the story behind these figures? Has Cardiff University allocated significant levels of resources to encouraging use of Facebook? ;Have Facebook apps been developed which provide access to University services from within the Facebook environment? Or has the growth been led by the user community?

Looking to the Future

Whether we like it or not, we are now having to address the challenges of providing teaching and learning and research services under a Conservative/Lib Dem government. Similarly we will also need to be asking how we should go about exploiting the potential of Facebook within our institutions. We might need to ask, in these economically difficult times, whether institutional engagement with Facebook has delivered a return on the investment? Is there any evidence that use of Facebook as a marketing tool to attract overseas students has been successful? And if it might be relatively easy to put a value on the recruitment of overseas students, if Facebook is being used as a communications tool across campus, how would the effectiveness be measured?  And what about the question of the development of Facebook applications to support institutional interests? Have institutions (and their users) benefitted from the development of apps such as MyNewport (a submission to the IWMW 2008 innovation competition) or the Open University’s OU Course Profiles Facebook app (the launch of the service in November 2007 was described by Tony Hirst as “the first major push of our skunkworks Facebook app“)? Interestingly staff at the Open University wrote a document which summarised the initial experiences and the document, COURSE PROFILES – A Facebook Application for Open University Students and Alumni, although slightly dated is worth reading by those thinking about developing similar institutional Facebook apps.

As well as such questions which individual institutions may wish to find answers for, there may also benefits which can be gained from monitoring Facebook usage across the community. It may be misleading to extrapolate conclusions which may be made from the trends across these eight institutions.   Would it be possible, I wonder, for an automated tool to measure institutional uses of Facebook across the sector and for trends to be recorded?  Or rather than a technical solution, might a simpler approach for gathering evidence to inform discussions and decision making be to create a wiki? Or perhaps we could start with inviting readers to provide summaries as a comment to this post?  Anyone willing to do that?

Posted in Evidence, Facebook | 9 Comments »

Technological Fixes – The Wrong Approach to Social Networks

Posted by Brian Kelly on 18 Apr 2010

On the Panic Button: CEOP do an amazing job but digital literacy needs to be central driver in supporting young peoples online engagementtweeted Josie Fraser recently.  Josie was referring to the pressure CEOP (Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre) are putting on Facebook to add a CEOP Panic button on Facebook pages.

I have read that “The chief of the national anti-paedophile agency has launched another scathing attack on Facebook, branding its refusal to publish an official “panic button” on users’ profiles as “arrogant”.” The Guardian, I feel, has published a more measured commentary on this debate describing how “Facebook has responded to calls for increased online safety by announcing a range of new measures including a 24-hour police hotline, a £5m education and awareness campaign and a redesigned abuse reporting system” although it has still “declined to add a logo linking to the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre“.

It would have been easy for Facebook to announce that it would be providing a CEOP panic button on its Web site – but would this have been the best approach. I fear that this would have been a one-off policy and technological fix.  The fix that has been proposes places CEOP in a central position to address its remit for “eradicating the sexual abuse of children” . But there are problems with the single centralised solution to problems.  CEOP’s remit is related to sexual abuse of children – which would seem to exclude issues such as bullying.  And since CEOP is a UK-based organisation its remit will no doubt be restricted to sexual abuse in a UK context and subject to not only UK laws but also political and social pressures, such as the campaigns we have already seen in non-technical contexts orchestrated by the tabloids.

I can already see headlines after the General Election “My Government has introduced legislation which requires social networking service to provide a panic button which allows cases of abuse of children to be reported to appropriate UK agencies” – whilst at the same time cutbacks in public sector funding  results in schools and libraries having to scale back on the work they are engaged in in supporting digital literacy for young children.

Having read Facebook’s recent press release on “Facebook and its Safety Advisory Board Launch Robust New Safety Center” I’m pleased to read that “Facebook also used the European Union’s Safer Social Networking Principles, a set of recommended best practices adopted by the social networking industry in consultation with the European Commission, to inform the new design“.  I’m also pleased to hear the comment that “There’s no single answer to making the Internet or Facebook safer“.

I suspect we won’t read comments such as “We’re encouraged to see Facebook taking a thoughtful, proactive approach to safety on the web” which was made by Stephen Balkam, the CEO of the Family Online Safety Institute. That organisation does, of course, have vested interests as Stephen “Education is one of the four pillars of what we do at FOSI“. But for me an essential aspect of the debate centred around use of social networks by young people  is education around digital literacy – focussing the debate around a panic button solution is misguided, in my opinion. WHich is not to say that a reporting mechanism isn’t needed – but it shouldn’t hijack the debate.

Posted in Facebook, Social Networking | 1 Comment »

Fragmenting The Discussion?

Posted by Brian Kelly on 29 Mar 2010

I’m An Occasional Facebook User

I have to admit that although I have a Facebook account I don’t make much use of it. I do have a large number of Facebook contacts  (which I think is a better term than ‘friends’) but tend to use Facebook for dipping into from time to time, such as when I want to get in touch with friends.  I also use it to view photos and videos uploaded by friends, especially those I know from the folk music and sword dancing world.

Automatic Facebook Updates

Facebook view of a blog postIt is only very rarely that I will update my Facebook status. However some time ago I installed the Dopplr app which automatically updates my Facebook wall with details of trips which I have taken (I’ve previously described the reasons I’ve used Dopplr).

Recently I installed the Facebook app which updates my Facebook wall profile with details of new blog posts I’ve published. As can be seen from the accompanying image it provides the title and opening few words from a blog post, together with a link to the original post. In addition, as can be seen from the image, it is possible for my Facebook contacts to provide feedback on the post.

Fragmenting The Discussion?

I’ve recently come across discussions regarding communications for IT support staff at Bath University in which the dangers of using a diversity of publishing and communications channels have been raised. “The discussions will be fragmented” the argument goes, with the suggestion that we should continue to make use of email in order to provide a single place for discussions.

I disagree. I think discussions have always been fragmented and that such fragmentation can be beneficial by allowing different communities to become involved in the discussions thus potentially allowing new insights to be provided.

And the fragmentation isn’t just related to announcements of new blog posts in Facebook – similar discussions can take place when I mention a blog post on my @briankelly Twitter account or when an automated summary is published on my @ukwebfocus Twitter account or my BrianKelly FriendFeed account.

Of course there may be dangers I’ll miss out on comments and discussions which, as the author, I am likely to be interested in.  But this is where I feel it can be beneficial to take responsibility for postings to other environments, as then you are likely to have ways of accessing responses to your posts.

Publishing to Facebook options from WordPressUnlike Twitter and FriendFeed, however, there may be risks that one is spamming one’s contacts with inappropriate status updates. I don’t think this is a significant risk – after  all many of my Facebook contacts have status updates based on whatever is the currently popular app. At one stage this was throwing sheep but now I see status updates along the lines of “Kirsty just earned the ‘Zoologist’ White Ribbon in FarmVille!“.

In addition the Facebook app does allow me to configure the status update or to choose not to update Facebook, as illustrated.

Fragmenting the discussion?  For me it’s about widening the discussion.

Posted in Facebook | 4 Comments »

WWW 2010: Connect On Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Flickr

Posted by Brian Kelly on 26 Feb 2010

The World Wide Web (WWW) conference series was launched in 1994 and I have vivid memories of attending the conference, hosted in CERN, the birthplace of the Web, which was described as ‘the Woodstock of the 1990s‘.

The conference is an important event for the Web research community. This year’s event, WWW 2010, is the nineteenth in the series and is being held in Raleigh, North Carolina, USA on 26-30 April. If you want to find out more you can visit the conference Web site, which provides information on the conference program, location details and online bookings.

You can also find information about the conference on the WWW 2010 page on Facebook, or on the WWW 2010 page on LinkedIn. A WWW 2010 Twitter account (@www2010) has also been set up which has been used so far to provide information on various deadlines.  There is also a WWW 2010 Flickr group which currently has a small number of photographs of the conference venue.

A few years ago I suspect that some in the hardcore Web researcher and development communities would have been rather dismissive of use of social networking services such as Facebook and LinkedIn.  I suspect the rationale to make use such of services is now a business decision, based on the need to ensure that sufficient numbers attend the conference. The benefits of use of such popular services (there are currently over 1,100 members of the Facebook group) need to be balanced with the resources which may be needed to manage the resource (e.g. respond to wall messages). Which makes we wonder, who makes the decision on use of such services to support this type of event, how large does an event need to be for it to benefit for exposure in Facebook or LinkedIn and how do you judge whether such a decision will provide a satisfactory ROI? Perhaps the answer to this question should be gained by observing the approaches taken by others – in this case Facebook (with 1,100 members is ahead on LinkedIn (with 586 members).

Posted in Events, Facebook, Social Networking | Tagged: | 5 Comments »

Facebook Usage by US Colleges and Universities

Posted by Brian Kelly on 1 Jul 2009

I’m pleased to publish a guest blog post by Mike Richwalsky, assistant director of public affairs at Allegheny College, a small, private liberal arts college in the United States. Mike provides a US perspective on a topic which often generates heated debate in the UK – the role of Facebook in higher educational institutions.

Facebook Usage by US Colleges and Universities

First, thank you to Brian for allowing me to use this space to talk about how we at US colleges and universities are using Facebook. I’ll be presenting a session at IWMW 2009 (on cloud computing, not social media), and I’m interested to learn more about how schools in the UK and Europe are using tools like Facebook and Twitter to communicate with different audiences. Here we go…

Several years ago, in its infancy, Facebook was all the rage among students on campuses large and small across the United States. At that time, many schools were panicked about what services like Facebook and MySpace allowed students to do, often with an eye towards potential liabilities the school may face due to photos being posted, thoughts being shared, disagreements and much more.

Fast forward to today, and a large majority of schools have changed their tune about Facebook. Yes, we still worry when students post photos of themselves drinking and the like, but now we in college administrations have adopted the site as an effective way to reach students, both prospective and those students already attending our schools.

I’d like to examine how schools in the US are using Facebook and share some thoughts and experiences I’ve had from managing my school’s presence there.

First, why are schools using Facebook? First, it’s where the students are. College students today in the US live and breathe Facebook all day long. For us, using it to reach them makes sense – after all it’s a medium they are comfortable in. Second, it’s free for our institutions to use. Finally, the tools that Facebook offers have developed to the point where it’s become a compelling communication platform for us to use to reach a large number of people very easily.

Now that we’re in the golden age of social media, many colleges are developing strategic plans on how to use Facebook. At Allegheny, our adoption of this medium and the successes we’ve had have been very organic. We didn’t jump right in with a set plan, instead we started small, just creating an official page before someone else did. As we got more comfortable with the tools, we added more and more and have grown to the presence we have today.

When Facebook launched its Groups tool, many schools, mine included, created a group for not only our institution but many offices across campus, such as career services, student life, libraries and more. The groups behaved much like they do today, we could post events, participate in discussions and more.

Eventually, Facebook created its Fan page platform, and many schools transitioned their main institutional presence from the Groups tool to the new Fan page format, which offered many similar functionality but added new tools like video, wall posts and most importantly, analytics.

At the time I write this, we have just north of 2,100 fans of our institution ( Our largest number of fans are in the 25-34 age group, which includes graduates of the last several years, so it makes sense that number is high. The next largest group is the 18-24 group, with the 35-44 group a close third.

The smallest age group is 13-17, which is interesting since that’s an audience we actively market to since they are the college students of the near future. 2% of our college’s fans fall in that age group. It’s great that 45 or so people have indicated they are a fan of our institution, I wonder why that number isn’t larger. Perhaps people of that age don’t want to commit to a college in this way, or they are still into their college search research and planning.

This past academic year, we actually had a student working in our office 10 hours a week that posted events and news to our Facebook fan page. The student worked under close supervision, but it worked out well for us and gave our presence some authenticity and a voice that even someone in their early 30’s can’t provide.

As I mentioned, our college moved its institutional profile from a group to a fan page, but that doesn’t mean Facebook Groups are no longer used by offices on our campus.

Our most active group is a yearly “Class of” group – this year its the Class of 2013 group. For several years prior to this one, incoming students would create an unofficial group for their class and use it to start to get to know each other. The challenge for us as marketers and admissions folks was that we didn’t want our new students to think that group was sanctioned by the college or an official voice of the college, so in 2008, we created the official Class of 2013 group, with several people in different offices across campus serving as administrators. Now, it’s become a very useful tool for communicating quickly with that group of students. Our student orientation program leaders use it to answer questions, be a part of the conversation and post reminders and prod the students to complete tasks like completing necessary paperwork or registering for fall events.

We’ve also had great success in our career services group, who have used Facebook to promote employment fairs, recruiter visits and other employment-related activities on campus. They have seen program attendance increase over previous years, and Facebook has been a great way for them to reach an audience they otherwise may not have been able to be in contact with.

Hopefully, as Facebook grows they will continue to develop new technologies and ways for us to communicate. I think they’ve done a good job of it thus far, but it highlights one of the perils of social media in general – things in this area change very quickly and without warning. It can require a bit of work to keep track of all the new features, rules and more.

Four years ago we had no idea of how to use Facebook and two years ago we didn’t know how to use Twitter. There may be a new tool that’s being developed right now that may come along and change everything we’re doing and we’ll look back and say “wow, we didn’t even think about how to use X two years ago.”

Mike Richwalsky is assistant director of public affairs at Allegheny College, a small, private liberal arts college in the United States. He is also a technology fellow at NITLE, the National Institute of Technology in Liberal Education. He has a blog at, is on Twitter at @mrichwalsky and Facebook at

Posted in Facebook | 9 Comments »

Have You Claimed Your Personal And Institutional Facebook Vanity URL?

Posted by Brian Kelly on 13 Jun 2009

Short URLs for Personal Facebook Accounts

The Facebook vanity URL landrush began at 9 PM PST (5 am in the UK). I woke up early and claimed my personal short URL for my Facebook page at about 06.30 (actually I wasn’t awake early enough as the obvious short form had already been claimed). Now I won’t divulge this short form of my Facebook ID as I don’t necessarily want you trying to befriend me just because you read this blog. But I now have a much easier way of sharing my Facebook details with people I may wish to befriend in Facebook – previous they had to search through the large numbers of ‘Brian Kellys’ or I had to give them my email address. The short form is much more convenient.

Short URLs for Organisational Facebook Accounts

You can also claim short Facebook URLs for an organisational Facebook page – provided you had more than 1,000 fans before the cut-off date. Again if you are in this position this strikes me as a no-brainer – as described in a TechCrunch article you should go to and log into Facebook. And then enter your preferred name. That’s it.

Earlier this morning I discovered that some of my Twitter contacts had already got a short name for their institution. Mike Nolan announced first thing that his institution has claimed edgehilluniversity and slightly later Matthew Cock took the opportunity to promote a group on the britishmuseum’s Facebook account. Both Matthew and Mike had already made there plans for claiming a short form for their organisational Facebook account. Keele University had also made their plans, pre-registering their institutional name as a trademarked name – but then subsequently encountering difficulties in using this name.

“Somehow Feel Dirty After Minting Fb URL”

Despite the ease of getting such short URLs, a number of my Twitter contacts seems very discomforted with the notion. Now I understand why people may not approve of Facebook, but if they, or their institution, do have Facebook accounts then surely it’s only sensible to make access to the Facebook pages easier?

And in the case of institutional pages which are used to market the institution, then surely we should be expected the marketing departments to have spend 10 seconds or so on a Saturday morning to claim the short name which can, if so desired, be used in marketing materials. And I would hope that rather more time would have been spend in selecting the short name – poppletonuniversity, poppleton-universityor university-of-poppleton, for example. Or perhaps there’s even a case for


So tell me, what is the logic in having a personal or institutional Facebook account and keeping the long form for its address? Or are the tweets I’ve been seeing simply a minority view from the ideological purists (the 21st century equivalent of the Tooting Popular Front?)

Of course, it may be that your institution hasn’t claimed the short name as it doesn’t know who owns the acount! But that’s another matter. Institutional ownership of services in the Social Web is worthy of a post in itself.

Twitter conversation from Topsy: [View]

Posted in Facebook | 13 Comments »

Further Developments of a Risks and Opportunities Framework

Posted by Brian Kelly on 16 Apr 2009

I have previously described a risks and opportunities framework which I will be presenting shortly at the Museums and the Web 2009 conference.

Risks and Opportunities Framework (generic)At the Archives 2.0: Shifting Dialogues between Users and Archivists conference I described a slightly updated version of the framework, which includes ‘Critical Friends‘ as a means of ensuring that a degree of scepticism is applied to planned innovative services.

The framework is based on the notion that the risks and benefits of innovation cannot be considered without considering its intended purpose.

In order to ensure that the framework does not result in inertia and an avoidance of new developments it is envisaged that the approach will also be applied to existing services, in-house development, etc.

During my talk on “A Risks and Opportunities Framework For Archives 2.0” at the Archives 2.0: Shifting Dialogues between Users and Archivists conference I gave an illustration of how this framework might be applied in two contexts related to use of Web 2.0 services: use of (a) Twitter by individuals in an organisation and (b) organisational use of Facebook.

Application of the Risks and Opportunities Framework

The intended use of Twitter by individuals described at the Archives .2.0 conference was to provide support for a community of practice. The individual should benefit from working in a community and such benefits would should also help the institution.   The risks might include the time required to use Twitter and to become part of a community and the dangers that Twitter is used inappropriately or excessively. It should also be noted that inappropriate use of Twitter could include requiring members of staff to use Twitter against their will or inclination. There might also be risks that to the organisation in terms of its brand (“I hate working here“). Failing to allow staff who so desire to make used of Twitter (by firewalls, policies or more subtle pressures)  could result in a failure to make use of the benefits provided by being part of a (virtual) community and a failure to understand the potential of Twitter for organisational use. It should also be noted that the costs of using Twitter can be small, as Twitter tools are available for free, no editorial mechanisms need to be deployed and no archiving of Twitter posts need to be kept.

The intended use of Facebook by organisation described at the conference was as a marketing tool for the archive or museum. This would have the advantages to the organisation of being able to market to the large numbers of Facebook users and to exploit the various functions provided by Facebook without needing any in-house development work. However there may be risks related to data lock-in, giving permissions to Facebook to commercially exploit content which is up-loaded and disenfranchising users who chose not to sign up to Facebook or users whose assistive technologies may not work with Facebook.  Failing to use Facebook could, however, result it missed opportunities for marketing to large numbers of users and a failure to allow users to engage with the service. The costs of setting up an organisational presence in Facebook should be low, but consideration does have to be given to ongoing maintenance (e.g. responding to wall posts).

Critical friends, such as my colleague Paul Walk’s various posts on possible risks associated with use of Facebook and Twitter, can help to inform organisational decision-making processes, as can discussions on mailing lists, sharing experiences at conferences and blog posts (such as recent guest blogs post on use of social networking tools at the National Library of WalesWolverhampton University Library and Brighton Museum and Art Gallery).

Finally I should add that there will be subjectivities and personal biases in how I’ve described use of this framework.  But let’s acknowledge that such biases and personal prejudices will always exist.

Posted in Facebook, Social Networking, Twitter | 4 Comments »

My Thoughts On The Facebook Debate

Posted by Brian Kelly on 18 Feb 2009

The blogosphere and the Twitterverse have been full of angry posts and tweets on the recent changes to Facebook’s terms and conditions and the subsequent reversal in the light of the negative publicity. My, perhaps somewhat controversial, view is that there has been a failure to recognise the complexities related to ownership of data in a social networked environment and instead we have been seeing simplistic solutions being proposed which, if applied generally, would undermine the development of the more open social networks which, ironically, many of those engaged in the discussions would actually prefer to see.

Consider the view that “it’s my data and if I wish it to be deleted then this must be permitted“. There’s no ambiguity in such a view which, on the surface, appears reasonable.  But how might this be applied in other contexts such as, for example, the UK’s JISC-funded JISCMail service. This service has a policy document which is publicly available. This states thatWhen you leave JISCmail, your name, email address and, if relevant, Shibboleth Targeted_ID will be removed from our database“. That sounds good, and is in keeping with the expectations which have been raised in the context of Facebook’s changes to its terms and conditions. However the JISCMail policy goes on to state that “However, any message you have posted to a list will remain in the archives“. What? JISCMail are going to keep my data (forever, I assume) even though, in the policy on copyright, JISCMail have admitted that “When you send a message to a JISCmail list, you retain your copyright in that message“. JISCMail, it would seem, are behaving even worse than Facebook; at least Facebook have been honest and openly stated that they won’t delete users’ data, with (new) users having to acept these terms and conditions. JISCMail, on the other hand, states that it’s the user’s data but keeps the data if the user leaves the service. What about all of those embarrassing messages I posted when I was young and naive, I may wonder?

Now I should hasten to add that I’m not saying there is anything wrong in JISCMail terms and conditions; I am simply pointing out one example of the complexities. And yes, I am aware that an email message will be replicated in many places, so deleting one instance in the JISCMail archive wouldn’t be of much use. And I am also aware that deleting individual messages would undermine records of discussions.

And these are arguments which Mark Zuckerberg has been making in his defence of the changes to the terms and conditions. But many of the initial responses have failed to acknowledge such complexities. The first post I read which did have a more considered view was the Dataportability blog which, in a post on “Redefining and Standardizing ‘Ownership“, acknowledged that “Facebook, by virtue of its sheer size and scope, is often the first to run into issues that the rest of the social web will need to address sooner rather than later“.

The other post which gave carefully considered thoughts was published by my colleague Paul Walk in his post which argued “Facebook wants your attention, not your photos“. Now Paul has admitted “I’m certainly not a fan of Facebook. I have yet to find a use for it in my professional life and have criticised before the assumption that, for example, Higher Education should be embracing it as a service because it is widely popular“.  But rather than taking an opportunity to join in the general condemnation, Paul describes how he  “think[s] the furore about Facebook’s ‘ownership’ of user-generated-content has, by and large, slightly missed the point“.

As someone who has posted a number of posts which have had a more positive view towards Facebook than Paul it would be appropriate for me to agree that Facebook have made mistakes in the way it has handled the changes to its terms and conditions. And yet, ironically, Facebook can manage (and delete) content held in its ‘walled garden’ than would be the case in more open and distributed social networked environments.

But let’s join in with the Data Portability blog and Paul Walk in having a more mature and considered discussion of the complexities of ownership and controlled within social networks.

Posted in Facebook | 3 Comments »

A Framework For Making Use of Facebook

Posted by Brian Kelly on 13 Jan 2009

Many organisations are looking at ways in which they can make use of the Facebook social network. The Open University, for example, provides details about its Facebook page (which, as I described last year seems to be one of the most popular University pages available in Facebook). Jo Alcock wrote a guest blog post in which she described how the University of Wolverhampton is using Facebook  – and she’s written a post on her blog in which she describes feedback she’s received  from “students who feel it is a good way to be kept up-to-date with Learning Centre services and resources as they use Facebook regularly“. And I could go on to describe other ways in which Facebook is being used – as Jo commented in her blog post “It certainly seems that the use of Facebook in libraries is becoming more mainstream“.

And yet others seem to argue that institutions shouldn’t be making use of Facebook. Stephen Downes, for example, responded to my post entitled Facebook Saves Lives by arguing that “You don’t need Facebook to send out appeals; it is merely one more channel in a universe full of channels ” before going on to conclude that “There is only one context in which Facebook should not be avoided: the current one, in which there is no decent alternative.” And Paul Walk in a post entitled Why I suppose I ought to become a Daily Mail reader was dismissive of Facebook’s popularity although admitting that he “wouldn’t stand in the way of people wanting to access Facebook“. Mike Ellis responded to Paul’s blog post and argued that  the scale of Facebook’s user base cannot be ignored: “100 million people is an enormous chunk to ignore for the sake of some niche argument about content ownership and portability which *those same users* couldn’t give a crap about“. In response Paul stated that he is not “arguing that we should ignore FaceBook – it has its uses for millions of people. I’m arguing that it does not follow that we should necessarily advocate it’s use to support teaching and learning in HE for example. There are reasons why it might not be appropriate.

Paul is quite right – there will be times when Facebook will not be appropriate. But I am more interested in exploring ways in which Facebook can be used to provide useful services whilst minimising the associated costs and dangers.

I have previously suggested that one approach to minimising the time and effort needed to provide content within Facebook for use by others is to simply provide access to content which is already available elsewhere on the Web.  This is an approach I use with RSS readers, Twitter, Slideshare, and other Facebook applications automatically surfacing content within Facebook which is created elsewhere.  I must admit that I had thought that this approach was obvious, but when I ran a workshop up in Edinburgh last year I found at least one organisation which was re-keying event details into Facebook.  No! Let’s use RSS to syndicate such content, please!

But over on Wendell Dryden’s qualities – communities – literacies blog Wendell recently pointed out that not all Facebook applications behave in a benign manner. Wendell mentioned  how I had “suggested a work-around which would allow users to harness Fb’s tremendous networking capabilities while still providing maximum access to content: host the content elsewhere, and then provide a link or feed into Fb” but described his experiences in using this approach with the Multiply photographic sharing service. However due to “Multiply’s somewhat complicated services structure” Wendell found that Multiply’s “smarmy behaviour” forced him into advertising “a beautiful photo calendar” to friends and colleague with whom he wished to share resources.

Now for Wendell “the search goes on. I still want a non-Facebook, real-world social networking site where learners I and can connect“. He feels that “Multiply’s too scammy. Yahoo’s lost at sea. This spring, I guess, I need to take another look at Orkut“.

But I suspect he may be on a time-consuming quest – and as I pointed out recently, Orkut currently doesn’t appear to have much to offer. And as I don’t use Multiple, Wendell’s specific concerns aren’t an issue for me. So for me the issue is how we can exploit the potential of today’s market leader whilst mimising various dangers.

Framework for Making Use of Facebook

I’d like to suggest that we might like to build a framework by considering the advantages and disadvantages of the two (?) main stakeholders: the institution and the individual.

The first draft of this framework is illustrated.  As can be seen use of the framework requires decision makers to document the benefits to the organisation and the user, the associated risks, the costs and resource implications for using the service and the missed opportunity costs of not using the service.

The framework requires that these issues are addressed within the context of the particular usage which is envisaged. So rather than resorting to generic slogans about the service itself ( “it’s a walled garden”, “it’s proprietary”, …) the discussion should focus on specific aims of the service and the way it is being used.

And finally there is a recognition that there will be prejudices and biases when using the framework, and suggested that it is better if such biases are openly acknowledged.

Is this approach useful? Is it worth developing further?

Posted in Facebook | 7 Comments »

Facebook Saves Lives

Posted by Brian Kelly on 25 Dec 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.

Posted in Facebook | 2 Comments »

What is the Evidence Suggesting About Facebook?

Posted by Brian Kelly on 15 Oct 2008

In a recent comment Mike Elllis reflected on the meaning of technology, where the complexity comes from, and what the bits under the hood bring to the party. Mike concluded “My take is: users aren’t just quite important, really important or reasonably vital: they are everything, bar none.

If you accept this proposition how should you respond to what appears to be the continuing popularity of Facebook? A quick snapshot of my friend’s status indicates that my Facebook friends are regularly updating their status, using a variety of mechanisms, with Twitter users automatically updating their Facebook status via Twitter.

Meanwhile Ruth Page on her Digital Narratives blog has written a post entitled “Facebook Fresher’s group: Success story“. In a review of the induction week at Birmingham City University (BCU) Ruth states that:

One of the great things has definitely been the take up and use of the Facebook group for the Freshers. At the beginning of the week we had 62 students joined up, and at the last look, 84 students out of an intake of around 120. But the numbers aren’t everything – it’s how the students evaluated it.

She goes on to add that the students:

loved the fact they could make friends with their fellow students before they even got here. That made a huge difference on the first day when it was so much easier to strike up conversations. But they also really appreciated the fact that they could ask questions and get the clarification they needed before arriving. Some of this came from me, but some of it also came from the students too, especially our student mentors who played a brilliant part in offering advice and encouragement from a student perspective.

Ruth concluded by saying:

The strength of using Facebook is that many of the students are already using it. I wasn’t asking them to take on yet another new form information, but tapping into a forum they are already familiar with. And, as a social networking site, that is what it is best at: encouraging friendships and connections that build the social cohesion so important for good progression and retention.

Now many IT developers and policy makers don’t like Facebook. I’ve heard comments along the lines of it’s a fad; it’s a walled garden; it’s commercial; it’s partly owned by Microsoft; the terms and conditions are unacceptable; …

These comments do have an element of truth to them. But if the users are willing to use the service, then maybe, as Mike suggests, these issues about the ‘behind the scenes’ factors simply aren’t as important as they are made out to be.

On the other hand, as Stuart Smith has commented, perhaps “variety is good” and although from “a user perspective the system doesn’t matter … from an educational grand plan perspective then lack of choice in education is limiting“. Stuart then goes on to argue that “We need to be careful that we don’t become populist for the sake of it, simply adopting systems because they are in mass use. Ideally we should consider why they are popular and then ask if they have educational value.

Facebook vs Twitter usage statisticsNow Stuart is right to acknowledge that popularity can be a factor. Back in April 2008 in a post entitled Facebook Or Twitter – Or Facebook And Twitter I responded to those who were arguing that Facebook’s popularity was on the wane by showing a graph comparing Facebook usage with that of Twitter which demonstrated that that Facebook usage wasn’t in decline. And the latest figures demonstrate that Facebook’s popularity is continuing to grow at a much greater rate than Twitter’s as illustrated (with a graph available on

But in avoiding being ‘populist for the sake of it, simply adopting systems because they are in mass use‘ don’t we face the danger of being elitist, and prioritising our view and our prejudices over the preferences of the users? And let’s remember that organisations can change – indeed as Andy Powell has just commented in a post on Thoughts on FOWA:

And finally… to that Mark Zuckerberg interview at the end of day 2.  I really enjoyed it actually.  Despite being well rehearsed and choreographed I thought he came across very well.  He certainly made all the right kinds of noises about making Facebook more open though whether it is believable or not remains to be seen!“.

What’s your take on this debate?

Posted in Facebook | 8 Comments »