UK Web Focus (Brian Kelly)

Innovation and best practices for the Web

Archive for the ‘Facebook’ Category

Revisiting Development Of Facebook Applications

Posted by Brian Kelly on 13 Aug 2008

I recently commented that I was pleased to see that the JISC-funded EDINA service was engaging with a number of externally-hosted Web 2.0 services in order to “improve engagement with their user communities”. In my post I made an observation on the release of a Facebook application (one which provides access to the Suncat service). I was pleased to see that EDINA are willing to explore the potential of Facebook for providing a platform for accessing their service – in some circles Facebook is regarded as unacceptable, perhaps because of concerns over data lock-in and privacy concerns, but also on what might be regarded as ‘ideological grounds’. My view is that if such applications can deliver useful services to the users in a cost-effective manner, then that will probably be acceptable.

In response to my post Nicola Osborne, a developer at EDINA, commented:

If anyone has comments on the search app or features that should be added we’d be very keen to hear them as the gradual migration over to the new version of Facebook seems like a good time to reassess how our app is working and could be improved and expanded (it’s very basic at the moment).

Nicola’s comment is very timely as I think there is a need for a debate on exactly what it is we (developers and users) might expect from the development of such Facebook applications. We will also need to consider the resource implications in developing such applications and the longer term maintenance and support costs. 

The Facebook page for the Suncat page is shown below. It should be noticed that as well as the search interface itself (shown at the bottom of the image) the page also provides information about the service, allows users to become ‘fans’ of the application, provides a ‘minifeed’ of information about the application and has a ‘wall’ which provides a forum for user comments. What this would seem to provide is an open environment for discussions about an application and mechanisms for potentially for making contact with fans of the application.

If we look at the Copac Facebook application page developed by the JISC-funded MIMAS service we can see a related approach. Here we can see how the application can be added to (embedded within) other Facebook pages. I can also see my Facebook friends who have added this application. And as, in this case, the people shown are people whose views on digital library applications I trust this can potentially help me in deciding whether to install the application. And if, for example, my Facebook page is updated with a message saying that 50 of my friends have installed the Copac or Suncat application I’m likely to wonder what I’m missing. And if I install the application this may influence my Facebook friends. So the viral marketing aspect has the potential to enhance usage of a service which is made available in Facebook.

But if you actually use either of these application you will find that the experience is rather disappointing. Once you’ve entered a serach term and pressed submit you then leave the Facebook environment and are taken to the Suncat or Copac service. You do not have the seamless environment within Facebook you might expect.  And your use of of the service does not have any ‘social’ context – if you have installed the application you are not informed of the numbers of your friends who have searched for a particular item. And you might be relieved at this, as you may not want your friends to see what you have been searching for. But if this is the case, if searching isn’t actually a social activity, what then is the point of providing the service within a social networking environment such as Facebook?

The answer to this question may be that the marketing aspects that social networks can provide is regarded as beneficial to the organisation developing the service. And as we have seen with popular applications such as Firefox large numbers of users are sometimes willing to associate themselves with an application (and I’ve just noticed that the Twitter application page in Facebook has 10,106 fans).  So perhaps a decision to develop a Facebook application would be one made by the marketing group for a service. Or perhaps there is an expectation that a thriving support service can be developed within popular social networking environments, in which case the decision would be made by those involved in providing the support infrastructure for a service.

But perhaps, based on the experiences I’ve had, we shouldn’t expect too much in terms of the functionality which a Facebook application can provide.  Is this a limitation of Facebook as a platform, or is it simply that, as Nicola has said about the Suncat application, the service is still very basic at present and EDINA are still exploring how the application might be developed? Or might Facebook applications have a useful role to play, but only in certain application areas. Earlier this year Seb Chan, on the blog described the Artshare Facebook application, developed by the Brooklyn Museum (one of the pioneers in a number of uses of Web 2.0 services). As Seb described:

This allows you to add selected objects from museum collections to your Facebook profile. These object images then link to your museum’s collection records, the idea being that people can effectively ‘friend’ objects in your collection, promote them for you on their profiles, and drive traffic back to your website.

Are the benefits, then, in providing access to objects which can, in some way, drive traffic back to your service? Or could Facebook provide an environment for games which provide educational benefits (Scrabulous for remedial English teaching, perhaps?)  But are there any significant benefits to be gained, apart from the marketing aspects, from providing search interface to services from within Facebook?

Posted in Facebook, Web2.0 | Tagged: , | 12 Comments »

Revisiting UK University Pages On Facebook

Posted by Brian Kelly on 16 Jun 2008

Back in November 2007 I wrote a post on UK Universities On Facebook, shortly after Facebook had announced that organisations could have a presence on their social networking service. I commented that a search for organisations containing the word ‘university’ revealed a total of 76 hits which included, in alphabetical order, the following UK Universities: Aston, Cardiff, Kent and the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan).

Now, over 6 months later, what is the position of UK University pages on Facebook? Well on 15th June 2008 there were over 500 hits for a search for organisations containing the word ‘university’ (the exact numbers aren’t provided). This will include details of University departments and student clubs and societies, so the exact numbers will probably be confusing. What is interesting to observe is the numbers of fans of each University, which is used to order the search results. 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).

There seems to be a fairly consistent pattern of usage being taken to these pages. As can be seen form the accompanying image, institutions seem to be providing a series of useful links to the main areas of the institutional Web site on the right hand menu. The main body of the content is typically addresses and contacts details, together with news feeds which are automatically embedded using an Facebook RSS reader application.

In addition to this information which is either very brief or is dynamically embedded from other sources, there are wall posts and other messages which may need to be monitored and responded to. So there are resource implications in having a presence in Facebook. But there are also benefits as well, and the Open University and Aston University, for example, seem to be doing well from the stake they have claimed.

In addition to possible concerns over the costs of managing the resources and dialogue, people have expressed concerns over data lock-in and the licence conditions associated with use of Facebook. I would argue that if you manage your data in an open environment which is external to Facebook (e.g. your own institutional RSS feed or use of Flickr or YouTube for access to photographs and videos) then the data lock-in issue should not be of concern. And, as I’ve suggested previously, surely we should be encouraging third parties to make use of our marketing materials. And if they can make money out of the materials, then this can help to ensure the viability of their service.

Northumbria University poster, seen in Taipei, TaiwanFinally we should remember that our institutions have a well-established tradition of making use of delivery channels which are not interoperable – the physical world of magazines, newsletters and bill-board advertisements.

Indeed when I was in Taiwan recently I came across a poster advertising Northumbria University. My reaction was to applaud Northumbria for getting its message across to where potential students were, rather than to criticise them for their use of a non-interoperable dead tree delivery mechanism. We need to remember that interoperability isn’t always everything. Ask the marketing people – I suspect they’ll confirm this.

And some news just in. On 12thJune 2008 the Techcrunch blog reported that Facebook [Is] No Longer The Second Largest Social Network– but rather than declining in popularity as some predicted (or perhaps hoped), Facebook has now overtaken MySpace in popularity, as the accompanying image shows.

Facebook vs MySpace Usage Statistics

Perhaps the popularity of the Open University page in Facebook isn’t so surprising considering the large numbers of Facebook users there are. Now that we have evidence of the large numbers of users and have seen patterns of usage from the early adopters, what reasons can there be for institutions not to engage with Facebook- whether this is simply creating a page containing RSS feeds and a set of links back to the institutional Web site or creating a Facebook application such as the Open University’s Course Profile app (initially described by Tony Hirst as a ‘skunkwork’ project, but now, it seems, becoming mainstream)? And remember the need to factor in not only the resource implications of doing this, but also the missed opportunity costs of not doing so.

Posted in Facebook | Tagged: | 11 Comments »

Facebook Or Twitter – Or Facebook And Twitter

Posted by Brian Kelly on 15 Apr 2008

In the opening plenary talk on Hands On The Internetat the Museums and the Web 2008 conference Michael Geist mentioned the popularity of Facebook in Canada – apparently Canada has the highest per capita Facebook usage in the world. And, as described in a blog post on the talk by arkrausehardie Michael described the “enormous pressure a sort of flash-mob FaceBook group can bring to bare (sic!) on public policy such as the recent group started by Geist on copyright issues in Canada, now with more than 40,000 members“.

The interest in the potential of Facebook for engaging with a museum’s user community was described in a number of papers at the conference. For example Shelley Bernstein’s paper on “Where Do We Go From Here? Continuing with Web 2.0 at Brooklyn Museum” described the ArtShare Facebook application they had developed to “share works of art from Museums around the world“. And a paper by Brian Kelly and colleagues at the Canada Science and Technology Museum on “Social Presence: New Value For Museums And Networked Audiences”  described “specific experiments with social media, including a detailed analysis of a Facebook group used by the Canada Science and Technology Museum Corporation’s Membership Program“. In addition the paper described “two theoretical models – the “Innovation Radar” and genre analysis – to help analyze the nature of the opportunities for innovation, and to develop a better understanding of the distinctive characteristics of alternate communication channels“.

And yet in some circle such use of Facebook is being derided with comments such as “It’s a closed garden“, “Its popularity is on the wane” or “Twitter is a better development environment” being made. I have to say that I find that such comments tend to miss the point.  A recent post on “The Becoming Uninteresting Complex – Facebook versus Twitter” commented on the “pretty irrational questionings like “is Twitter replacing Facebook?“, Twitter doesn’t allow socialization. It simply allow instant interactions“.

And as can be seen from a Siteanalytics snapshot which compares usage of Facebook and Twitter,  it you want to make inappropriate comparisons, it’s Twitter which fares badly.

Facebook and Twitter Usage

Making these points, I should add that we shouldn’t explore the potential of Facebook uncritically. But the early adopters do acknowledge some of the concerns which need to be recognised. Dawson et al have commented that “There are, however, a variety of potential pitfalls with social networking sites. One concern is whether such sites are a fad or flash in the pan“. The paper goes on to add “Issues of privacy are another important factor. Users of social networking sites appear to be willing to live with great compromises in their privacy. However, even these broad boundaries have been tested a number of times. Facebook, for example, has risked alienating its users in controversies such as the introduction of the news feed in 2006 (boyd, 2006a), and the more recent introduction of the “Beacon” in 2007 (Hirsh, 2007).

So let’s be realistic and continue the experimentation and debate. But let’s also be critical of our preferred environments.  And although I’m a happy user of Twitter and participated in its use at MW2008, looking at the hashtag data for the mw2008 tag I would acknowledge that it was used primarily by a small group who knew each other – and indeed went out drinking together.  Twitter can be useful for some – but it’s not necessarily the killer application for everybody.

Posted in Events, Facebook, Social Networking, Twitter | Tagged: , , | 7 Comments »

Come Into My World

Posted by Brian Kelly on 28 Mar 2008

Back in December 2007 Lorcan Dempsey wrote a blog post about the Nexus Facebook application, which provides a visualisation of your friends in Facebook. The highest density of his friends were his professional colleagues followed by “mostly UK friends (and the most highly connected nodes are people who work or worked at UKOLN“.

This seemed interesting so I installed the Nexus application and captured a screenshot of the representation of collections of my friends and contacts. As with Lorcan, the highest density represents professional colleagues across the UK Web management community. The second largest cluster, shown on the bottom right of the image, are my rapper sword dancing and folkie friends.

The Nexus Facebook Application

It’s possible to interactive with the data, exploring who knows who and explore what the links are.

The concluding remark Lorcan made on his blog post was “Not sure it means much, but it was interesting to play with for a while ….“.

I agree with Lorcan that it’s fun to play with. But can it be used in any meaningful fashion? I’m inclined to think that it may have some potential in the support of information literacy.

Could this tool be used by students to explore the relationships across their groups of friends. Perhaps one could suggest that the students write a Daily Mail style expose´ based on the premise that “It’s 2028 and Carl Marks is the new leader of the Labour Party. Our Social Networking History Correspondent has managed to unearth the shocking details of what Carl got up to as a student. Read pages 1-5 for the shocking truth“. Or, in the interests of balance, write a article for the New Marxism Today on “On the day Prince William ascends to the throne we describe his student lifestyle“.

NOTE (added on 1 November 2012): This service was shut own on 7 October 2009.

Posted in Facebook | 4 Comments »

Boycott of the Premier League

Posted by Brian Kelly on 11 Feb 2008

Supporters threaten boycott of Permier League spnsors over foreign fixture plans” read a headline on the front page of the Guardian’s Sport section on Monday 11th Febuary 2008.

I can sympathise with those views, but if I wanted to support such a boycott where would I go?  Well a search for “boycott premier league” in Facebook found the group on “SAVE THE PREMIER LEAGUE – PETITION AND BOYCOTT” which was set up on 9th February and already has 242 members.

Last August the BBC described how Facebook had been used to force the HSBC to make a U-turn on its plans to introduce student charges, a story which was picked up my many newspapers and bloggers.

Is, then, Facebook turning out to be the channel for mass protests, with only the hardline marxists arguing for a more politically correct channel?  OK, a tongue-in-cheek suggestion – but where else would you go to set up a mass campaign? I have discovered the Football Supporter’s Federation petition, but only through the Facebook group.

Posted in Facebook | 7 Comments »

Should Personal Data In Facebook Be Exportable?

Posted by Brian Kelly on 7 Jan 2008

On 2nd January 2008 I described various recent improvements to Facebook. I also pointed out that the research community has been developing tools for exporting data from Facebook for use in other applications. However my post added a note of caution:

Has the problem of data being trapped within Facebook now been solved? I don’t think so – remember that this is an experimental prototype … Perhaps more interestingly, though, are the ethics of exporting personal data to other applications.  The data I have received from my friends (their photos, contact details, interests, etc.)  has only been made available once we have mutually accepted friendship invitations.

Coincidentally the next day the blogosphere was full of discussions on this very topic, following an announcement (made initially on Twitter) that Robert Scoble had been banned from Facebook for using a scraping tool for exporting data from his Facebook account (“I got kicked off of Facebook because I was running a naughty script trying to get my friends info off of Facebook“).

Paul Miller and Nick Carr (“Scoble: freedom fighter or data thief?“) were amongst many bloggers who expressed their views on this incident in the immediate aftermath of this announcement.

My view if that it would be a mistake to portray this incident as a freedom fighter taking on the big evil corporate monster. I would also question the automatic assumption that people may have that they should be able to get out and reuse data they can access in networked services.  I feel that the nature of social networking services needs us to rethink assumptions which may have been valid in self-contained systems.

For example my email address and work details are freely available (on my Web site, my email signature, my business card, etc.)  However I took a deliberate decision not to publish my Skype and my MSN IDs and my mobile phone number in order to avoid both dangers of misuse (spam) and inappropriate use (being contacted out of work hours or being inundated with messages). 

But sometimes it would be useful to provide such information to others, but in a managed fashion. I do this from time to time, giving out my mobile phone number when I’m organising events (and am speaking at an event) so that conact can be made in case of problems, In such cases there may be an implied understanding that the information is provided only on a short term basis. However such understandings which may be reached by humans will not necessarily be the case in the networked world.

On Facebook when I befriend an individual this provides us with a mechanism for sharing information, which will include contact details as well as a wide range of other information.  But, whilst this information is managed in a Facebook environment I maintain control over this information, and can change the access conditions or even, by defriending people, withdraw access to my data.  And this is an important aspect of effective social networks. 

Circumventing such access control is therefore problematic, I feel. And this was the reason why I did not publish the FOAF file containing details of my Facebook friends.

Of course there are dangers of data lock-in if data cannot be exported from systems.  And if Facebook goes out of business there will be a lot of annoyed individuals if they cannot lose functionality and services they find useful.

It needs to be acknowledged that there does need to be a debate on how we should best proceed in addressing such tensions.  But this debate does need to be informed by an understanding of the diversity of requirements.

I was very pleased, therefore, to see a news item in Facebook from Dan Brickley about a WebCamp: SocialNetworkPortability event to be held in Cork on 2nd March 2008. The event will look at “abstract approaches for social network portability”, “authentication methods for cross-SNS usage” and “giving permission for profile discovery on different social networks”.

These are some of the important issues which need to be thrashed out. And Robert Scoble’s approach of simply running a screenscraper to extract personal data ignores these important issues.  So Facebook should be applauded, IMHO, for stopping Robert from infringing Facebooks’ terms and conditions. And note that there is a Facebook aplication – Friendscsv– which allows contact details to be exported from Facebook. Aparently:

This application has been created in accordance with the terms and condition outlined in the Facebook Terms of Use (May 24, 2007), Facebook Privacy Policy (Sept 12, 2007), and the Facebook Platform Terms of Service and Platform Documentation (July 25, 2007). The data exported from your cadre of friends is obtained in accordance with their Privacy Settings and does not contain any contact information.

That sounds good. But: 

By using this application, you consent to allow the developers to create a basic entry for you on, a site they also own and maintain. Your use of this application represents your consent to the privacy policies laid out on The developers of this application do not store any information (encrypted or otherwise) about your friends.

So a company (Bigsight) has already been set up which allows your contact data to be exported, provided the data is also uploaded to their social network. Now Bigsight is currently in beta and, according to their directory, there are only nine people from London registered.

But if a Facebook friend of mine uses this tool, will I find my personal details held on this service?  Is this something to be welcomed?  Or, to revisit the title of this post, should personal data in Facebook be exportable?

Posted in Facebook | Tagged: | 5 Comments »

Facebook Is Getting Better

Posted by Brian Kelly on 2 Jan 2008

Whisper it, but has anybody noticed the various developments to Facebook which seems to be making it a better environment to work in?

There have been developments to the user interface, such as the Facebook status no longer has to start with “Brian is …” and messages delivered via email now contain the contents of the message, and not just the URI you have to go to in order to read the message.  Simple developments, but much welcomed by many Facebook users, I suspect.

It is also pleasing to see serious service providers providing access to their services through Facebook – just before Christmas, for example, Lorcan Dempsey commented on the availability of the Worldcat application for Facebook, which is illustrated below.

Worldcat for Facebook

The research community is also engaging with Facebook.  I have recently joined the Facebook: Academic Research group which describes itself as “A group for anyone conducting (or interested in) academic research into Facebook. This includes sociologists, computer scientists, psychologists, information scientists, computer scientists, educators, philosophers, etc.

I also noticed recently that several of my friends had joined The Semantic Web – Benefits, Education & Outreachgroup. I must admit that I was very pleased to see the pragmatic approach which is being taken by many of the Semantic Web evangelists in this group. One message addressed the question “Why create a facebook group to discuss the semantic web?” by suggesting “for the same reason tv shows are advertised on radio and tv schedules are listed in newspapers and magazines. You have to reach out to people where they are if you want to bring them somewhere new.

In this group a thread on Getting FaceBook to open up provided a link to the Facebook Foaf Generator software which has been written by Mathew Rowe, a PhD student at Sheffield University.  The Foaf Generator is “a tool that generates a Foaf file from your Facebook profile, compiled from the information that Facebook has stored about you. It also includes details about your friends, along with geographical placement of your current location or hometown“.

Visualisation of FOAF file created from Facebook dataAs someone who has written a paper which explored the potential of FOAF back in 2004 I was intrigued by the possibility of making my Facebook data available as a FOAF file and then using a FOAF application to view the data. So I installed the application and created a FOAF file of my Facebook contacts. I explored several FOAF viewers before deciding that the Tabulator widget for the Opera Web browser seemed to provide the richest interface, and a screen shot of this is shown. 

What, then, does this show? Well it does seem to be possible to extract data from Facebook and make it available for use by other applications.  

Has the problem of data being trapped within Facebook now been solved? I don’t think so – remember that this is an experimental prototype developed by a PhD student, so there can be no guarantee of the quality of the service or that it will be available on a long term basis. And one simple experiment isn’t enough to explore how sophisticated (or not) the data export capabilities are. Perhaps more interestingly, though, are the ethics of exporting personal data to other applications.  The data I have received from my friends (their photos, contact details, interests, etc.)  has only been made available once we have mutually accepted friendship invitations.  Wouldn’t making a FOAF file of such data openly available infringe the implied privacy settings?   Or to put it another way, although Facebook may be improving, could it become too open?


Posted in Facebook | Tagged: | 9 Comments »

Breaking Up Is Hard To Do

Posted by Brian Kelly on 21 Dec 2007

For many of us it’s easy to find ‘friends’ on Facebook. Once you’ve got started and added a few friends it can often be easy to find other people you know. And the more links you have the easier it is to grow your network.

But how many of us have actively ‘defriended’ someone on Facebook? (And, incidentally, is this a word? The answer, it seems, is yes – see below). In real life we may lose touch with our friends, or chose not to have contact with them. But we probably haven’t publicly said ‘I’m not friends with you anymore ‘since we were at school.

What is the etiquette, then, of pruning one’s list of Facebook friends? If we defriend someone, is this displayed on our respective News Feeds pages? And will this cause intrigue? And what happens if others then start to defriend the same person? Will they lose face?

Well I took the plunge recently, when I defriended someone for the first time. This was someone I had messaged, asking if she was the person I’d know when in Newcastle. It turns out that she wasn’t – but, as her message was ambiguous, I needed to befriended her to verify this. As we didn’t know each other, I defriended her – and felt slightly guilty as she only had one other Facebook friend. But at least this action wasn’t displayed on my page.

I do think we will need to start to defriend our Facebook friends. It would be helpful if there was a Facebook application which could help manage one’s friends, perhaps in some automated way. But we will still need to grasp the nettle and let go at some stage.

Perhaps we need a Letting Go Of Your Facebook Friends day?

PS A Google search for defriend revealed several definitions, including this one from the Enclopedia Dramatica:

To “defriend” is to remove someone from your LiveJournal’s Friends list; it is tantamount to “throwing down the gauntlet” and declaring one’s friendship at an end. Unsurprisingly, many people consider defriending a severe blow to their pride and reputation, and thus the act of defriending tends to stir up a lot of Internet drama.

and this one from the Urban Dictionary (which demonstrates that the term pre-dates the popularity of Facebook):

  1. To remove someone from your livejournal friends list.
  2. the act of removing a friend on your Myspace friend’s list. 
  3. defriend smbd v , transitive de + friend; cf. befriend – to break off friendly relations (with smbd)

I should add that, as Andy Powell has observed recently, the Urban Dictionary has also defined the term Facebook limbo to refer to “the electronic space between accepting and rejecting a facebook friendship“. Is it worse to be rejected or to be ignored, I wonder?

Posted in Facebook, Social Networking | Leave a Comment »

The Opening Up Of Facebook

Posted by Brian Kelly on 3 Dec 2007

Opening Up The Data

Via the Are there 100,000 people for open data in Facebook? group on Facebook I found the statement that “We already know that Mark Zuckerberg has committed Facebook to opening up its data“. The group description links to an article in Macworld entitled “Web 2.0: Facebook wants to make members’ data portable” which begins with the announcement that “Facebook wants to make the data its members enter into the social network’s profiles portable, so that they can move that data to other online services if they want, the company’s CEO said Wednesday“.

Opening Up Development

Back in March 2007 I wrote a post on Dapper – Web Mashup Development For All? which described how the Dapper Web-based can open up the development of Web-based applications. I recently discovered a FireFox extension called DapperFox which makes Dapper even easier to use.

More importantly I have just been alerted to a Dapper post which announces that the Dapper Facebook AppMaker Now Open to Public: “What this will allow you to do is take ANY Dapp and turn it into a fully independent Facebook app. Use your own header, footer, background styling — really make it yours — and with absolutely no programming“.

So now, it would appear, development of Facebook applications is opening up to, perhaps not the masses, but those with lightweight development skills or interests. And by taking data from public Web sites and making it available within a Facebook environment, you are not locking the data within Facebook, as the original data source is still available on the Web.

Enhancing Its Services

Facebook started off as a social networking environment. But as I wrote on 9 November Facebook now allows entries for organisations to be created within Facebook. And now, less than a month later, the Open University’s Facebook page shows that the organisation now has over 2,000 fans and what appears to be the start of a thriving discussion forum.

Phil Bradley recently provided a series of posts on a JIBS conference on Is library 2.0 a trivial pursuit?. One of his post described a talk on The British Library in Facebook. The British Library (BL) “sees the use of social networking sites as a way of getting out there, providing information in situations and places where people are”. They have set up a number of Facebook groups, including groups which support the exhibitions they are running and the BL’s business and SME support services, as well as a BL organisational pages and groups for internal use.


It’s here; it’s popular; it’s still developing; authoring tools are being developed; it’s getting more open. Can any organisation seriously argue that they shouldn’t be considering how Facebook can be used to support organisational aims? And shouldn’t those involved in IT development also be looking at what can be learnt from Facebook’s successes? And shouldn’t the Semantic Web purists acknowledge the views which Paul Miller sums up with his comment on the Nodalities blog:

The noble vision of the Semantic Web is just that; a noble – and long term – vision. The years of seeking perfect answers to perfectly formed questions – a practice of which too many in the Semantic Web community are guilty – have not helped to move us nearly as far forward as we should have come. The over-reliance upon complex and impractically all-encompassing ontologies have bogged us down, and invited ridicule.”

Posted in Facebook | 4 Comments »

Don’t Look Back In Anger

Posted by Brian Kelly on 16 Nov 2007

In a post on Putting an official stamp on things Grainne Conole, professor of e-learning at the Open University responses to my post on UK Universities On Facebook, and reminisces about the problems she’d encountered in the early days of the Web:

The powers that be in the institution began to get wind of this ‘Internet’ thing; suddenly it began to appear on senior management’s agenda. One of the deans apparently was particularly concerned that ‘some academics even had pictures of their cats on their web sites!’ – guess who?

And once the powers that be had set up their working groups and established institutional policies, their decisions didn’t meet with Grainne’s approval:

what followed was a period of stagnation and the creation of over centralized, bureaucratic, institutional web presences, with policies and procedures and dos and don’ts as long as your arm.

But rather than getting despondent that we’ll be sharing a ‘groundhog day’ moment, I feel that we can learn from the past.

My thoughts on this:

  • The institutional Web team should have a remit which covers the institution’s presence ‘out there’ in the wild west of the Web, and not just manage its own Web service.
  • The policies should be focussed on the needs of the user communities, which will include the needs of the institution.
  • The policies should not be driven by technical issues.
  • It should be acknowledged that there may be risks in managing presences ‘out there’ – the service may not be sustainable, for example.
  • The risk assessment should include the risks of not doing anything and the risks of being left behind.
  • There will be times when a light-weight ‘just do it’ approach will be appropriate.

This would probably then lead to an institution initially claiming an organisational page on Facebook (possibly two, covering the ‘University of x’and ‘X University’ variants) but not necessarily publishing it immediately. This can then be followed by discussions over the purpose of the service. There should then be experimentation to identify Facebook applications which will enable content to be embedded from a managed source (note at present it seems only a small number of Facebook applications can be embedded on an organisational page). Finally mechanisms and responsibilities for monitoring user-generated content will need to be established.

Does this make sense? Or would this approach simply repeat the ‘over centralized, bureaucratic’ procedures which upset Grainne and others in the past? My approach has been to set up a Facebook page for the social group I am involved with (Northgate Rapper) in order to gain experience. The aims of this service (besides gained experiences for professional purposes)?

  • To provide a prescence on Facebook for people who may be interested in Northgate Rapper and rapper sword dancing.
  • To allow people who see us to have an easily found location up upload photos and videos (“go to Facebook and search for ‘Northgate Rapper’.  Then upload the video, and any comments you may have).
  • To keep a record of where we’ve danced.
  • To make it easy for other dancers to edit the page.

The template I’ve used for the page (Clubs) isn’t ideal, as it is aimed at clubs as a venue rather than a social group. But at least I’ve created a page with little effort:

Northgate Rapper on Facebook

Posted in Facebook | 1 Comment »

Managers Are Invading The Workers’ Social Spaces

Posted by Brian Kelly on 14 Nov 2007

Which of the following reports is true:

A recent report has shown that workers at many organisations are concerned about being ‘befriended’ by their mangers – who then have access to their Facebook details. “I was sacked“, said one anonymous ex-worker at a large organisation “for arriving late at work. It was due to transport problems. But my manager spotted that I’d been out drinking the previous night, and had updated my Facebook status when I got back from the night club. He used this as the reason for sacking me. I had been out with my mates – what’s wrong with that? But I would have arrived at work on time if the bus wasn’t late.

The director of the CBI expressed concerns that workers had been ‘befriending’ their managers on the Facebook social network. “It would be churlish to refuse a request to be a friend of someone who works for me” said one manager. “But I hadn’t realised that he would see my status which said I had been out of the office playing golf one afternoon. He doesn’t seem to realise that business deals with our clients is often done on the golf course. This has undermined my credibility.

Facebook vampireTeacher attacks students in online satanic ritual” reports our education correspondent. “I introduced the children to Facebook as part of their Information Literacy course” Ms X. told us, close to tears. “We started off poking each other, and then moving on to tickling and hugging. Then someone installed the Vampire application and bit me. I, of course, responded in the same way. And now I’ve been suspended“. The head teacher informed us that, following complaints from the parents of one of the children affected by the incident, he had no alternative but to suspend the teacher (34), who cannot be named for legal reasons “We have zero-tolerance to cyber-bullying at this school.” (Note that we have published a photograph of Ms X’s vampire, but have removed the name of the victim).

Get out of MySpace screams a headline in the Guardian, an extreme liberal British newspaper (which had been the focus of vehement attacks during the last US election for its misguided attempts to undermine a democratically held election by a seditious media organisation based in a foreign country). The article goes on to say “a research exercise carried out by the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC), called the Learner Experience Project, has just revealed, amazingly, that students want to be left alone. Their message to the trendy academics is: ‘Get out of MySpace!’

The Get out of MySpace! post on the Kinda Learning Stuff blog cited the last example and commented that “there needs to be an increasing degree of contextual sensitivity by users and a subtlety in their development / use before they become really effective“.

Tony Hirst’s post on Helping Students Make More of Facebook Without Stealing Control describes the software development activities he has been involved in which attempts to exploit the benefits of Facebook, whilst avoiding ‘stealing control’.

As the Kinda Learning Stuff blog suggests, Tony’s approaches to software development needs to be complemented by addressing issues such as information literacy, user education, negotiations and discussions and the development of acceptable patterns of behaviour in our online social spaces. And we need to realise that the potential tensions between students and staff and not peculiar to the educational community, but will be reflected in any social grouping in which there are hierarchical and power relationships.

We need to have a much more sophisticated response to the cry to “Get out of MySpace” – whether this comes from the workers, the bosses, the students or, indeed, the academics – than abandoning these social spaces or setting up alternative social spaces without any guarantee that these will be successful.

Posted in Facebook, Social Networking | 5 Comments »

Briefing Document on Facebook: Opportunities and Challenges

Posted by Brian Kelly on 12 Nov 2007

UKOLN is running a one-day workshop on “Exploiting The Potential Of Blogs And Social Networks” which will be held in Birmingham on 26th November 2007. The event is now fully subscribed. However we will be making the various materials for the event freely available to those who could not attend.

A series of briefing documents will be provided in the delegate pack. This will include a document on “Facebook: Opportunities and Challenges” (written, incidentally, before it was possible to create organisational pages in Facebook).

The contents of this document are included below. Comments are welcomed – but please note that the documented is formatted as an A5 briefing document and it is not possible to add any additional content unless stuff is removed.

I’d alway invite people who have already produced documents, course materials, etc. related to use of Facebook to share it. Note that a Slidecast (slides plus audio) I produced some time ago is available on Slideshare, and there is a Facebook group on Slideshare which provides access to other slides on this topic. Feel free to add URLs to comments to this post.

About This Document

This document was produced for the UKOLN workshop on “Exploiting The Potential Of Blogs And Social Networks” held in Birmingham on 26th November 2007.

The document summarises the opportunities which Facebook can provide, together with the challenges to be addressed in order for such opportunities to be realised.

Why The Interest In Facebook?

Facebook has generated much interest over recent months. Much of the interest has arisen since Facebook announced the Facebook Platform [1] which enabled third party developers to build applications which could be used within the Facebook environment.

Since Facebook was developed initially to support students it is not surprising that student usage has proved so popular. This interest has also spread to other sectors within institutions, with researchers and members of staff beginning to explore Facebook possibilities.

What Can Be Done Within Facebook?

Social networks can provide a range of benefits to members of an organisation:

Connections with Peers:
The main function of Facebook is to provide connections between people with similar interests. (The term ‘friends’ is used to describe such relationships, but it should be noted that this does not have to imply a relationship based on friendship – a more appropriate term might be ‘contacts’.) Friends can then send messages to each other (either closed messages or open for others to read).
Facebook users can set up discussion group areas, which can be used by people with interests in the topic of the group. Creation of details of events, which allows users to sign up to, is another popular use of Facebook.
Sharing Resources:
Many of the popular Facebook applications are used for sharing resources. Some of these replicate (or provide an interface to) popular social sharing services (such as Flickr and YouTube) while other applications provide services such as sharing interests in films, books, etc.
An environment for other applications:
The opening of the Facebook Platform has allowed developers to provide access to a range of applications. Newport University, for example, provide access to their MyNewport portal [2] from within Facebook.

Many reservations about use of Facebook within an institutional context have been expressed. These include:

  • Privacy: There are real concerns related to users’ privacy. This will include both short term issues (embarrassing photos being uploaded) and longer term issues (reuse of content in many years time).
  • Ownership: The Facebook terms and conditions allow Facebook to exploit content for commercial purposes.
  • Misuse of social space: Users may not wish to share their social space with other colleagues, especially when there may be hierarchical relationships.
  • Liability: Who will be liable if illegal content or copyrighted materials are uploaded to Facebook? Who is liable if the service is not accessible to users with disabilities?
  • Sustainability and Interoperability: How sustainable is the service? Can it provide mission-critical services? Can data be exported for reuse in other systems?

Institutional Responses To Such Challenges

How should institutions respond to the potential opportunities provided by Facebook and the challenges which its use may entail? The two extreme positions would be to either embrace Facebook, encouraging its use by members of the institution and porting services to the environment or to ban its use, possibly by blocking access by the institutions firewall. A middle group might be to develop policies based on:

Risk assessment and risk management:
analysing potential dangers and making plans for such contingencies. Note that the risk assessment should also include the risks of doing nothing.
User education:
developing information literacy / staff development plans to ensure users are aware of the implications of use of Facebook, and the techniques for managing the environment (e.g. privacy settings).
Data management:
Developing mechanisms for managing data associated with Facebook. This might include use of Facebook applications which provide alternative interfaces for data import/export, exploring harvesting tools or engaging in negotiations with the Facebook owners.


  1. Major Facebook Announcement Thursday: Facebook Platform, Mashable, 21 May 2007, <>
  2. MyLearning Essentials for Facebook, Michael Webb’s Blog, 11 July 2007,

Posted in Facebook | Leave a Comment »

UK Universities On Facebook

Posted by Brian Kelly on 9 Nov 2007

Via a blog post on Michael Stephen’s Tame The Web blog I discovered that organisations can now have a presence in Facebook, which had previously been restricted to individuals.

So which have been the first UK Universities to stake their claim in Facebook? A 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: Aston, Cardiff, Kent and the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan).

This raises lost of interesting issues: who set up these pages?; was approval sought?; will there be battles over the ownership of the pages?; what trends will we see over how these pages look and the embedded applications they will provide?; how popular will they be?; will the look-and-feel and history of these pages be preserved?; etc.

It’s just like 1993 and 1994 all over again. Have we learnt from our experiences when we first set up our first organisational Web sites, or are we doomed to repeat the mistakes – and perhaps, as a indication of progress, discover new mistakes that we can make?

And this time, unlike the early 1990s, will it be the marketing people who are keen to establish a presence in this popular social networking service with the techies warning about the dangers of data lock-in and lack of interoperability?

In order to ensure that a record of what one of the first UK University pages in Facebook looked like shortly after this service was launched, here is a screen image of the most active of these pages: the University of Central Lancashire, on 9 November 2007.

UCan page in Facebook (on 9 Nov 2007).

Posted in Facebook | Tagged: | 36 Comments »

Facebook Fears – It’s Nothing New

Posted by Brian Kelly on 8 Nov 2007

Alison Wildish has recently written a post on “Fear of Facebook?” in which she comments on a recent article in The Independent entitled “Networking sites: Professors – keep out“.  Alison says that

The article highlighted a number of perceived issues with University staff getting involved in social networks. However I tend to disagree with the majority of them!

I’ll not repeat her arguments, which I tend to agree with (and are supported in a post by Tony Keen). My take is that this is nothing new – IT developers have repeatedly had to respond to successful developments which have challenged their own development activities or beliefs in how successful software should be developed.  I’d suggest that in the UK HE sector this may go back to the 1960s, when the view of the development of a successful IT environment was based on a political policy of buying British – with UK Universities being required, if my understanding is correct, to purchase ICL mainframe systems (this was, of course, before ICL became a Japanese company, being bought out by Fujitsu).  In the late 1970s I studied at Newcastle University, where they were pleased at having procured an IBM mainframe which ran the MTS (Michigan Terminal System) operating system.

 In the Web environment, I can recall demonstrating the Web to a number of IT development groups in 1993 when I worked at Leeds University.  Rather than the look of excitement which I normally got at that time, on two occasions the response was more like fear – I subsequently discovered that the developers were, independently, working on distributed information systems, and realised that their software couldn’t hope to compete with the Web.

When I moved to Newcastle University in 1995 I came across another research group which was also involved in developing reliable secure distributed systems (Arjuna).  Dave Ingham, who presented a couple of papers at WWW conferences, told me back then that his research group would never have released the Web, as it was fundamentally flawed: links broke when objects were moved, the user interface was very chunky, there was, back then, no client-side scripting, etc.  However Dave and his colleagues also realised that, despite its limitations, the Web was a success and wouldn’t go away. They therefore adopted their research ideas to work in a Web context – and where so successful that the company they subsequently set up was eventually bought out by HP.

I think we’re revisiting a similar set of fears that popular Web 2.0 services (not just Facebook) are challenging IT development plans. However rather than simply asserting limitations and implying that these are the overriding factors (with the “Web links are easily broken” argument being updated with various concerns over privacy, rights and interoperability) I feel that we need to engage with successful widely used services. Perhaps we might find that just as the Web does suffer from broken links but users are prepared to accept this, users may be willing to accept certain limitations which may shock the purist developer.

Posted in Facebook | 3 Comments »

My Facebook Friends Do My Work For Me

Posted by Brian Kelly on 17 Oct 2007

Last week I wrote about my preparation for a talk on What Can Mashups Offer?  I was preparing for the JISC RSC 3.0 annual conference and invited readers to provide examples. I was pleased to receive a response from James Clay about the use of Yahoo Pipes at the ALT-C conference and, via the JISC Emerge manifestation of the blog post, further comments from Paul Mayes.

My Facebook StatusOn Sunday I was finalising my slides, and updated my Facebook status, inviting my Facebook friends to provide examples which I could use.

I received several examples later that evening, and by Monday lunchtime I had included examples in my slides from Jane Stevenson (showing how the Archives Hub uses Google Maps to show the locations of contributors to the Archives Hub service), Paul Hollins, CETIS (on mashups in Second Life), Mike McConnell (on outreach services to potential students at Aberdeen University) and several examples from Tony Hirst, Open University. In addition Mark Van Harmelin suggested Scott Wilson’s XCRI mashup examples, but I didn’t have a URI to hand when I finished producing my slides. And, for the sake of completeness, I should add that Sebastian Rahtz, University of Oxford, also provided – via email – a number of examples of the prize-winning mashups he developed for the IWMW 2007 innovation competition.

The various examples I used in the talk are bookmarked in del.icio.usand, thanks to another tool provided by Tony Hirst, a slideshow of these mashups is also available (as Tony described, a mashup of the mashups).

So thanks to my Facebook friends for providing these examples.  And for me, I’ve realised what a potentially valuable tool  the Facebook status can be – a simple request can result in useful feedback, without the intrusive aspect often suffered by those who complain of email overload. And unlike more open communications tools, I’m inviting feedback from a selected group of my friends, colleagues and contacts on Facebook.  Perhaps, in some cases, the most effective social network isn’t the open network but the trusted network?

And, as promised in my previous post about my mashups talk, my slides are available, with a Creative Commons licence.

Posted in Facebook, mashups | 5 Comments »

Speculation on Microsoft Investment in Facebook

Posted by Brian Kelly on 29 Sep 2007

A Techcrunch article on Microsoft May Invest in Facebook At $10 Billion Valuation was published on 24 September 2007.

James Brown on the RIN Team blog has provided some interesting thoughtson the reasons why Microsoft are willing to invest $300-$500 million for a 5% stake in the company – which would place a valuation on the company of $10 billion.

I was interested in one of the statistics James provided: Facebook has 42 million active users and, in comparison, Spain has a population of 45 million. Is Facebook really, as some have suggested, really a passing fad. Perhaps Spain is, as well :-) And I wonder if, on 4 April 1975, anyone would have predicted the growth in Microsoft and when it stopped being dismissed as a fad?

Posted in Facebook | Tagged: | 11 Comments »

Your Views On Externally-Hosted Web 2.0 Services

Posted by Brian Kelly on 14 Sep 2007

I have found the My Questions Facebook application useful in getting focussed responses to questions I’ve raised. In the past few months I’ve asked for comments on Skype (most find it useful with only one person feeling it should be banned) and how institutions should respond to Facebook (almost everybody feels we should engage with it in some fashion, whilst being aware of possible dangers, and only one dissenting view from someone who feels it’s a fad).

My question for this month is:

Externally-hosted blogs, wikis, etc: (a) valuable solution for institutions which can save effort and resources; (b) to be avoided, as institutions need to be able to manage and tweak their own services or (c) an alternative view (please describe)?

I’ve already found that asking this question has proved valuable, as Chris Adie has included a link to a document on Guidelines for Using External Services produced by the University of Edinburgh. Barry Cornelius, incidentally used the JISCMail mailing list to inform me of a document on Checklist for assessing third-party IT services which addresses similar issues and some time ago I wrote a QA Focus briefing document on Risk Assessment For Use Of Third Party Web 2.0 Services.

What are your thoughts? If you can keep your responses down to 255 characters, you might wish to respond in Facebook; those who prefer to waffle on for longer than this may wish to respond to this blog post :-)

Posted in Facebook, Web2.0 | 8 Comments »

Use of Facebook in Primary Schools

Posted by Brian Kelly on 23 Aug 2007

Back in November 2006 Andy Powell wrote a post on Building a Web 2.0 school Web site in which he described the approaches to had taken to support the development of the Newbridge Primary school in Bath, of which he is a school govener.

As Andy described “the site is a mash-up of content pulled from Google Calendar (calendar entries), Flickr(images), Blogger (blogs), (links) and Google Maps (maps)“. He went on to “The server-side and client code needed to make all this hang together is surprisingly light. A Javascript object here or there to pull in the Google and Flickr stuff. A simple ASP script and XSL transformation to process RSS feeds from Blogger and into XHTML. Not a lot else.

I thought at the time that the architecture for the Web site (which is illustrated below) was very appropriate for a school, which is likely to have very limited technical expertise. I also felt that this approach could equally be used in many other contexts.

Newbridge Primary School Web site

The provision of a Web site for a school, of course, raises many ethical issues, As can be seen if you visit the school’s Web site there is no information about the children, and photographs on the Web site, which are hosted on the Newbridge Primary school’s Flickr account, are of the children’s art works and not of their appearances in, for example, the school’s Chritmas concert.

A very sensible approach which ensures that the school has a simple to use and maintained Web presence, whilst avoiding the pitfalls associated with hosting personal information related to young children.

Newbridge Primary School's Facebook GroupI was therefore intrigued when I noticed that Andy had joined a Newbridge Primary School, Bath Facebook group. So I subscribed to the group to see how it it is being used.

What I discovered was that the group contains access to photographs and discussions from current and former pupils, on topics such as who the school’s finest teacher was (and the discussion on the best hymn in “Songs of Praise” is not quite what one might expect.

What we seem to have is a Web site based on an appropriate Web 2.0 technical architecture, with thought clearly given to appropriate content and the potential risks, and an environment provided in Facebook where the school children themselves create the content and discuss topics of interest to them.

But if the children are uploading their photos (with video clips surely to come), what are the implications for the policies which apply to the school Web site? The parents will find the Web site useful (it has the prospectus for the schools, dates of school holidays and other information which the parents will need to know). But there seems to be little of interest to the pupils themselves. Will we find ourselves in a position in which the official Web site for a school takes a very conservative approach to access to personal information and provision of user-generated content, whilst such information and discussions can take place freely elsewhere?

Technorati Tags: Facebook

Posted in Facebook | 1 Comment »

Facebook: Engage with it or leave it alone?

Posted by Brian Kelly on 16 Aug 2007

The Question

Answers to My Questions on FacebookDo institutions (a) need to engage with Facebook as our students like it or (b) it’s their social space, so let’s leave it alone?

This was the question I asked using the My Question application in Facebook. The question was launched on 31 July and by 10 August I had received 18 replies, the first ten of which are shown in the accompanying image.

Nigel Bradley seems to have summarised the consensus quite nicely: “embrace it but don’t be intrusive”. And I have found the other responses have provided me with useful background information as to how my peers regard Facebook.

The ‘My Questions’ Application

I have used the My Questions Facebook application to ask a couple of questions previously, including “What is your favourite Web 2.0 application?” and “Skype: evil proprietary bandwidth hogger which should be banned or popular easy-to-use application which institutions should support?

The first question (to which I received 5 responses) introduced me to Zimbra, whilst the second question (to which I received 11 responses) indicated broad support for Skype, although Nigel Bradley confessed that he is “brainwashed by our networks guy” and feels it should be banned and Ross Gardler, rather more ambivalently, feels that “As a supplement to telephone – useless. As a cost saver – fantastic. Therefore needs to be fully integrated in the organisation to be useful (divert cash from one infrastructure to the other) – otherwise ban it.

I must admit that I am beginning to find this Facebook application very useful as a way of getting rapid feedback from my Facebook contacts on areas of mutual interest.

The questions, and the responses, are limited to 255 characters which helps to ensure that a brief response is provided. And the application is proving popular, with 103 of my Facebook friends having installed the application (and 6,073,960 Facebook users in total).

I think I’ll ask one work-related question a month, and see whether the responses I get prove useful.

In the meantime, I invite readers of this blog post to respond to my current question.

Technorati Tags: Facebook

Posted in Facebook | 3 Comments »

Slidecast on Facebook And The Institution

Posted by Brian Kelly on 14 Aug 2007

There was a lot of interest in the potential for Facebook at the recent Institutional Web Management Workshop, with Alison Wildish’s plenary talk on “Let the Students do the Talking…” plenary talk generating much discussion, some of which has been captured in a wiki page used for notes in the discussion groups, with Debbie Nicholson’s notes being particularly relevant.

This discussion is of interest here at the University of Bath, and I have been invited to give a talk about Facebook, including ways it which it may be beneficial to the University and the potential dangers that may be associated with its use.

As I have recently mentioned various tools for producing multimedia presentations, I thought I’d use the preparation for this talk as an opportunity to try our Slideshare’s Slidecast service, which Adrian Stevenson introduced me to.

I have written the first draft of my slides, which I have uploaded to Slideshare. I then recorded a rehearsal of the talk, and ‘mashed-up’ the MP3 file with the Slideshare presentation.

The technology was very simple to use – but I have to admit that I hate having to give such rehearsals and listen to my own voice.

Feedback on the content of this talk (or on the Slidecast service) is welcome – but not, please, on the hesitations, deviations or repetitions! At least if I’m reluctant to listen to myself, seven Slideshare users, so far, have added this slidecast to their list of favourites and over 580 users have viewed it :-)

Technorati Tags: Slidecast, Facebook

Posted in Facebook | 2 Comments »

Is Facebook Really Closed?

Posted by Brian Kelly on 9 Aug 2007

It recent posts Andy Powell and Graham Attwell have seemed to argue against use of Facebook as Facebook is a closed platform. These are all people I know, whose blogs I read and whose opinions I respect. But in this case I feel the situation is not as simple as they make out.

Andy argues that “Facebook appears to be pretty much useless if you want to expose any content you upload into it (photo albums, wall writings, notes, etc.) for aggregation by other services” whilst Graham asks “How can learners get their data from Facebook into their Portfolio. As far as I can see they can’t”.

I feel, though, that the situation is rather more complex than such comments might indicate. I have, for example, added the Facebook Docs application which is described as “the world’s largest library of schoolwork and other documents“. As can be seen from the image, it is possible to download documents from Facebook Docs (which is an interface to the Scribd service which I’ve discussed previously).

Scribd Application In Facebook

It is possible to download the document in various formats, including PDF, MS Word, plain text and as an MP3 file.

Other Facebook applications, such as and Twitter, similarly provide an interface to applications which allow the data to be accessed in various formats.

It is possible to regard Facebook as a closed interface to data which is openly available in other places. From this respect Facebook may be regarded as a useful aggregation of services, which has some parallels with adding various tools as FireFox extensions or plugins.

So rather than having a binary view of the openness of services such as Facebook I would suggest that there is a spectrum to openness. And we (as developers, advisers or whatever) need to have an open approach to how we respond to both the nature of the openness of such services and the values which users might attach to such issues (it would be inappropriate, for example, for an institution to ban use of Facebook because some of the applications may not allow data to be easily exported).

What approaches might be appropriate for addressing possible limitations in exporting data from Facebook applications? I would suggest the following:

  • Education: Informing your user community about the dangers oif using applications which don’t allow the data to be reused elsewhere.
  • Tools: Searching for or developing tools which will enable data to be exported.
  • Metadata: As illustrated in the screen shot, it is possible to include details of alternative locations of the data associated with Facebook applications. I have been using this approach for some time with Powerpoint files I have created: the URL of the master copy is included on the title slide and the notes page which enables the digital master to be accessed if only a paper copy of the slides is available. I have built on this approach when I upload my slides to Slideshare, including the address in the description metadata field.
  • Acceptance: Being willing to acknowledge that there may be cases in which users may be prepared to accept data lock-in e.g. cases in which the applications and data may be regarded as ‘disposable’.
  • Recontexualisation: Regard Facebook as the equivalent an Adobe PDF file or a Firefox plugin: providing a useful service to end users without needing to be fully open and reusable in themselves, as they form a small part of a bigger and more open picture.

I should also add that Michael Webb has also recently given his thoughts on Facebook and openness in a post on More about MyNewport and Facebook in which he suggests that, if users find the services provided from within the Facebook environment useful then “It seems to me utterly irrelevant to be ideologically concerned about whether Facebook is open or not“.

Posted in Facebook | 16 Comments »

“Your WordPress Is In My Facebook”

Posted by Brian Kelly on 27 Jul 2007

As announced last week on the WordPress blog, a WordPress application is now available which allows WordPress to be embedded within Facebook (and thanks to my colleague Nitin Parmar for giving me details of the Photo Matt announcement).

Wordpress Application In Facebook

The application can be primarily regarded as an interface to WordPress embedded within Facebook, although one aspect of the integration with the Facebook’s social network is the ability to see WordPress blogs provided by your friends (as illustrated).

Although it could well be argued that this provides little benefit for users (especially experienced users) it could also be argued that users may welcome the way in which their popular application can be integrated within a common environment. And many of the 135 responses (to date) to the initial announcement seem to be very positive, with the application getting a four-star rating from the FaceReviews Web site.

My view is that we need to gain evidence of whether this approach will appeal to users – and the best way of gathering evidence is to carry out the experiments.

Posted in Facebook | 6 Comments »

MyNewport – MyLearning Essentials for Facebook

Posted by Brian Kelly on 16 Jul 2007

Andy Powell commented on a blog post on Facebook and the Institutional Web I published recently which he followed up in a post on Facebook application growth which described some of the reservations he had concerning certain types of developments using the Facebook platform. Similar reservations were expressed in Paul Walk’s post on Playing in the sandpit, while the novelty lasts and Paul Miller explored the issues of The Platform and the Web – what can Facebook and Talis tell us? in Talis’s Nodalities blog, which highlighted the dangers of use of a closed platform.

Whilst agreeing with many of these points, I still feel that we can’t ignore technologies which appear to be successful (let’s not ignore Microsoft Windows, for example). So I very much welcomed “MyNewport – MyLearning Essentials for Facebook” – Michael Webb’s submission to the IWMW 2007 Innovation Competition.

MyNewport is the VLE/portal used by staff and students at Newport College, which includes access to course material, news, blogs, forums, library access etc. MyNewport is a Facebook application that allows students to access to MyLearning Essentials resources from Facebook. In effect this allows students to start creating their own personal learning environment in a platform other than the one provided by the University. Newport College have targeted Facebook at the moment as it’s the fastest growing community, but if the users like the idea but want to work in another environment then that is fine – as applications can be created applications for them as well.

Apparently 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 the college’s 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.

Further information on this submission is available on the Submissions page of the IWMW 2007 Web site.

(Note this post is one of a series which describes submissions to the Innovation Competition at the IWMW 2007 event, to be held at the University of York on 16-18 July 2007. Further information about the series of posts is available in a post published previously.)

MyNewport - available on Facebook

(Click image to see full size version)

Posted in Facebook, iwmw2007 | 4 Comments »

How Large Is Your Facebook Network?

Posted by Brian Kelly on 11 Jul 2007

How large is the Facebook network at your institution? The network at the University of Bath has 10,199 members (on 7 July 2007). This sounds impressive, but the numbers aren’t as large as those for the University of Leeds (26,944). Manchester (25,644) , Nottingham (24,021), Sheffield (19,939), or, up in Scotland, Edinburgh with 21,396 members.

These figures are impressive as members need to opt-in (unlike, say, the numbers of users who may be automatically registered for in-house applications such as email or Blackboard).

On the other hand these figures don’t provide any indication of the active numbers of users. And the figures will be inflated as, unlike registrations for in-house services, members will not be removed once they leave the institution.

So how might be go about benchmarking use of Facebook, in order to monitor trends, which can help institutions to identify whether Facebook might be an appropriate platform to support learning activities and communications with students – and also to make comparisons with the take-up of similar in-house and national services (such as JANET’s forthcoming national Collaborate project)?

An initial stab might be to get the statistics available on Facebook on the size of the networks in England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales. A technical approach might be to write a screenscraper to gather these statistics (assuming they are not available via an API), but a collaborative approach might be to engage the community in finding their own statistics and documenting the figures in a wiki (or, more appropriately, perhaps) in a shared Google Spreadsheet file).

But how do we get an indication for whether the networks are actually being used? Perhaps we could look at figures for the numbers of new groups which are set up, the numbers of posting to groups, the numbers of applications installed and the size of personal networks. But how easy if it to get such statistics? We need to find out if such information is available via Facebook APIs.

An alternative approach would be to interview students. But if we do this we’ll need to remember that the findings may not necessarily be valid across the sector – Facebook seems to be popular in some institutions but not others. And it might be interesting to explore the reasons why this may be. The University for Warwick, which provides a blogging service for all its students, has 15,637 users on its Facebook network. Are these two services in competition with each other, I wonder, or do they provide complementary functionality? Or perhaps the popularity differs across different departments?

Other, tangential, approaches might be to look at the size of popular cross-institutional networks, such as them The Great Facebook Race – British network, which currently has 52,497 members, or to look at the number of Facebook page impressions, which according to an article on Opening Up Facebook Registration Fuels 89% Jump in Traffic published on 8 July 2007:

In terms of pages viewed, the number of pages of content viewed at in May 2007 increased to 15.8 billion, up 143% versus May 2006 and 121% versus September. An average visit to the site lasted 186 minutes in May 2007, a 35% increase versus the same month last year.

Some interesting research possibilities, I think. And also valuable data which is needed before institutions start to make significant decisions about use of Facebook or deployment of alternative services in-house.

Technorati Tags: facebook

Posted in Facebook | 8 Comments »

Facebook WILL Die!

Posted by Brian Kelly on 8 Jul 2007

Yes, you heard it here first – Facebook will die! This may be in a year’s time; perhaps we learn that Facebook is a money-laundering operation for the Mafia. Or it may be discovered that many of the Facebook groups and photo-sharing services are used for pornography. Or maybe the Facebook owners get bored or decide that social networks are unhealthy for society and so shut it down (after all Stanley Kubric chose to ban showings of Clockwork Orange in the 1970s after accusations that it was responsible for copycat violence).

Or maybe Facebook dies after MySpace responds to the threat to its core business which Facebook is providing by opening up its APIs and succeeds in regaining lost ground.

Or maybe Bebo will surprise everyone by trumping Facebook I’ve heard people say that it is growing in popularity and maybe institutions will find that the large numbers of registered Facebook users include many dormant accounts as users move away from a service which becomes increasingly institutionalised.
And maybe it takes 10, 20, 50, … years for Facebook to die.

Should this worry us? And how should we respond to such scenarios, even if some of them are pretty unlikely?

My view is that we do need to carry out such risk assessment. But we also need to take a similar approach to the things we do normally including in-house developments or developments work funded by public sector bodies.

Let’s acknowledge the risks that in-house development work could potentially not be sustainable if the project developer leaves. Similarly project funded work may result in software which may be left to rot on SourceForge. And even services provided by the government may not be sustainable, not because the government will go out of business, but because of government reorganisation (as we’ve seen recently following Gordon Brown’s move to number 10 and subsequent changes to his Cabinet).

Yes, services will rise and fall. And we have to have mechanisms in place to cater for this. But let’s remember that this can also happen to the services we develop and may care about today. And we have seen this recently in the UK HE sector, following the AHRB’s decision to cease funding the AHDS and the JISC’s response that it cannot afford to fund AHDS on its own.

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Slideshare Available From Facebook

Posted by Brian Kelly on 26 Jun 2007

My colleague Nitin Parmar, a Learning Technologist at the University of Bath, has just alerted me to a post on the Slideshare blog which has just announced that SlideShare is available on FaceBook!

I’ve just tried it and uploaded a few of my slides to my Facebook account. The interface is shown below.

Facebook now supports Slideshare

The Slideshare blog posts admits that “While the Facebook application is not an exact replica of SlideShare, we have tried to include the core features“. It goes on to say that “We plan to gradually add more functionalities to the SlideShare-Facebook application“.

I welcome the fact that Slideshare are engaging their user community in early user testing and that they encourage users to “give us your feedback and let us know how we could enhance its appeal. ” As the open source community often say “release early and release often”.

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The ‘Cities Visited’ Facebook Application

Posted by Brian Kelly on 22 Jun 2007

Over the past year or so I have been geo-located the talks I’ve given. This involves using Google Maps top find the latitude and longitude of the venue and adding this to an RSS feed for my talks. This gives me the ability to display maps of my forthcoming events and talks I gave in 2006 and 2005.

However effort is required to do this, especially locating the talks I gave prior to 2005. So although I would find it useful to be able to have a map showing when I’ve spoken since I started at UKOLN, I decided it would take too long to process the required data.

But then I noticed the Cities I’ve Visited application in Facebook. And I realised that I could simply type in the names of the places I’ve been to in order to add them to a map (and as it uses an AJAX interface I didn’t even need to type in the full name). And I didn’t need to repeat the process for every time I’m been to an event at London. So I could very quickly create a map of the 64 towns and cities I’ve spoken at.

When I used the application I became aware of some of its limitation: its coverage of towns and cities is not universal (so I couldn’t include details of my talk at Gregynog in mid-Wales) but perhaps more importantly (without wishing to offend the Welsh!) is the inability to export the data.

Andy Powell, in a post on Be aggregated as you would aggregate unto others published raised this issue recently on the eFoundations blog. But as I suggested on the eFoundations blog, this can be regarded as an example of “embracing constraints“. And rather than having to wait for the application to be fully-featured but it is released, releasing the software early and gaining feedback might actually be a more effective approach to development.

After all, as Andy himself pointed out, Slideshare originally didn’t allow uploaded slides to be downloaded, but this limitation was removed shortly afterwards.

And as a user of this application, I have decided that even if data export functionality is not added to the software, my risk assessment of the application leads me to be prepared to accept this limitation, in order to benefit from the service it provides at little effort to myself.

To summarise my views:

  • Software development is a process
  • The process may include releasing early and releasing often in order to engage users in the process
  • Users may be prepared to embrace the constraints of an application, provided they are aware of such constraints and the implications.
  • There can be a missed opportunity cost associated with not using a service because it doesn’t do everything.
  • Similar issues related to embracing constraints and the dangers of missed opportunities apply even more so to developers, as getting the perfect software out after the user community has embraced flawed applications may result in having to write off the investment in development costs of that perfect, but little used application.

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Note: The image in this post was missing. A new image was added on 1 January 2012.

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Facebook and the Institutional Web

Posted by Brian Kelly on 15 Jun 2007

One of the advantages that use of a social networking environment such as Facebook can provide is the ability to see the Facebook applications that one’s peers are deploying. This was how I spotted that John Kirriemuir had added the UIUC Library Search application to his Facebook account.

What does this do?” I wondered, before deciding that it was worth investing about a minute of my time to find out. So I installed the application and voila:

So I now have a simple interface for searching the UIUC Library catalogue. Not much use for me, here at the University of Bath – but potentially very useful for students (and staff) at UIUC.

Should we be doing something similar within our own institutions, perhaps providing search interface not only to the library catalogue and other local services but also to national services such as Intute? Some might argue that this is unnecessary as a search interface is available on the service’s Web site and that developing additional interfaces for platforms such as Facebook)will require additional effort. I would disagree with the first part – I feel we should be making our data and services available where our users are and expecting them to come to our services may be risky. On the issues of the effort needed to do this, well we need to explore how much effort is required. Perhaps work which can be linked to the IWMW 2007 Innovation Competition? Anyone fancy developing Facebook applications which provide access to a range of JISC services?

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Something IS Going On With Facebook!

Posted by Brian Kelly on 29 May 2007

Something is going on with Facebookcommented John Kirriemuir yesterday in response to my “Death Of Email Debate Continues in Facebook” post.

Well he was right. A post published in a Guardian blog today entitled “Why Facebook is the new Apple” links to the announcement of Facebook’s F8 platform – a development which lets users embed other services inside their pages in Facebook.

The Facebook Developer’s site states that “The Facebook Platform is a standards-based web service with methods for accessing and contributing Facebook data. We’ve made the methods as easy to understand as possible, and included full documentation to help you learn more“.

I suspected something was happening to Facebook when I viewed ajcann’s Facebook page yesterday and noticed that it contained an embedded video clip (a teaching clip about some aspect of microbiology). So I added the Splashcast application to my Facebook account (this has only been available since 25 May, incidentally). I also noticed a whole range of additional applications which are available, so I added my feed and the Scribd repository service, as illustrated below.

Facebook interface to applications

What does this provide us with? Well I think we can regard Facebook as now providing an operating system environment which can provide access to a whole host of applications to support teaching and learning :-) And it’s popular with students – and a lot cheaper than Blackboard! Good news then?

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Death Of Email Debate Continues in Facebook

Posted by Brian Kelly on 28 May 2007

Facebook discussion on email debateOn Friday I received several email invitations from people wishing to add me to their list of Facebook contacts. It struck me that this must be due to someone promoting the benefits of Facebook within the IT Services and Web research communities (these being the sectors from which I received the email invitations).

Shortly after accepting the invitations I received further email alerts informing me that messages had been posted to my Facebook account. The messages I discovered, were made in response to a post in this UK Web Focus blog, which can be viewed from within the Facebook environment – and, as I discovered, responses can be made in Facebook, although they will not be visible on the main UK Web Focus blog site.

So there is a separate chain of discussion taking place within Facebook (which includes a number of my typos, I’ve just discovered, which I can’t edit).

It could be argued that this is fragmenting the discussion – but, to be honest, I often find that I would welcome fragmentation of discussions in emailing lists.

So here we have the potential of a discussion from the perspectives of IT Services managers (Dave Surtees and Chris Sexton work in IT Service departments in the University of York and Sheffield respectively). And their anecdotes are in alignment with the comments made by ajcann, Alison Wildish and James Brown.

And I have discovered the advantages of syndicating the UK Web Focus blog to other places where there are likely to be lots of users. Has anyone else added their blog to Facebook – where it has the potential of being viewed by 25 million users (according to Wikipedia)?

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