UK Web Focus (Brian Kelly)

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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 | 21 Comments »

Will #Quora Be Big In 2011?

Posted by Brian Kelly on 29 Dec 2010

Remembering Stack Overflow

Back in October I asked “Is Stack Overflow Useful for Web Developers?“. The context to this question was the decline in usage of mailing lists by those involved in Web management and Web development. In response to an early post Virginia Knight suggested that “many email lists to have a natural life-cycle ending with dormancy”. But where, I asked in the post, should Web developers go if they have such queries which need answering?  Might Stack Overflow provide an alternative?

It was suggested that “most web developers will have come across Stack Overflow quite some time ago. If only through stumbling across it when Googling for a solution to a particular problem“. It was also pointed out that “Stack Overflow also runs Server Fault, and Super User; two very similar sites with a different focus“. But if there are a number of Social Web services which might provide advantages over mailing lists for developers, are there equivalent services with a more general scope, I wondered?

Introducing Quora

It was when I looking at Stack Overflow and its StackExchange sister sites that I came across the Quora service.  This is another question and answer site. But in answer to a question “How is Quora different from StackOverflow?” posed on Quora the answers given include:

  • I’d say the connection between Quora’s founders and Facebook is the thing that has excited most people, but it remains to be seen whether this translates into something that makes Quora into a more compelling moneymaker than StackOverflow or the larger and broader sites like
  • StackOverflow is a “programming Q & A site”. Quora’s scope is more general than that.
  • StackOverflow (and its StackExchange sister sites) highlight quantitative achievements (scores, badges) much more, so the gamishness is “have I reached a new level?” Quora emphasizes instant feedback/live-presence, so the gamishness is “can I click back to where the action is happening right now.”
  • It also focuses on many topics and you choose what to follow, instead of visiting different stackoverflow-based sites.

Meanwhil over on the Stack Overflow site the question “What can we learn from Quora?” is answered with the response:

I personally don’t think Quora is even on the same field as us — we’re playing baseball, they’re playing football. Here’s why:

  • we don’t care about the social graph, we care about the information graph. Even if that leads off-site or comes from Google. Heck, we don’t even ask you to register — ever!
  • we believe that the best content comes from topic specific sites (cooking, programming, parenting), and the communities that form around those topics, not a “generic one size fits all Q&A engine”
  • we’re not tied to Facebook (and its social graph)
  • we allow 100% anonymous participation
  • we creative commons all our content (unsure what they do here)

So the services have different scopes and different approaches.  But is there anything to suggest that Quora might become popular, just as Stack Overflow has done within the developer community?

Is Quora Getting Popular?

Yesterday George Seimens (@gseimens) asked on Twitter:

What are good strategies for dealing with information overload? (Quora)

The tweet linked to a question posed on Quora: “What are some good strategies for dealing with information overload” and included George’s response.

I spotted this tweet shortly after reading another tweet from Cameron Neylon (@cameronneylon) who also referenced an answer he had provided on Quora:

My answer on Quora to: What do people think about the recent Google report on social networks?

My Twitter followers are starting to answer questions posed on Quora, it seems.  And, in addition, I am now being followed on Quora, a service I only joined a few months ago.  As can be seen, eight people started to follow me on Boxing Day!

It seems that we are starting to see signals which indicate a growing popularity in the Quora service, which includes responding to queries as well as following answers.

A question “How many people use Quora?” has been posed on Quora and the answers  (378,639 on 14 December 2010 being the most recent estimate) and accompanying graph indicate that Quora is rapidly growing in popularity.

I would speculate that the early adopters of Twitter might also be willing to make use of Quora in its early days.  I wonder if Quora might have a role to play in providing a forum for wider and more in-depth discussions of issues raised on Twitter?

Note: After writing this post I came across a post on TechnCrunch entitled “Q: What Does Quora Mean For The Future Of Blogging? A: Business As Usual” which cited a post by Robert Scoble in which he wondered  “if Quora was the biggest blogging innovation in 10 years?”. Robert Scoble summarised what he felt was innovative about the Quora service:

First, it learned from Twitter. Ask your users a question and they’ll answer it.

Second, they learned from Facebook. Build a news feed that brings new items to you.

Third, they learned from the best social networks. You follow people you like. But then they twisted it. You can follow topics. Or you can follow questions in addition to following people. This is great for new users who might not know anyone. They can follow topics.

Fourth, they learned from blogs about how to do great SEO. I’ve started seeing Quora show up on Google.

Fifth, they learned from FriendFeed, Digg, and other systems that let you vote up things. If you watch a question that has a lot of engagement you’ll even see votes roll in live. It’s very addictive.

Sixth, they brought the live “engagement display” that Google Wave had: it shows who is answering a question WHILE they are answering it.

Seventh, it has a great search engine for you to find things you are interested in

Interesting. In light of these observations I have chosen to follow topics on Linked Data and HTML5.  I also noticed that, unlike the first two topics, the Digital Preservation topic does not have a description of FAQ. Hmm, if you have a scholarly interest in a topic should you be looking to not only create a page in WIkipedia about the topic but also manage a discussion area in Quora? Perhaps the case for Quora is not yet proven but if you wish to maximise one’s impact surely the case for engagement with such popular services is now accepted?

Posted in Social Networking | Tagged: | 5 Comments »

Lessons From Delicious’s (Non)-Demise

Posted by Brian Kelly on 20 Dec 2010

“delicious. i rest my case.”

Niall Sclater made his point succinctly:

@mweller @psychemedia delicious. i rest my case.

The case Niall was making was, I suspect, that one shouldn’t be promoting use of Cloud services within institutions. This is an argument (although that might be putting it a bit too strongly) which Niall has been having over the past few years with Tony Hirst and Martin Weller, his colleagues at the Open University.  As I described in a post on “When Two Tribes Go To War” back in 2007:

Niall Sclater, Director of the OU VLE Programme at the Open University recently pointed out that the Slideshare service was down, using this as an “attempt to inject some reality into the VLEs v Small Pieces debate“. His colleague at the Open University, Tony Hirst responded with a post entitled “An error has occurred whilst accessing this site” in which Tony, with “beautifully sweet irony“, alerted Niall to the fact that the OU’s Intranet was also down.

Back then the specifics related to the reliability of the Slideshare service, with Tony pointing out the the Slideshare service was actually more reliable that the Open University’s Intranet.  But that was just a minor detail. The leaked news that Yahoo was, it appeared, intending to close a social bookmarking services which is highly regarded by many of its users, was clearly of much more  significance.  So is Niall correct to rest his case on this news? Or, as Niall wrote his tweet before we found that the news of Delicious’s death was greatly exaggerated, might we feel that the issue is now simply whether an alternative social bookmarking service should be used?

My view is that we do need to recognise that such service may disappear and plan accordingly.  But such plans need to be based on how such services were used,  and what might be the most appropriate alternatives. Such alternative could be based within the institution – but this may not need necessarily be the case.

My Use of Delicious

I created my first delicious bookmarks back in December 2005.  I used delicious to bookmark the main URLs for my peer-reviewed papers, with the intention of being able to identify others who had bookmarked my papers – if they are interested in the papers I’ve written. I’m likely to find that they have bookmarked similar resources which will be of interest to me was my initial use case for delicious.

I subsequently discovered that the category used for my bookmarks could also be of interest; for example a paper on “Implementing A Holistic Approach To E-Learning Accessibility” was bookmarked by “madeliner: using the tag H807_block_1 – hmm, might social bookmarking have a role to play in suggesting how resources might be being used?  Was this paper being used in block 1 of an Open University course H807.  Further investigation reveal that this is a course on Innovations in elearning. So by using a social bookmaking service I am able to identify that a paper of mine is used by someone in the context of an Open University course. This might provide some evidence of impact which could prove useful.  Further investigation revealed that Lars Nyberg’s has bookmarked several of my papers using an ‘accessibility‘ tag. This suggests that I should read such bookmarks if I plan on writing further papers on this area.

My second use case for delicious was in bookmarking the resources I used in my presentations. If, for example, you visit the page for the seminar on “Web 2.0: Opportunities and Challenges for HE” which I gave at Coventry University in March 2006 you find that the resources used in the slides have also been bookmarked using delicious with the “coventry-2006-03” tag.

This illustrates my second main use of delicious: bookmarking resources I use in my presentations. The reason I do this is so that people in the audience won’t have to scribble down URLs as they know that all the links I refer to in my talk are available online.  Using this approach also means that I have a record of when resources were used in various presentations and also how popular such resources may be.

The reason I am describing the different uses I make of Delicious and the benefits it provides are to help to appreciate what the requirements are, especially if alternatives are being considered.

Alternatives To Delicious?

The news that Delicious was one of a number of Yahoo services eamarked for ‘sunsetting’ has damaged Delicious’s brand and over the past few days many Delicious users have been exploring alternatives.  If I was to explore an alternative, what should I be looking for?

An important requirement is that the service should be widely used – after all my first use case was in helping to find others with similar interests.  In addition the service should be popular across a global research community and not restricted to the UK or, even worse, to within an institution.  This is a reason why I don’t feel that an open source solution such as Scuttle is appropriate for my requirements.

My solution is therefore to continue with the approach I’ve taken over previous years – to continue to use Delicious with periodic backups to Diigo.

Should We Have Predicted The Dangers?

Should the risks that Delicious may not be sustainable have been identified earlier?  The answer is, of course.  And, indeed, such risk were flagged, in my case going back to 2006 when a Risk Assessment page was created which listed the various externally-hosted services, including Delicious, used to support UKOLN’s IWMW 2006 event.  Back then we wrote:

A number of tags (e.g. iwmw2006) are recommended for bookmarking resources related to the workshop and to individual talks and sessions. There is a reliance on ongoing access to the relevant page

This Risk Assessment approach was subsequently described in a paper on “Library 2.0: Balancing the Risks and Benefits to Maximise the Dividends” which was published in the Program: electronic library and information systems journal.

More recently a paper on “Moving From Personal to Organisational Use of the Social Web” was presented at the Online Information 2010 conference. This paper built on our previous work and suggested that organisation should be carrying out audits of the use of third party services and documenting possible risks and strategies for addressing such risks.

Although that paper focussed primarily on use of blogging platforms the approaches are equally valid for use of social bookmarking services.  As mentioned above, Social Web services used to support UKOLN’s recent IWMW events have been accompanied with a list of the services and a summary of possible risks.  The risks that the Delicious service may not be sustainable have been addressed in two ways: back in 2008 a Diigo account was set up and a backup copy of Delicious bookmarks taken. In addition, since an important use of Delicious has been to provide short-term access to resources after an event, it is accepted that there would be no significant data loss  if such resources were no longer embedded within the appropriate event page.

What Have We Learnt?

I feel that the important lesson if to have a plan B.  For me the plan B is likely to be another Cloud Service, since an institutional service will not adequately address my requirements.

I also feel that this incident has helped to highlight the important of planning and understanding risks.  Such planning processes can be helped by an audit of use of such services, which can be applied at an individual, departmental or institutional level.  I will revisits such audits in a future posts but I feel I should conclude by making the reminder that institutional services may also not be sustainable, so there needs to be an audit of use of institutional services too.

Posted in Social Networking | 8 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 »

Marketing Perpectives on Social Media

Posted by Brian Kelly on 19 Oct 2010

Yesterday a tweet from Aline Hayes caught my attention. She was asking what the hashtag was for an event she was attending. The event was the UCAS Social Media conference and the event’s hashtag, I discovered was #ucassm.  The event seemed intersteing so I created a #ucassm column in TweetDeck so I could observe the discussions.  I also looked at the event’s programme and discovered several talks of interest, including  talks on “Social media market trends, statistics and conversion rates” and  “Using apps as a marketing tool” and workshop sessions on “Yougofurther social media website:  How to target students in a growing social media market” and “Facebook: How to maximise the exposure of your institution“, “Why Twitter should be a key part of your institution’s marketing strategy“, “YouTube Education/iTunes U (to be confirmed)” and “Social media ROI – what’s in it for me?“.

As I tweeted yesterday I suspect some of my Twitter followers would not agree with the areas being addressed in these talks – talks about the ROI of social media and, as one person tweeted, turning fans and followers into customers.  Isn’t Twitter, for example, supposed to be about the individual and have a radical edge, rather than being used as a mainstream marketing channel.

By view is that social media can provide both roles and if university marketing people are using social media to attract students then I would welcome this – after all such approaches can be more cost-effective than printing glossy prospectuses and launching TV ad campaigns. But note that I’m saying “can” – there’s a need to gather evidence to demonstrate the effectiveness of such approaches. After all, when we hear the amount of the cuts in the Comprehensive Spending Review tomorrow we will be even more conscious of the importance of using our fundings in an effective way.

But was this conference exploiting the expertise in social media which is available within the sector.  Looking at the programme it seems that many of the speakers were from the commercial sector. And although I’ve nothing against such links I would be concerned if funding provided to higher education left the sector and failed to tap into the expertise we possess.

This occurred to me last night when I received a couple of tweets from Tony Hirst (@psychemedia).  I had created a Twapper Keeper archive for the #ucassm tag (I was surprised that this hadn’t been done already) and, during the day (while I was on the train to London and observing the #ucassm discussions on my mobile phone) tweeted various statistics relevant to the discussions, including providing a link to the Summarizr statistics for the #ucassm tag (there have been 218 tweets from 48 Twitterers; the top Twitterers were ucassm (63 tweets),  EddieGouthwaite (20), andyheadworth (16) and  Aline_Hayes (14)).

Recent developments to the Twapper Keeper Twitter archiving service have been funded by the JISC and the Summarizr service was developed  by Andy Powell of Eduserv: the sector does have a strong interest and expertise in developing and using tools which can be used to gather and interpret evidence of usage of social media services.

Tony Hirst’s tweets provided further evidence. He provided graphical interpretations of the event’s hashtag community (he has previously described the tools and methodology used to do this)  and followed this up with an analysis of possible spam followers – clearly if you want to demonstrate ROI you’ll want to be able to remove spam followers and bots which are unlikely to decide to attend a University!

What is to be done in order to avoid unnecessary duplication of effort within the sector, minimise flaws in data analysis and ensure that the sector can exploit existing tools? As I was travelling to London yesterday I went to the Russell Hotel in order to make contact with the conference organisers – but they had all gone by the time I arrived. I’ll try and make contact by email. I’d also welcome comments on the content of the UCAS Social Media conference. Are there significant differences of opinions between the developer and marketing sectors – or are we moving towards a consensus on the importance of gathering evidence and use of the social media by institutions?

Note that I should add that the final few tweets of the day were very positiove about the conference: “Very glad to be home at end of long but enjoyable day. #ucassm conf was inspiring but also daunting: so much to do.“” and “Feeling inspired by today’s #ucassm (social media) conference. Looking to get our students involved in lots of Facebook & Twitter projects!” One talk in particular which went down well was the one on “Social Media ROI – What’s in it for me?”. I was pleased that a number of the talks have been uploaded to Slideshare including this one, which is embedded below.

Posted in Social Networking, Twitter | Leave a Comment »

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 | 8 Comments »

Has Google Replaced the Institutional Directory of Expertise?

Posted by Brian Kelly on 13 Sep 2010

How did you find me?” I asked Pablo Castro, one of the organisers of the University 2.0 course held recently at the UIMP (Universidad Internacional Menéndez Pelayo).  “I can´t remember exactly” was the reply “but probably through Google“.  This wouldn´t surprise me – after all, if you were looking for a speaker for your conference wouldn´t most people use Google?

But what, therefore, is the point of an institutional directory of expertise? I´m sure most institutions will have one, containing details of researchers, in particular, their areas of expertise and their publications.  But are these being used or is Google now providing the interface to such content which may be held in a less structured form than the directory of expertise, such as departmental lists or personal home pages?

Or perhaps the researcher´s profile is being stored in LinkedIn? After all this service does seem to have significant momentum behind it.

Such suggestions are being made somewhat in jest. After all many researchers will not have published details about their activities on departmental Web pages or on third party services such as LinkedIn.

But in light of the need to be able to justify expenditure of time and effort on existing services and the need to be able to demonstrate the return on investment, it seems to me that it would be useful to explore these issues in more depth.

And rather than necessarily hosting a directory of expertise within the institution or relying on the uncertainties of Google finding results from a diversity of Web sites maybe LinkedIn could have a role in supporting the institution as well as the individual. After all a Mashable article on 10 Ways Universities Are Engaging Alumni Using Social Media has pointed out that “many universities are finding LinkedIn to be an effective tool to provide alumni with career resources“.

LinkedIn does have a developer network – so could it go beyond helping graduates in finding jobs and be used to help researchers make contacts?

Posted in Social Networking | 1 Comment »

Revisiting The THE Table of UK University Web Sites

Posted by Brian Kelly on 4 Sep 2010

I recently published a post on the Best UK University Web Sites – According to Sixth Formers which commented on a 6-page feature article published in the Times Higher Education (THE) which listed the 20 top-performing institutional Web sites according to a small group of sixth formers who are looking to select a University.

I’ve had a letter published in this week’s THE about this article.  In passing I mentioned the flaws in publishing a league table based on such a limited survey.  However didn’t dwell on such considerations (which could sound like sour grapes).  Rather I pointed out that University Web managers are very aware of the importance of use of Social Web services – a subject which has been addressed in recent Institutional Web Management Workshop events and was highlighted in a plenary talk on “Let the Students Do The Talking” given back in 2007 in which Alison Wildish  described how Edge  Hill University was encouraging students to engage in discussion using the Social Web. It is not, as the article seemed to imply, a question of the top twenty ranked institutions using approaches which others are blissfully unaware of.

So rather than informing the readers of the importance of the Social Web (although the article may be beneficial in helping to remove internal political barriers to such innovation) a more interesting area to explore might have been the question of the institutional policies in providing Social Web services and, of particular importance with October’s Comprehensive Spending Review rapidly approaching, the metrics which can help to provide evidence of the return on investment in the provision of such services.

The danger is, I feel, that there will be unnecessary duplication in the  development of such policies.  I am aware of the University of Essex’s social media policy.  But how many other institutional Web policies can be found easily?

And how do you determine if your Social Web offering is working effectively?  What metrics can be used? Again this is an area in which the sector should be being pro-active in sharing and provide open access to ideas, discussions and policies.    This is a topic I’d like to revisit – but for now I’d welcome comments from those working in institutional Web teams who do have resources to share.

Posted in Social Networking | 1 Comment »

“5 Days Left to Choose a New Ning Plan”

Posted by Brian Kelly on 23 Aug 2010

I received an email on 16 August announced that I had “5 Days Left to Choose a New Ning Plan“.  The email related to the announcement Ning made a few months ago that the company was withdrawing its provision of free social networks.

We had made use of Ning to provide the IWMW 2008 social network.   The email informed me that “the network has grown up a bit since you started the ball rolling. You have grown to 90 members who have collectively helped you add unique photos, some interesting videos, and 24 spirited discussions“.

What action, if any, was needed in response to this email? The simple answer would be to suggest that nothing needed to be done as the social network was established simply to support an event which took place 2 years ago – so there’s no point in paying the $19.95 annual subscription for the social network to continue to be hosted. But what if the social network (or indeed any other Cloud Service) hosted useful content which I would not like to lose?  So I took the opportunity to evaluate copying the Web site prior to its demise – and I hope that documenting this process with be of interest to others.

The WinHTTrack software was used on Monday 16 August 2010 to create a copy of the IWMW 2008 social network. The mirror is currently hosted on the main IWMW 2008 Web site – although we are making no commitment to hosting the content on a long term basis.

The purpose of the provision of the Ning social network for the event was to provide a communications and collaboration environment for IWMW 2008 delegates and also to gain a better understanding of whether such a service was need.  We discovered that the usage was low, with only 90 registered members out of about 180+ registered delegates and, despite the “spirited discussions” rhetoric in the email from Ning, there was very little use made of the discussion fora on the service.

We kept a record of information provided by the WinHTTrack mirroring software.  Despite the low usage I was surprised to discover that the mirror took 1 hour 42 minutes to run. The mirror is 175 Mb and contains 9,065 files and 282 folders.

Once the mirror had been created the navigational bars were updated to link to the local resource rather than the Ning social network, and a record of the process was documented. In addition a news item was created on the IWMW 2008 event news feed.

Our intention will be to delete this mirror shortly, as we do not feel it provides any useful content. We will, however, be keeping a record that the Ning social network was used and provide a summary of its usage,  so that, for example, we will have a record of the technologies used to support the various IWMW events.

We’ve also decided to publish this summary so that if anyone has any interest in the event’s social network, the tool used to mirror the content or the policy we intend to implement will have the opportunity to give their comments.

This is a summary of how we responded to the announcement of the closure. I wonder what will happen to the 33 Ning social networks I found using a search for ‘JISC’?  One, I noticed, is a “personal portfolio to record and reflect on my work experience” contains spam for free drugs! There are others, however, which have been used to support the work of the JISC Regional Support Centres (this one, for example), JISC-funded projects (such as this one) and  events (such as this example).

The use of such services to support events, in particular, raises some interesting issues. I have previously suggested that “The lesson I’ve learnt – there’s a need to change the settings for social networks set up to support events after the event is over. I still prefer to make it easy to subscribe to such services, however, in order to avoid any delays caused by the need to accept new subscriptions manually“. But as well as tightening up on access after an event is over in order to avoid spam are futher measures needed?  Should the content be replicated elsewhere? Should the social networking site be closed? Or should we be happy with the default option of simply doing nothing – after all, although the announcement stated that the free service would be withdrawn on 20 August, it is still available today.

Latest News: I have just received an email stating that “we’ve decided to extend the deadline until August 30, 2010.“.

Posted in preservation, Social Networking | Tagged: | 3 Comments »

If Social Discovery Is Beating Traditional Search, Then What?

Posted by Brian Kelly on 9 Jun 2010

Workshop on the Importance of the Social Web for Maximising Impact and Traffic

A year ago I facilitated sessions in a series of two-day workshop on “Improve your online presence“ which had been commissioned by the Strategic Content Alliance (SCA). In the run-up to the workshop, whilst preparing my session on how the Social Web can enhance access to resources I published a post entitled From Search Engine to Twitter Optimisation which was based on my observations that Twitter, and not Google, was becoming the most significant driver of traffic to this blog.

Further research revealed that I was not alone in noticing this trend, with a TechCrunch article being published around the same time pointing out, with evidence, that For TechCrunch, Twitter = Traffic (A Statistical Breakdown).

The Evidence

In my talks in the workshop I referenced another TechCrunch article which suggested that The Value Of Twitter Is In “The Power Of Passed Links. The venture capitalist Fred Wilson was quoted as predicting that “at current growth rates, Twitter [and Facebook] “will surpass Google [as a source of traffic] for many websites in the next year“.

That post was published on 16 June last year. On 2-3 June this year I took part in the first of a further series of workshops, again commissioned by the SCA and again delivered by myself in conjunction with Netskills. My slides had been slightly updated, but when I came to the slide referring to Fred Wilson’s prediction I had to stop and say “This isn’t a prediction – it has happened!“.

My comments were made in the context of a presentation given by George Munroe in the opening session of the workshop. George referred to a blog post on Search and Rescue: How to Become Findable and Shareable in Social Media published in SearchEngineWatch on 1 April 2010. This reviewed data from Compete from November 2009 which observed that a number of the top media properties are already seeing a dominant effect in traffic from social networking services.

As can be seen USA Today is getting 32% of its traffic from Social Networking services and only 6% from Google!

The Implications

Such evidence supports the observations I have been making on my blog.  But if this is true more widely, then what are the implications?  If, to restate the question, traffic is increasingly being driven by recommendation rather than metadata and clever algorithms, what are the implications for service providers?

For me it is clear that service providers will need to be engaging with the Social Web.  There will be a need to ensure that one’s social network is cultivated and maintained – and the associated dangers identified and avoided.

But I’d be interested in your thoughts on my question: if traffic is increasingly being driven by recommendation rather than metadata and clever algorithms, what are the implications for service providers?

Is this a valid supposition and, if so, what should we be doing, what should we be doing differently and what should we not be doing?

Posted in Social Networking | 10 Comments »

Now That Ning Has Gone …

Posted by Brian Kelly on 19 Apr 2010

Demise of the Free Ning Service

I first heard the news that “Ning’s Bubble Bursts: No More Free Networks, Cuts 40% Of Staff” via my Twitter network on the day of the announcement.  And as described in the Ning Update press release “we are going to change our strategy to devote 100% of our resources to building the winning [licensed] product to capture this big opportunity” before going on to announce that “We will phase out our free service“. I have recently described use of the Ning network to support the JISC10 conference. The news for JISc and other users of the free Ning service is that “Existing free networks will have the opportunity to either convert to paying for premium services, or transition off of Ning“.

Should We Look For In-House Alternatives?

What lessons can be learnt from the closure of this free service? Some may argue that it demonstrates that you should never use remotely-hosted services, as potentially  are may change their licensing conditions or remove the services with little or no notice. An alternative for those making this argument is that open source solutions should be installed and deployed in-house. This may be an option for the support of undergraduate teaching,  but is unlike to be a realistic option for researchers and staff who, like myself,may wish to have significant contact with people outside the host institution.  I find this is particularly true of Twitter-like services – although I have an account on the University of Bath’s Yammer network I very seldom make use of it.

What Exactly Do We Want?

But rather than looking for a single replacement for Ning, perhaps we should start by looking at the different ways in which Ning has been used. This might held to identify a number of different requirements which may be provided by a variety of solutions.

In my recent post on use of Ning to support the JISC10 conference, for example, I pointed out that Ning was only being used to any significant extent for people to state that they were attending the event (or participating remotely) and, in many cases, to provide a p[photograph of themselves. Ning was effectively providing a multimedia delegate list. The communications aspect on Ning and sharing of resources seems to have been provided with a combination of Twitter and Flickr.

So maybe for events rather than use of a dedicated social networking service we will see a lightweight centrally-provided service, complemented by services which participants will already be using.

But what of other scenarios? A TechCrunch article on “Ning: Failures, Lessons and Six Alternatives” suggests (which claims to having “a cleaner interface” and “more features” than Ning); Spruz (which claims to provide a migration path for Ning users); SocialGo (another network-building tool that offers a free option); BuddyPress (an extension for WordPress environment); Lovd By Less (an open-source solution written in Ruby on Rails) and Elgg.

Do We Need A National Service?

Solutions such as Elgg (which is used at a number of UK HEIs including Brighton and Leeds) could potentially be used to provide a national service. But if a global service such as Ning has failed to find a sustainable business model,there will be risks in seeking to set up a national equivalent when we are expected significant cuts to the public sector after the election.

We should also ask ourselves whether the HE sector should be looking to set up such a service when there are commercial alternatives (and of course one alternative would be to subscribe to the commercial Ning service, which seems to start from about $10 per month). After all, as I described recently, in the opening plenary talk at the JISC 10 conference Martin Bean did suggest that the UK was behind the US and Australia in taking advantage of privatised providers of HE services.

I have to admit that I argued for the provision of a national social networking/communications environment when I was on the JISCMail advisory group, shortly after the service was established.  However the voting systems and chat rooms they set up to support their mailing lists seem to have failed to gain much usage (it would be interesting to see the usage statistics), partly because, I suspect, they have been bolted on to the mailing list archives and fail to have the seamless and well-integrated interfaces which users will nowadays expect. In retrospect I’m pleased that JISCMail haven’t succeeded in establishing any significant services in this environment as I now agree with the sentiments expressed last year at a meeting on JISCMail futures that JISCMail should stick to their core business of providing a large scale email service and their priority should be in making their Web archive of mail messages better integrated with the Web architecture.

I also wonder what the access policies would be to social networking environments hosted within the sector for people who aren’t staff or students.  And what would happen if they leave the sector?

Finally I should point out Jack Schofield’s closing sentence in his post on “Ning social network site is going from freemium to paid-for“: “Alternatives to Ning include SocialGo, elgg, and Igloo. Other suggestions are welcome, but most people will probably just use Facebook….“.  He has identified a number of solutions which TechCrunch also mentioned – and has also included Facebook.  Hmm, that won’t be popular with some, I’m sure.  But maybe it will have more of a role to play in the future.   After all, as I mentioned recently, Facebook is being used to support the WWW 2010 conference.  And looking at the WWW 2010 Facebook page it has attracted over 1,00 members.

Posted in Social Networking | 4 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 »

Use of Social Networks at Events

Posted by Brian Kelly on 12 Apr 2010

The JISC10 Social Network

A recent press release from the JISC announced Networking opportunities at JISC10 virtual conference. There was an invitation to “Join the JISC10 social network to meet other delegates before the event, join discussion groups around the sessions or start up your own group – regardless of whether you’ll be following the event online or in person on 12-13 April 2010“.

The JISC10 social network is now available. The service, which is provided by the Ning social networking environment, is illustrated below.

JISC10 Conference Social Network

I have joined the JISC10 social network and added some content to my page, including an RSS feed for this blog. I’ve also befriended people I know who have also joined the network.

Why Provide a Social Network at Events?

Is the provision of a social networking environment essential for events, such as the JISC10 conference, which have a technical focus or is it jumping on the social media bandwagon? And what are the best practices which should be implemented in order to ensure that the environment is successful, and what are the possible limitations which might be improved on in future years?

UKOLN also made use of Ning to provide a social network for its IWMW 2008 event. However although 84 (of around 180 participants at the event) joined the IWMW 2008 Ning environment there wasn’t a great deal of activity. Nine discussion topics were created before, during and after the event, but the most active, the For Those Arriving On Monday 21 July group only attracted 7 posts. Ning groups were created prior to the event for each of the eighteen workshop sessions, but with the exception of the session
B2: Web CMS and University Web Teams Part II – the Never Ending Story? again there was little active participation.

A small amount of content was added after the event – the Ning environment provided speakers and workshop facilitators a space for sharing links and other resources. However we felt that this experiment (the social network had been set up as an experiment) failed to provide evidence of the benefits in providing a social networking environment for an event. For the IWMW 2009 event we decided to set up the IWMW 2009 WordPress blog. We felt that this was more successful, with 68 posts published and 97 comments made.

Best Practices For Use of Social Network At Events?

It may be that 2008 was too soon to provide a social network at an event, with participants at that stage perhaps being concerned with organisational use of what may have been perceived as a ‘social’ environment. And although we felt that the IWMW 2009 blog was a success, it was not as open as the Ning social network as, unlike the blog, any registered user could create a topic in Ning.

The approaches taken to user registration will need to be considered by those setting up such environments. In order to minimise the effort needed to subscribe to the IWMW 2008 social network and to enable users to contribute as soon as they had joined, there was no moderation provided for user registrations.This was fine before and during the event. However, as I described in a post entitled “Wanna chat with me on cam?“, almost a year after the event was over there were a number of spam posts sent to all members. As I described in that post “The lesson I’ve learnt – there’s a need to change the settings for social networks set up to support events after the event is over. I still prefer to make it easy to subscribe to such services, however, in order to avoid any delays caused by the need to accept new subscriptions manually“.

What of the JISC10 Social Network?

As of 11 April 2010 there are 210 members of the JISC10 social network. Will we see the JISC10 Social Network providing to be a great success, with large numbers joined and many of them taking part in the discussions? Or will the discussion be centred around the #jisc10 hashtag on Twitter?

I think we need to monitor such usage levels and share the experiences within the community. But in a way I don’t think it really matters if we don’t see a significant amount of discussion on the site. Since well over hundred people have joined the group and many have added a photograph and summarised their interests this enables participants to see who is attending and put a face to a name – something that we don’t get from a simple list of participants.

It was also interesting to note how I had to upload my photo and recreate my personal details and then re-establish links with my contacts. Many of these contacts are people I am already connected with on other social networks including Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and, indeed, other Ning networks (such as the Bathcamp, Eduserv Foundation Symposium 2008, Mashed Library, Libraries of the Future and IWMW 2008 Ning networks. A few years ago there was a view that social networks should be based on open standards which enable one’s social network to be migrated to other environments. I wonder whether interest in this has diminished due to a realisation that it will be hard to do, or perhaps we feel that there are benefits in having differing profiles and networks in different social networks?

Posted in Social Networking | 10 Comments »

Rapper Sword and the Social Web

Posted by Brian Kelly on 11 Apr 2010

Rapper Sword and DERT 2010

I spent the weekend in Derby competing in the annual DERT 2010 rapper sword dancing competition.  I first start dancing rapper in 1978 while I was at Newcastle University and since 1979 have  been a comic character (the ‘Betty’) for the team, the Newcastle Kingsmen Sword Dancers, on a regular basis ever since. During my 30 years of dancing the dance I’ve seen rapper sword grow in popularity, a rise in the number of female teams, increasing numbers of overseas teams and, over the past few years,  I have noticed that the quality of the dancing has improved tremendously, with the embarrassment of the local collapsing becoming unusual. I’m also starting to see technologies being used across the rapper community and thought it would be worth summarising such developments and the potential for further use of networked technologies.

Information About Rapper Sword

If you haven’t come across rapper sword dancing before how would you find out about it? Information about the dance is available from the Rapper Online Web site. However Wikipedia is likely to be a place which people will use to find information about the dance. This was a reason I created the entry on Rapper Sword back in 2004. But as well as helping people to find out about the dance, I also created the page in order to learn about Wikipedia. This also allowed me to gain acceptance as a trusted Wikipedia contributor.

Another place where people might expect to find information out the dance is Facebook. There is a Rapper Sword Dance Facebook group – but that has failed to develop a community and little information is provided there.

Many rapper teams will, of course, have their own Web side. The Rapper Online provides a list of rapper teams in the UK and elsewhere (teams exist in the US, Canada, Norway, Belgium, New Zealand and Australia).

Photos and Videos

The Rapper Online Web site provides a gallery of photos (and links to galleries provided by rapper teams). It also has links to videos of rapper sword dances.

However, as might be expected with the growing numbers of people who own some form of video camera (perhaps on a mobile phone) a greater range of video footage can be found using a YouTube search for “rapper sword”.


Google Map of Kingsmen dancing crawl of Chester-le-StreetAlthough sharing videos is now fairly commonplace, I don’t think there is much use yet of GPS in the rapper community, apart, perhaps, from using a SatNav in a car when travelling to folk festivals.

On a recent trip up to Newcastle  the Kingsmen had organised a Saturday dancing crawl which started off in Chester-le-Streeet and made its way to Gateshead.   This provided an opportunity for to to try out the GPS capabilities of my Android phone.  I used the MyTrack application to record the start of the crawl, which I subsequently uploaded to Google Maps.

Unfortunately as I was concerned that use of GPs would drain the phone’s battery I didn’t keep of a record of the full crawl (which began at about 1 pm and finished after midnight). I would like to use this application again the next time I’m on a dancing crawl.

On Saturday, rather than having the GPS on as we went from pub to pub around Derby for the competition spots I tried out a social location-sharing application – Gowalla. I signed up for this service recently and used it to geo-locate the various pubs we went to. This provides a Google Map of the places we visited. But unlike MyTracks, Gowalla can display other people who have checked in to the same location. You can also see the checked in location for your friends. So when people disappear off during the lunch spot, either for a sandwich or to visit another pub, if the dancers, many of whom who will own a smart phone, it would be possible for the team’s squire to know where the dancers are, without having to resort to sending text messages as is the case now when there are last minutes changes to arrangements.

What’s Missing?

What the rapper community hasn’t yet done, I feel, is to establish a tagging strategy to make it easier to find photos and videos. Perhaps we should promote “rappersword” for tagging photos and videos and ‘DERT2010’ for the weekends event (note that the community doesn’t seem to be using Twitter, so there’s no need, I feel, to recommend the shorter ‘DERT10’).

Revisiting DERT 2010

I mentioned previously that DERT (Dancing England Rapper Tournament) the annual DERT 2010 is the annual competition for rapper sword dancing. The scoring system has evolved over the years, with marks being awarded for Stepping, Sword Handling, Dance Technique and Teamwork, Buzz Factor, Presentation, Music and Characters. But who won? The answer is that my team, the Newcastle Kingsmen won the Premier class and the Steve Marris trophy. In addition the Kingsmen Tommy and Betty (including myself as the Betty) won the comic character prize and we also won a prize for the best calling-on song. A fun weekend :-)

NOTE: The first image in the post was replaced on 12 April by a photograph taken in the final competition dance at DERT 2010.

Posted in Social Networking | Tagged: | 4 Comments »

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 »

Extending Your Community – Through Machine Translation

Posted by Brian Kelly on 29 Dec 2009

Out Of Sight, Out of Mind?

It was over ten years ago, when I was the project manager for the EU-funded Exploit Interactive ejournal that I first started to explore the potential of machine translation. Could we, I wondered, make use of Web-base language translation services to translate articles published in English into other languages?

“Nonsense!” was a response I encountered. “Computer translations won’t work” and I was told the story of how a computer translated the phrase “out of sight, out of mind” to one language and when it was translated back into English it came out as “invisible idiot”.

Now although I can appreciate the difficulties of translating idioms, my interest was not in the translation of full-text articles but automated translation of the summary of the articles. However European colleagues were sceptical of such automated translations and so, after some experiments with the BabelFish translation service, we did not pursue this.

What Are They Saying About Me In Catalonia?

Since my involvement as project manager for Exploit Interactive and its successor Cultivate Interactive, I have given little thought to language issues. And I keep up-to-date with developments by reading English-language resources, these days typically UK, US, Canadian and Australian blog posts and tweets, with the occasional English-language peer-reviewed article.

From time to time, however, I notice links to my blog from non-English posts. And just before Christmas I noticed an incoming link from a blog post entitled “Tots som tweets (a la universitat)“.

That will be a post citing one of my articles about Twitter, I thought, and visited the post to see what it said:

Un article clau, que no deixa indiferent, és el de Brian Kelly al seu blog UK Web Focus: “I Want To Use Twitter For My Conference” on exposa bones pràctiques en l’ús de twitter per organitzar un congrès o conferència. Les entrades de Kelly són molt rellevants i es tracta d’un blog que trobo de seguiment obligat, igual que Mashable, Community Roundtable o Social Media Today. Kelly té una entrada rellevant que hauria de seguir: 14 UK Information Professionals to Follow on Twitter?

What language was it in, I wondered? It seemed almost but not quite French, Spanish or Italian – but submitting the URL to the BabelFish translation service with each of these option provided no joy, although the Spanish to English translation did translate a couple of phrases.

But if BabelFish wasn’t of much help, how should I find out what the blog post was saying? The answer, of course, is to send a tweet to one’s followers. And so I asked:

Can someone tell me what language is in. And also is there a tool for guessing the language of a page.

And in a few minutes I was told that the post was written in Catalan: @virtualleader recognised the language as she has friends in Barcelona and @ijclark relied on his wife for the answer. I received about a dozen other responses, but most importantly one from @miquelduran, the author of the blog post who follows me on Twitter.

Google Translate Does The Job

As well as asking what language the post was in I also asked for suggestions on tools which can identify the language of Web pages. The responses were in agreement, Google Translate will not only translate pages from one language to another, if you don’t know what language the original page is written in, it will attempt to identify it.

And so using Google Translate I find that the blog post begins:

If I must be frank, I was somewhat surprised the evolution of Twitter as a tool for communication and social networking. In fact, Facebook has the same features have been changing to twitter. From my professional point of view, twitter can do three things now: to present an idea, concept or something (a conference, an event calendar … in short) (unidirectional), retrasmetre an event in which different people use same hashtag (semibidireccional), and generate conversation (usually public, but can also be closed) (bidirectional).

OK, I can understand that. Miquel Duran (a professor at the Universitat de Girona) was initially sceptical about the benefits of Twitter, but now recognises three areas in which it is useful. In his post Miquel goes on to cite a number of posts which illustrate Twitter’s benefits, including a number of my posts.

But it was Miquel’s concluding remarks which I found most interesting:

I must say, however, that there is something that concerns me. The Internet has the grace that is distributed. The email is not centralized, but Google via Gmail, so intense. There are blogs everywhere, and service blogs can install it on any server. However, no server own twitter. We are putting in the hands of a single vendor? (same, not just for Facebook.) So I saved all my information locally. I just desbobrir TweetTake, which saves the tweets, direct messages, and fans followed in a spreadsheet. We must be cautious and be wise.

A European Perspective On The Risks

These issues were at the heart of my paper on presented just before Christmas at the Cultural Heritage Online 2009 conference. And as I suggested in my post on “The Risks and Opportunities Framework” the US has taken a lead in making use of such third party services with organisations in the UK now making much greater use of such third party services without apparently being too concerned about “putting [the content] in the hands of a single vendor“.

So we are revisiting the issues concerning trust, ownership, sustainability and preservation – and I’ve learnt about a new tool, Tweetake, for backing up Twitter posts.

I’ve also found some further anecdotal evidence to back up the feeling I gained from the Cultural Heritage Online Conference that institutions in mainland Europe are more reluctant to make use of services in the Cloud than similar organisations in the US and UK.

For example the view that “Twitter, like blogging, needs an edge, a voice, a riskiness” expressed by Mike Ellis in his post “The person is the point” or Paul Walk’s post i which he points out that “Anything you quote from Twitter is always out of context” perhaps challenge Miquel’s conclusions that we need to be cautious in making use of services such as Twitter. Might not being cautious result in the benefits of Twitter’s spontaneity and informality being lost?

Extending My Community To Europe

So as a result of spotting a blog which linked to one of my posts and then using Google Translate to see what was being said I’ve started to extend my community beyond the English speaking world. And I’ve found that Google Translate can provide an comprehensible translation – and this was true of a number of other of Miquel’s posts which refer to my work.

In November 3009 Google announced “A new look for Google Translate” – it seems the service now “offers 51 languages, representing over 98% of Internet users today“.  And as the translation service is available from the Google Toolbar perhaps I should install this on my Web browser(s) and get into the habit of making use of it.

Hmm, I also wonder if I can get an RSS feed from Google Translate of Miquel’s posts which I can add to my RSS reader – so the posts of interest are delivered to me in a language I can understand rather than me having to find the posts and then involve a translate function.

Perhaps machine translation now does have a role to play. Invisible idiot? I think not!

Posted in Social Networking | 5 Comments »

Unlucky in Lucca? I Think Not!

Posted by Brian Kelly on 23 Dec 2009

About This Post

In this rather long post I describe some personal stories of benefits I have gained from my social networking communities. And rather than the focus on the professional benefits of such services which I have described in previous posts in my final post before Christmas I suggest that the main benefits of the Social Web can be gained from its use in a personal context.

A Mini-Adventure In Lucca

After travelling to Florence to present a paper on “Empowering Users and Institutions: A Risks and Opportunities Framework for Exploiting the Social Web” at the Cultural Heritage Online 2009 conference I felt this provided an ideal opportunity for a well-deserved and belated holiday.

So I’m spending a week travelling around the well-known tourist highlights of Tuscancy including Lucca, Siena and Pisa.

My holiday began, however, with a visit to Danny Ayers, who lives in the Tuscan Hills, about an hour from Lucca I met Danny at the WWW 2007 conference in Banff, although I’d come across his name prior to that and was aware of his interests in the Semantic Web. After getting to know Danny better over a few drinks in Banff, and knowing from his Twitter profile that he lived near Lucca I tweeted Danny asking if he fancied meeting up. In response Danny invited me so stay over at his, an invitation I was happy to accept.

Unfortunately I hadn’t realised that Danny lived with two large (but friendly) dogs and two cats. And as I have been free from asthma attacks for a few years I had failed to bring along my inhaler. So although I enjoyed my visit to Garfagnana and eating and drinking in Danny’s local bar, as I felt slightly short of breath, I left the next day, to travel to Lucca.

The trip to my B&B in Lucca as uneventful – apart from the difficulty I had crossing the town walls – the path down was covered in ice and despite holding on to the rail I slipped trying to walk down and again trying to stand up (and I was carrying a rucksack and bag containing my netbook at the time). I eventually found some ice-free steps and made it to my accommodation or the next two days.

That first night, however, was difficult. My breathing had unexpectedly got worse – I had thought that the mild asthma attack I had when the dogs were licking me would be as bad as it would get. This was not the case. And when I found that I had ifficulty walking downstairs the next morning and was breathless speakeing to the receptionist I knew I needed to see a doctor.

Within 15 minutes the paramedics arrived and shortly after that an ambulance arrived which took me to the local hospital. Over the next few hours blood samples were taken, my chest was xrayed and I was discharged with a prescription (for the Ventolin I should have taken with me). I was also given a CD containing a copy of my Xray (is that normal practice thse days?)

After getting back to my B&B I sent a tweet containing a brief summary of my adventures:

Ambulance took me to Lucca Hospital, after suffering from asthma attack. Still haven’t seen much of town :-(

And in response I received a number of supportive tweets, some from people I know and others from people I’ve never met. And this made me reflect on the benefits of the personal online network.

My Personal Online Network

I had given some thoughts to the possible benefits of a personal online network over a year ago, during a holiday in Malaysia and Thailand. I used Twitter to provide an update of my travels, as a high-tech version of the postcard. But the interactive aspect provided benefits not possible with the postcard – and Frank Norman’s suggestion of a temple to visit when I announced my arrival in Penang took me to an impressive temple which I might have missed otherwise (this story only slightly spoilt by Frank responding to my Facebook status update rather than my tweet!)

But it was when I arrived in Bangkok when I started to think about the possible benefits which Twitter can provide to one’s personal safety. This was another reason for my tweets – to provide a public audit trail of my travels, so if anything untoward happened there would be public awareness of my whereabouts. Incidentally I also kept a record of places I stayed at and had booked on Tripit and gave read access to the account to some trusted friends for similar reasons.

But it was on my penultimate day of my holiday that I became aware of possible personal risks. I vaguely wondered why the traffic down a previously busy main road had disappeared and hen I took the opportunity to cross the road I was told to stop walking and remain still, Moments later a motorcade passed by with police outriders and a large limousine – but none of the locals would respond when I asked who the dignitary was. The following day, while waiting for a taxi to the airport the same thing happened. This time I was prepared, and had my camera ready to take a surreptitious photograph – and noticed the concerned reaction from those nearby. Yes a week befoe “Thai Protesters Force Airport Closure, Bomb Injures 4” I was possibly taking a photograph of the Thai prime minister.

Yes I know I was probably being foolish (I’ve read the story of the British train spotters who were imprisoned for pursuing their hobby in countries with harsh regimes). But I was also somewhat foolish in not taking my inhaler with me to Italy. So what I feel I need is a support network I can call on in case of difficulties -but which is also valuable at other times.

Real World Networks

Of course the value of networks is nothing new. But rather than an old school network or networks identified by protocols such as knowing which way to pass the port around the table or a secret handshake I’m interested in open and democratic networks. And I’m also interested in social networks which exploit the potential of online technologies.

Open and Online Social Networks

I don’t have a name for such networks. I’ve heard people use the term Personal Learning Network, Personal Learning Environment and Personal Research Environment. And although this may describe my professional use of tools such as Twitter I think such terms will be misleading for those who don’t work in the educational sector.

I also think such networks should be technologically neutral – alhough Twitter works for me, many or my non-professional contacts don’t use Twitter and are happy to make use of Facebook.

I should also add that I don;t think such networks need be trusted networks. As the networks are open, newcomers can join – and I need to make my own risk assessment in judging how I respond to their comments. After all I’m familiar with this in the context of email when friendly souls are willing to share millions of pounds they have unexpectedly been beneficiaries of :-)

There are also dangers in misunderstandings arising in such open social networks – as Paul Boag’s story of how his “Help” tweet was misinterpretted a year ago.

But although there can be risks in using such social networks, perhaps the risks of not having a thriving and sustainable social network may be greater. And perhaps traveling abroad without having such a network to provide support in case of problems will be regarded in the same light as travelling without insurance – although you could do this, it wouldn’t be regarded as a sensible decision.

Finally I’d like to wish everyone in my social network a happy Christmas and all the best for the New Year.

Posted in General, Social Networking | 1 Comment »

Social Networks, Open Source and Risk Assessment

Posted by Brian Kelly on 13 Aug 2009

Does The Ownership Of Social Networks Really Matter?

In my most recent post entitled “Facebook Buys FriendFeed; Identica is Open Source; Does It Matter?” I asked “But how relevant is this dogma?” in response to the apparent suggestion on a mailing list for an international standards body that since “above all is Open source” the standards body (DCMI) should make use of the micro-blogging service in preference to the closed source Twitter solution.

I sought to draw parallels with the recent announcement that Facebook had bought FriendFeed, suggesting that, although some may feel that this announcement will force them to leave FriendFeed and use an alternative micro-blogging environment, for me and, I suspect, for many the ownership of the service and the underlying software isn’t a clinching argument. We know that this is the case generally (although many won’t like it to admit it, the reality is most users use Microsoft Office products rather than Open Office and Internet Explorer rather than FireFox). And for social networking environments there is a added complication – social networks don’t work unless there is a community – you might be happy to use Open Office on your own, but an open source community with few members is likely to be an unproductive environment for many.

So rather than the ‘we must use an open source micro-blogging environment – full stop‘ argument, let’s explore the reasons ownership issues could matter and the associated challenges if it is felt there may be a need to consider migrating to a new environment.

A Risk Assessment Approach

In response to my post Cameron Neylon pointed out that “if Friendfeed goes away from what our community wants from it we have no way of maintaining our community because it isn’t open source“. He went on to add “If twitter were swallowed by google tomorow and everyone forced to use Google Talk instead (I don’t say its likely, just possible) then you’re in trouble“.

That’s true, and as I have recently had a paper on “Library 2.0: Balancing the Risks and Benefits to Maximise the Dividends” published recently in the Program journal I would endorse Cameron’s approach of identifying risks. What then are the risks? I think, in the case of the Facebook purchase of FriendFeed, these might include:

  • Facebook shuts down FriendFeed. It regarded it as competition for its core business and bought the company in order to remove the threat.
  • Facebook continues FriendFeed, but changes its terms and conditions which are felt to be unacceptable to significant parts of the FriendFeed community.
  • Facebook makes changes to the FriendFeed user interface which users don’t like (e.g. provision of ads in the free version of the client).

These are legitimate questions to raise. But that does not necessarily mean existing users should abandon FriendFeed. There is a need to ask how realistic such risks may be and also to consider the costs and the effort of moving to an alternative. I remember being told that organisations shouldn’t use Google as a search engine as we can’t guarantee that Google wouldn’t change their terms and conditions. True – but most people are prepared to accept that risks.

The likelihood that such changes will happen is likely to be very subjective, so I’ll not engage in that assessment here. I would suggest, however, that if FriendFreed users are seriously considering a migration to an alternative environment (as opposed to just having a moan) then they will need to think about what the migration strategies would be. There is also a need to be honest about the costs and difficulties of such a migration, including the difficulties of migrating a community, the associated costs of doing this and the dangers of associated losses (of data, communities and credibility).

And although FriendFeed users may be asking such questions in light of the purchase of the company by Facebook, the general issues I’ve raised are likely to be true in other context, whether a move from Flickr if Microsoft were to purchase Yahoo or a move from Twitter if its ownership were to change.

The Risks Of Change

As well as the risks associated with use of current well-established services such as FriendFeed or Twitter, there is also a need to consider the risks of alternatives, especially when the alternatives are immature or unproven. And simply arguing that, for example, “above all is Open source” is an inappropriate response.  Look, for example, at the evidence provided by failed open source initiatives in the area of social networking environments. Who remembers “Marc Canter’s much anticipated PeopleAggregator“, which provided, as described in TechCrunch in 2006, “free downloads of the software for organizations who prefer to host it themselves” which meant that “it will be easy to come and go from new social networks, instead of being locked in to one just because you’ve put the time and energy into using your account there. Instead of being at the mercy of one centralized database and service, if Canter’s vision succeeds then countless social networks will proliferate with unique styles and function but with interoperability.

The People Aggregator software may not have been open source but, as it could be downloaded and installed locally, it avoided the single point of failure problem which has recently troubled Twitter. But let’s now consider Eduspaces, an open source social networking environment designed for the educational community which announced the closure of the service in 16 December 2007, giving the user community just a few weeks before the service was scheduled for closure.

And looking at the Eduspaces Web site today I see it describes itself as “the world’s first and largest social networking site dedicated to education and educational technology“. But looking at the FAQ to see who owns the company, where it is based, what jurisdiction covers the content and terms and conditions I find a series of questions but no answers, other than the stark message “[available soon]”. And the terms and conditions state that:

  • We reserve the right to modify or terminate the EduSpaces service for any reason, without notice at any time.
  • We reserve the right to alter these Terms of Use at any time. If the alterations constitute a material change to the Terms of Use, we will notify you via an appropriate method. What is a ‘material change’ is at our discretion
  • We reserve the right to refuse service to anyone for any reason at any time.

So remember, there may be flaws and concerns over the social networking services we are using today. But an uncritical adoption of alternatives just because they are open source could lead to a worse scenario than the potential risks identified above.

Posted in Social Networking | 2 Comments »

Facebook Buys FriendFeed; Identica is Open Source; Does It Matter?

Posted by Brian Kelly on 12 Aug 2009

As described on TechCrunch a couple of days ago, Facebook Acquires FriendFeed. The Monkey Bites blog advises “Let’s Be Friends in its article on how Facebook acquired FriendFeed. But the reaction in the Twitterverse seems to be negative, with concerns that Facebook’s walled garden mentality will be applied to FriendFeed and that the ownership which Facebook claims for content posted within Facebook will also apply to content on FriendFeed. This acquisition may be a threat to Twitter, as suggested on the ZDNet Asia blog: “Facebook takes aim at Twitter, buys FriendFeed“.

Meanwhile the announcement that the Dublin Core Metadata Initiative has “started a little DC twitter activity” has been met with comments suggesting that should be used on the grounds that “above all is Open source“.  Dan Brickley backs this suggestion:

While it has a smaller userbase than twitter, the project is very friendly to standards such as RDF which DCMI is also committed to. is also API-compatible with Twitter, and allows you to repost from to twitter accounts automatically.

Oh, last thing re there’s a groups mechanism, so we could experiment with groups for DCMI or sub-communities…

But how relevant is this dogma? FriendFeed, it seems, is cool in some circle, as is, whereas Twitter and FaceBook aren’t.  And some FriendFeed users are talking about closing down their accounts whilst fans of are seeking to encourage newcomers to joint, citing the richer functionality it provides as well as its open source pedigree. But to what extent will the issues of ownership of the code, rights over the data and the richness of the functionality affect people’s decisions?

For me the important aspect of these social tools is the associated community – and as a well-established Twitter user I am not too concerned regarding the openness of the source code. And although I am willing to experiment with providing richer functionality with Twitter, such as recent experiment with use of multiple hashtags for events,  I do appreciate the point which Mike Ellis has raised, suggesting that it’s Twitter’s simplicity which is a key aspect of its success. So is there any evidence that open source code and richer functionality will be successful in migrating a community to it? And is it really true that the integration between Twitter and will be seamless and transparent?  Why do I feel I’ve heard these arguments before – without the supposed benefits actually being delivered? Facebook buys FriendFeed; Identica is open source; does it matter? To you it might, but to the vast majority of users I suspect it doesn’t.

Posted in openness, Social Networking | 10 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 »

“Wanna chat with me on cam?”

Posted by Brian Kelly on 3 Jun 2009

Spammer on the Ning social networkLast year we set up a Ning social network to support the IWMW 2008 event. Afterwards I forgot about the network until a few days ago I was alerted that a number of members had received spam messages. And on checking I discovered that Lucile Sawyer was sending messages asking others “Wanna chat with me on cam?, come see me here You’ll enjoy it. I promise!!!!” And on checking the membership details I discovered that Genvieve has a twin sister called Lucile Sawyer, as you can see.

I have now banned Lucile and Genvieve and changed the registration options for the site, so that any new members have to be approved. The lesson I’ve learnt – there’s a need to change the settings for social networks set up to support events after the event is over. I still prefer to make it easy to subscribe to such services, however, in order to avoid any delays caused by the need to accept new subscriptions manually.

Posted in Social Networking | 6 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 »

Remember Orkut?

Posted by Brian Kelly on 7 Jan 2009

In a post on Salesman, Salesman… Why don’t you sell me something…Wendell Dryden described problems he’d encountered using the service from within Facebook. Wendell has still not found the ideal  solution: “So, the search goes on. I still want a non-Facebook, real-world social networking site where learners I and can connect” and then concluded “Multiply’s too scammy. Yahoo’s lost at sea. This spring, I guess, I need to take another look at Orkut.

Now who remembers Orkut, Google’s social networking service?

As described in WikipediaOrkut is a social networking service which is run by Google and named after its creator, an employee of Google – Orkut Büyükkökten“. The service was launched in 2004, initially by invitation only. And it is now the most visited website in Brazil and second most visited site in India.

Sounds good, doesn’t it? And I  subscribed to the service shortly after it was launched. But what can it offer in 2009?

Logging on for the first time in ages I found the various discussion groups (forums) which I’d subscribed to after I joined, which included one on Libraries. And what did I find? Well not much discussion – and the odd spam comment, as illustrated.  Similarly the Web Developers and Designers forum, which has over 3,500 members, seemed to contain mostly messages advertising Web design companies.

But Orkut now provides more than just discussion groups – it also provides access to Open Social applications. And looking at the list of applications which I can add to my Orkut page I discovered, on the first page of applications, that I can add Photobuzz to “Make [my] friends smile! Animate their photos with Hugs, kisses, hearts and much more“, Superscrap to “Send christmas scraps and wish merry christmas to your friends. Dozens of new templates created to each occasion. Handwrite your personal message and superscrap [my] friends. True friends deserve a super-scrap everyday!” or use an ‘educational’ applications such as IQ Test to “Take a free 15 minute intelligence test to find out your IQ and compare it with [my] friends to see who is the most intelligent“. You can even install Slapster which promotes itself with the summary: “Don’t just poke your friends, slap’em around with Slapster! Select your friend’s orkut profile picture and slap it around as hard as you can with this fun application!“. This will be an undoubted favourite for Facebook users. Not!

Does Orkut have anything to offer me? I don’t think so.  It seems to have been abandoned by the 35 colleagues I had befriended.  And what’s the point of a social network if nobody is using it?  It looks like Facebook will continue to provide the environment for me to keep in touch with friends and colleagues – despite the criticisms which this service seems to attract.

Posted in Social Networking | Tagged: | 5 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 »