A number of posts relating to Facebook have caught my eye recently – possibly because Facebook is the first generic social networking site that I actually use regularly myself. Possibly because my library is considering some sort of presence on Facebook.

Libraries in Facebook

Regarding the idea of promoting library services in Facebook, the Guardian reports on a study of student perceptions of academic use of social networking, stating that “Students really do want to keep their lives separate. They don’t want to be always available to their lecturers or bombarded with academic information.” The issue is also discussed on the Open University blog. (The Guardian article also presents the other side of the story, and the OU suggests some ways to use social networking sites in ways that are respectful of student needs and wants).

I’m not sure what the answer is here. Some of us, who work in front-line reference roles and do a lot of teaching, have a reasonably close relationship with our users. So possibly we could build a one-to-one relationship with them using Facebook (etc) – obviously giving them the option to friend us (or not). Possibly giving out our Facebook details at the start of the year, along with our email and phone numbers? Of course, this would mean ignoring the possible benefits of having an institutional profile.

I guess the worst that can happen is that we create and promote Facebook services, and the students ignore them. Which isn’t too bad, really….

General issues with Facebook

Cory Doctorow argues that Facebook will sink under the weight of socially obligated “friendships”. The problem with any social networking service, Doctorow argues, is that it is hard to refuse friendship invitations. Users then end up with too many friends that they don’t really want. This results, I guess, in a signal-noise problem – updates and notices from unwanted friends swamp those from real friends. Too, overlapping social and work worlds can be a recipe for disaster (I have workmates on my friends list, I’d rather they didn’t read the expletive-laden comments that some of my non-work friends post).

I’m not sure what the answer is – maybe I need to make better use of the ‘limited profile’ option within Facebook? (But then there’s the issue of offending people by only offering them access to my limited profile…..).

Cory also discusses privacy problems in Facebook. Tim Lee at Techdirt points out the irritating way in which Facebook applications intrude on a user’s friends. This is my biggest grumble with the site – if I add an application, it automatically tries to invite my friends to install it. Some applications require considerable effort to opt-out. This isn’t user-friendly.

Phil Bradley discusses the British Library in Facebook.

Not just about Facebook, but Michael Stephens explains that the way to get “reluctant adopters” interested in a technology is to show them how it can benefit them in their personal life, and then let them generalise that skill or tool into their professional life. This seems sensible – I’m sure we can all point to a tech-reluctant colleague who discovered the benefits of Skype when a family member moved overseas.

In another post, Michael discusses a proposed ‘Bill of Rights’ for users of the social web, and asks how it might affect librarians building online social spaces. Seems to me that it’s something that would apply more to library/non-profit groups than to Facebook, MySpace etc: I really can’t see sites like FB and MS, which have business models based around a walled-garden approach, letting users export their data outside the site. But I could be wrong.

About simonchamberlain

New Zealand librarian and music fan, living in London.
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3 Responses to Facebook

  1. Phil Bradley says:

    Hi Simon – I think you make some really good points here. I like using Fb, but it does annoy me that it’s very difficult to separate work colleagues and friend friends. I’d like to have a choice of making some applications core to my profile, with other stuff available just to individual groups or cliques.

    I don’t tend to add friends easily, and I do turn down a lot of request (a lot means about a dozen so far), simply because I don’t know that person, and I’m not into the ‘I’ve got more friends than you’. Oddly though, I wouldn’t mind if people added me as a friend, as long as I didn’t have to see their personal information! That’s the main reason I turn people down is exactly to reduce the clutter I get within Fb.

    I do get irritated with the fact that even if I don’t have an app loaded I still nonsense from friends who have it loaded. And as you point out, the whole thing about adding friends, so I’m always on the lookout for the ‘skip this step’ option. I also drop applications quickly if I find they are getting irksome.

    It’s certainly quite a hard and time intensive job to keep Fb neat and tidy, but it’s by far the best way that I’ve found of keeping up with friends and in touch.

  2. Simon Chamberlain says:

    Thanks for the comments, Phil. On reflection, I realise much of what I’ve said is similar to a post you made a few weeks ago.

    I agree with your final comment – I guess that’s why I spend a fair bit of time discussing Facebook – if it wasn’t so useful I’d just stop using it; it’s because I find it useful that I want to see it improve, and get rid of the most annoying features.

  3. Judi Kercher says:

    Until Facebook does get rid of the annoying features I won’t be signing up again. It’s too user-unfriendly for me to bother with. The fact that you do have to sign up even to view a page must surely be offputting to many. If the idea is to increase communication and collaboration, particularly for libraries, then this is a huge obstacle. Why bother? I’m sure I’m not the only lazy browser who clicks away from a site if registration is needed to view anything.

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