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.