This morning I sat in on Karen Morse’s workshop introducing Facebook to her fellow UB librarians. While our UB Libraries has already taken to blogs, wikis, Youtube and Facebook, Karen’s talk was the first of a series aimed at helping the rest of the librarian community understand what social media was about.
This was particularly useful to me, since I could ascertain the primary concerns of new entrants to social networking. Some of the points & issues raised included:
Students “live” on Facebook
A primary reason for understanding Facebook, is because students are spending their time there, so why not bring our services there where it makes more sense. This is an accessibility move, as well as a marketing opportunity.
Karen did the right thing by showing MySpace, then showing Facebook. While I agree that social networks like Facebook could be overwhelming to new users, in terms of evolution, it does have a cleaner design. I’ve seen plenty of new friends get so overwhelmed, they find all the interactions nonsensical (poke, applications), and could very well leave the network before they could derive value from it. Remember that there isn’t exactly any user manual to Facebook, so most users have to play around to figure everything out. Despite its clean look, some of the pages aren’t intuitive to get to as they are contextually spread across the page rather than consolidated in one spot.
Karen and I believe that it is largely a cultural thing. For one, we both see that plenty of students were willing to share the full home address and cell phone numbers online. I exclaimed that women used to hold their age private, but now even they share their birthdays on Facebook. Karen tells me that she enters her birthday without the year. I suspect that users are inclined to fill out their profile forms completely, rather than to leave them blank (psychological design?).
Saying No to Friending
While many love the idea of finding old friends, the problem of rejecting “not so close friends” can be daunting to some. Even the act of rejecting Facebook applications from friends worries plenty of folks. As a result, some end up feeling stressed on Facebook, while some learn to be extremely selective with friends. I’ve heard one story of a friend’s friend who had multiple Facebook identities for this reason. Consider what Cory Doctorow calls Boyd’s Law where “Adding more users to a social network increases the probability that it will put you in an awkward social circumstance”.
As if the the Wall, the Inbox, the Notifications, and Status Updates aren’t enough clicking through for you, there are applications like Superwall that create yet another messaging space to tend to. One major issue about communicating via Facebook is how spread out your inbox can be. Nothing is consolidated (once again!), which leads me to believe that it’s an insidious move to have users click all over the place, to serve more web banner ads.
UBlearns vs. Facebook
How is Blackboard different from Facebook? Other than the earlier point where students live there (captive audience), it’s really about two things: 1) The Third Place: Being a shared space not owned by either parties (librarians nor students) may mean equal standing in power. This motivates the user by choice (self-interest), rather than coercion. 2) Informality: I believe that informal channels allow for more spontaneous interaction. I worried myself once when I told my students how I wasn’t just their teacher, but their friend who wants them to succeed. Fortunately they didn’t try to “climb over” me, but rather approach me in all honesty as their mentor. Might work for some, not everyone.
These are just some of more salient discussion points I recall. I will be conducting a related workshop entitled “Facebook Strategies for Classrooms” this Friday from 10am to 12 noon at the TLC. As I prepare my presentation about Facebook, I’ve started a wiki page to collect relevant resources I plan to use.
If you’re interested to keep this discussion going, join the “Facebook Strategies for Classrooms” Facebook group today.