Put the Facebook down and step away slowly

21 08 2008

Why oh why oh why are people in the academic library world so obsessed with integrating their services into Facebook? There seems so be a prevailing thread of naffness running through some library service’s approach to utilising web 2.0 applications and I for one really can’t see the point in having a library Facebookapplication or flying into a seminar in Second Life. How many students honestly want their academic working life impinging upon what are, fundamentally, applications they use to conduct their social lives? You wouldn’t follow a student into a pub, tap them on the shoulder and remind them to return their books, so why do the digital equivalent? Yes, bookFace and Second Life are vibrant, cool (for the moment) and popular but do you think that if they’d started out as a way of hawking inter-library loans or referencing training they’d still be that way? I’d say probably not. There are good, legitimate ways of using web 2.0 to improve and promote library and information literacy services, things like Slideshare and Delicious, but these are places where social software and accessing information meet in a smooth, organic way, whereas I feel that jumping on the Facebook/Second Life bandwagon is like an18th birthday party where the parents stay for the whole thing: it has all the trappings of fun, the booze, the food, the music, but the parents feel awkward, the kids feel awkward and no-one’s really comfortable enought to enjoy themselves.



6 responses

22 08 2008

There is a really interesting report that JISC commissioned that touches on this at http://www.jisc.ac.uk/publications/publications/greatexpectations.aspx

I’ve posted some stuff on my blog at http://www.meanboyfriend.com/overdue_ideas/2008/06/even-if-were-right-were-wrong.html, but to share one specific quote from a student talking about Facebook:

‘I only use it for peers and friends. You wouldn’t want lecturers and tutors to see Facebook’

I agree completely with your analogy of tapping a student on the shoulder in the pub and saying ‘oi, your books are overdue’.

However, what I’ve argued elsewhere, and believe strongly, is that we should be providing services that students can take with them into Facebook, or whatever other environments, if they choose to – this is about empowering our users, not about pushing stuff at them.

In techy terms, I’m talking about providing open APIs (programmable interfaces) to our systems, but in practical terms, it is about making our systems ‘play nice’ with web based applications. At the moment this tends not to be the case, and we have esoteric interfaces (e.g. z39.50), which only librarians have heard of.

22 08 2008
Andrew Day

“However, what I’ve argued elsewhere, and believe strongly, is that we should be providing services that students can take with them into Facebook, or whatever other environments, if they choose to – this is about empowering our users, not about pushing stuff at them.”

What form would this take? Are you talking about applications that could be added to something like a Facebook page? On the subject of applications, I’d be interested to see if the OLIVIA courses in Blackboard could be used as a reference tool as well as a course, e.g. if you’re trying to evaluate a webpage you could click an ‘OLIVIA button’ which would take you the information literacy section.

22 08 2008

I’d agree with both of you – forcing our way into facebook doesn’t make sense, but allowing students to pick up on services that they could access in facebook, if they wanted to, does. The pub analogy is quite right, but on the other hand, I’ve been in the pub with students, and they talk to me about the library and what’s it doing; the social side gives them the freedom to say what they want, and I get to hear what they think. That’s really useful, so to take that further by developing social services, as Owen says, that gives them the ‘pub’ option of talking to us is definitely an area to consider.
And I agree, making Olivia more accessible, beyond Blackboard, is absolutely the way to move forward.

22 08 2008
Andrew Day

Good points, I do see that there is a role for social software as a more informal way of having a dialogue with students. I guess what I object to is libraries using ‘Facebook’s popular, wouldn’t be cool to have our own group / application?!’ as their starting point rather than, as you an Owen suggest, starting from a student’s perspective before venturing into social networking sites.

1 09 2008

Coming back to this slightly late due to my holiday. Just to expand a bit on what I said before, I see the first step as developing/buying applications that they are easy to build web-based services on top of them. This isn’t about building a specific service either within, or outside, a specific web environment, but about the technical architecture underpinning it all.

Once this has been done, then we can do two things. We can build services ourselves, in whatever environments we like. Secondly we can allow our users to build services on top of our applications, in whatever environments they like.

To use an existing example from outside libraries, look at Google Maps. On the face of it Google maps didn’t do anything that wasn’t already available (at least in the UK) from other sites such as Multimap. However, what Google Maps did was allow anyone to integrate maps into their own websites or applications. This led to sites like http://www.housingmaps.com/ – which combine information from Craigslist with Google Maps.

This was not done by programmers at Google Maps or Craigslist – but by a ‘user’ who saw the possibility offered by comibining the two.

The truth is that we have limited resources. We can ask students what they want, and build that (be it on the web, or in Facebook, Bebo, MySpace or something else), but we’ll never be able to do everything. What we can do is offer the possibility that the community as a whole can develop the stuff they believe to be important. So, the first job is to have systems that can easily be built on. Then we can start targetting specific environments at the same time as enabling our users to do the same.

Just a quick comment on Olivia. Luckily, the approach taken to building Olivia has never assumed a specific delivery environment (WebCT or Blackboard) – so in theory this is quite portable and could be offered via other routes. We should consider both the content and the possibility of ‘support’ services – e.g. enabling those taking Olivia to identify each other in Facebook (should they want to) for peer-to-peer support. Tony Hirst at http://ouseful.wordpress.com/ has done some interesting stuff about how Facebook can support learners – and also some very intersting stuff that builds on top of applications – I’d highly recommend his blog for food for thought.

1 09 2008
Andrew Day

Thanks, a lot to think about there! Transferrable / editable resources sound very interesting, especially having seen Ubiquity ( http://labs.mozilla.com/2008/08/introducing-ubiquity/) this week which seems to be in the same ballpark.

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