Raising Awareness

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Facebook: Opportunities and Challenges

Why The Interest In Facebook?

Facebook has generated much interest over recent months. Much of the interest has arisen since Facebook announced the Facebook Platform [1] which enabled third party developers to build applications which could be used within the Facebook environment.

Since Facebook was developed initially to support students it is not surprising that student usage has proved so popular. This interest has also spread to other sectors within institutions, with researchers and members of staff exploring Facebook possibilities.

What Can Be Done Within Facebook?

Social networks can provide a range of benefits to members of an organisation:

Connections with peers
The main function of Facebook is to provide connections between people with similar interests. Friends can then send messages to each other (either closed messages or open for others to read).
Facebook users can set up discussion group areas, which can be used by people with interests in the topic of the group. Creation of details of events, which allows users to sign up to, is another popular use of Facebook.
Sharing resources
Many of the popular Facebook applications are used for sharing resources. Some of these replicate (or provide an interface to) popular social sharing services (such as Flickr and YouTube) while other applications provide services such as sharing interests in films, books, etc.
An environment for other applications
he opening of the Facebook Platform has allowed developers to provide access to a range of applications. The ArtShare application [2], for example, provides access to arts resources from within Facebook.
Web presence
Although originally designed for use by individuals since November 2007 Facebook can be used as a Web hosting service for organisational pages.

It should also be noted that organisational pages in Facebook were redesigned in 2009 so that they more closely resemble personal pages [3]. Organisational pages are now also able to share status updates.

What Are The Challenges?

Reservations about use of Facebook in an institutional context include:

There are real concerns related to users' privacy. This will include both short term issues (embarrassing photos being uploaded) and longer term issues (reuse of content in many years time).
The Facebook terms and conditions allow Facebook to exploit content for commercial purposes.
Misuse of social space
Users may not wish to share their social space with other colleagues, especially when there may be hierarchical relationships.
Who will be liable if illegal content or copyrighted materials are uploaded to Facebook? Who is liable if the service is not accessible to users with disabilities?
Sustainability and Interoperability
How sustainable is the service? Can it provide mission-critical services? Can data be exported for reuse in other systems?
The cost implications in developing services for the Facebook platform.

Institutional Responses To Such Challenges

How should institutions respond to the potential opportunities provided by Facebook and the challenges which its use may entail? The two extreme positions would be to either embrace Facebook, encouraging its use by members of the institution and porting services to the environment or to ban its use, possibly by blocking access by the institutions firewall. A more sensible approach might be to develop policies based on:

Risk assessment and risk management
Analysing potential dangers and making plans for such contingencies. Note that the risk assessment should also include the risks of doing nothing
User education
Developing information literacy / staff development plans to ensure users are aware of the implications of use of Facebook, and the techniques for managing the environment (e.g. privacy settings).
Data management
Developing mechanisms for managing data associated with Facebook. This might include use of Facebook applications which provide alternative interfaces for data import/export, exploring harvesting tools or engaging in negotiations with the Facebook owners.


  1. Major Facebook Announcement Thursday: Facebook Platform, Mashable, 21 May 2007,
  2. Artshare, Brooklyn Museum Blog, 8 Nov 2007,
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  3. 3. New Facebook Pages: A Guide for Social Media Marketers, Mashable blog, 3 Mar 2009,
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