Sunday, 25 July 2010

Thing 16: "To follow me and praise my eyes and face?"

My relationship with Facebook isn't love/hate so much as mild indifference/hate.  I've had an account for 5 years now (I signed up right after finishing my finals), but I honestly can't say that it has in any way changed my life.  I normally only log in when I receive an email notification of some activity involving me (a message, or an event invitation), but I've kept my account because several of my old school friends seem to use it as their primary means of communication.  My profile is definitely a social and not professional one.  Not that I post the details of my weekend (tea and knitting) benders, but it's more light-hearted than I would perhaps desire for a professional presence.

Screenshot of part of my profile page on Facebook

Several other Cam23 bloggers have noted the difficulty of keeping the personal and the professional separate on Facebook.  The system of 'friends' is monolithic - there's no option to have some people as 'colleagues' and others as 'bosom pals', as is discussed (at some length) in this week's number one Cam23 slideshow (brought to my attention by Ange Fitzpatrick).  Do note that this presentation was produced by Google, who, we are told, feel threatened by Facebook's increasing online dominance.
Apart from the keeping-in-touch with old friends aspect (with or without hourly updates on their eating habits), Facebook's other main selling point is as an infinite-procrastination-drive.  There are seemingly thousands of app(lication)s, foremost amongst which is the (to me) incomprehensible Farmville. Once again on the recommendation of @angefitzpatrick, I found this blog post about a satire on these pointless, addictive (so I'm told) social 'games'. (I'll admit that there are some useful apps, too, such as the libraries@cambridge one, and COPAC, but more on that later.)

Having had a look at the various Cambridge libraries Facebook pages, I can see that they could be useful in communicating with users.  A Facebook presence provides another means by which the library can be contacted.  But this is only of benefit if queries are answered quickly.  A library page on Facebook showing unanswered questions on its 'wall' will be worse for impressions of the library than not having the page at all.  Once again, these social media tools seem to be good only if there are sufficient resources available to moniter and maintain them.

While I have no real criticisms about the library pages I visited, none of them (either specific or general) grabbed me enough to 'like' them or to join them.  This is partly because I'm not much of a joiner, but also, I think, because of the way Facebook looks and works.  Everything looks the same all over Facebook, whether it's the homepage, a personal profile page, a group, a fan page or an app page. Andy Priestner has described this as 'ridiculously restrictive architecture', and limits on what can be done have been noted by others. I tend to feel that the Facebook page (even with its status updates) doesn't offer enough above a library webpage that I want to stick my colours to its mast.

Facebook is clearly, in terms of user numbers, a huge success.  It's no great surprise to me that something I'm iffy about has been so enthusiastically adopted by so many.  But I wonder if it's really clear what Facebook is supposed to be for at all: when it started, it was an amusing way of linking together friends within the fairly closed networks of individual universities.  Today, is it for fun, or for study, or for business? Will people really by happily playing Farmville and searching COPAC from the safety of their Facebook account?  (I haven't tried it, but I imagine that OPAC searches are rather slower via Facebook.)  Library widgets in amongst the Cow Clickers and ads seem a bit lost, a bit desperate, even.  Perhaps I live in an ivory tower where libraries can be successful on their own merits without getting caught up in Facebook, but I'm just not sure to what extent a Facebook presence will make a significant difference.

1 comment:

  1. Until about three months ago, I really agreed with you about libraries having a Facebook page. I genuinely didn't see the point, thought the information was available elsewhere, the students at best wouldn't care, it'd take ages to keep it updated, etc. Then one of our support staff set up the page (I work at the Jerwood), and I have to say--though I say it tentatively--I've been surprised. Facebook, by its nature and by the way it's used, seems to engender a familiarity and friendliness. Staff can be more jovial and colloquial with the students via a medium like that than at least I feel able to when sending out emails.

    The problem is that we haven't got the students to use it to communicate with us yet. That's the next hurdle, and I've no idea how to address it.