There is a lot of talk right now about quitting Facebook in response to concerns about privacy and how much personal information their recently introduced platform Open Graph releases to other websites. Concerns over privacy with Facebook are nothing new, but there seems to be quite a bandwagon developing this time as some people contemplate deleting their Facebook accounts. I’m not quite there yet.
Far be it for me to provide a defense for Facebook and their practices, but part of me wonders if Facebook opening up the data stream might actual have some positive benefits. I mean, isn’t openess generally a good thing? Isn’t this the kind of stuff that we in education want to see happen? Doesn’t this mean the walls around this garden are falling?
Take instant personalization for example. Imagine as part of my profile I list that I am interested in education and I go to a site that might have this kind of information on it. Wouldn’t it be useful for the website to automatically be personalized to present the specific information that I am looking for? Perhaps I go to the CBC site and am greeted with all the most recent articles about education from that site. If I were a student studying a topic, instant personalization may be yet another guide that helps me find the information I am looking for.
And what about my network as my filter? I like the idea of my network as my filter, and appreciate it when I go to a website and see the comments my Facebook network have left there, just like I appreciate the comments Diigo users leave with their annotations. It helps me validate the information I am reading. By having access to their opinions about what I am seeing, I learn. Vetted comments from my network, even something as simple as a like or dislike, are observational learning and useful pieces of information for me.
Finally – and a bit more technically – one of the principles of Connectivism that intrigues me is the idea that learning can reside in non-human objects. Whenever I read this, I equate it to (among other things) the semantic web where structured data can help create connections between pieces of information. To me, what Facebook has done with Open Graph is take a big step towards making these types of interactions happen. Granted, their intent is primarily for commercial gain, and there is questioning by those who know much more about this than I do about how “open” Open Graph really is, but Facebook has gone a long way to illustrating to the mainstream the concept of the semantic web. As someone who believes that semantic technologies have potential for learning by assisting us in making connections, I can’t help but feel that what Facebook is doing with Open Graph is a positive thing that will enable me to make connections with people interested in the same things I am. The problem is many people are getting pissed off about it, which makes me worry about how this could impact public perceptions of future high profile applications of semantic web-like technologies.
Now, I get that this is a precarious position to take, especially considering how fast and loose Facebook has been with the default privacy settings as the site matures. And there are many very good valid reasons to seriously consider your relationship with FB. But it seems like so much of the Facebook discourse is weighing in on the negative (which I do not want to downplay because they ARE serious issues), and failing to take into account some of the potential positive opportunities that could emerge from their work and the effect it could have on the social learning landscape. For that promise alone, I am willing to keep my Facebook network alive and well. At least for now