I'm not ready to commit Facebook harikiri yet

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


Clint Lalonde

Just a guy writing some stuff, mostly for me these days on this particular blog. For my EdTech/OpenEd stuff, check out https://edtechfactotum.com/.


5 thoughts on “I'm not ready to commit Facebook harikiri yet

  1. So refreshing to see this post about Facebook! I scratch my head over reactions to Facebook (too closed! too open! and so on). It reminds me of some early conversations about protecting tweets because gosh ANYBODY could plunk an RSS feed of your stuff on their websites. I find myself saying 'so what'? a lot! Maybe it's because a) I'm comfortable with open and b) feel pretty indifferent about how my online interactions are used in the marketing world. Yikes, someone might try to sell me cowboy boots!

    Your suggestion that we think about how we could benefit from some of these new services makes so much sense to me. People need to be a little more innovative about how they use these tools rather than assume they're faced with what's facing them (Hey, is that why they call it facebook?! 😉 ) Look at how the non-profits have used FB! (http://beth.typepad.com/beths_blog/facebook/). And I think those who felt Twitter should be used for more intimate/closed conversations have come to realize there are many educational benefits to being wide open.

    I'm also not in love with how FB has handled default privacy settings but I'm keeping that information in a separate part of my brain 🙂

    Quick rattle…hope it makes sense.

    1. I'm like you, Sylvia. Pretty comfortable being open and having my stuff out there, thinking it is a good thing rather than a bad thing. While I think Facebook has done a pretty poor job in the way they rolled the latest changes out, so much of the conversation has been dominated by the knee jerk reaction to kill your FB account rather than trying to see if there may be something in here educators might be able to use. Regardless of how people may feel right now, FB isn't going away – it provides too much value for too many people for $0. So maybe we should keep on looking at how we can use, and maybe exploit it for good (like your wonderful link to Beth's Blog illustrates) rather than cut ourselves off from it.

  2. I'm keeping my Facebook account too, mostly because my friends are there, and it's not possible to see their updates without being "friends" with them there too. But I take Facebook's data handling into account whe. Posting there, so there is some self-censoring. I've got the instant personalization turned off for now, though I wouldn't mind using it if I were able to see and control more precisely what sites were able to use. The possibilities are interesting there. Maybe if we could control what persona Facebook presented to sites for personalization separately from what it showed friends, it would be less worrysome?

    1. I'm in that same boat in that there are a lot of people I know in FB – a big part of my network and friends are there. It is the one social network that my Dad uses, for instance, and he would be much more likely to comment on my imported blog posts in FB than actually come to my blog and comment. And I'd hate to miss an opportunity to chat with my Dad :).

      As for the instant personalization, I've been thinking about how this kind of thing can be controlled on a site by site basis and am wondering if it could end up being a function of the browser? Maybe a plugin where you could toggle on or off instant personalization depending on what site you were on?

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