Pirate Talk

Saw a great feature in Facebook today that changes the native language to English Pirate. Made me really laugh and it is easy to do … 1) Scroll to the bottom of your Facebook page. 2) On the bottom left corner, click English: US. 3) When the language selection appears, click English: Pirate. 4) watch what happens. Nice when there are still things that can make me laugh.


Private Networks

I read an interesting post by danah boyd this morning titled, “Twitter is for friends; Facebook is for everybody” that lays out an interesting teen use case for Twitter in light of Facebook’s continued growth and popularity. We’ve known for some time that the age demographic on Twitter is skewed much more towards my place on the spectrum than say college kids or teens. We also know that more and more high school (and middle school) kids are adopting either Facebook or MySpace as a place to connect and socialize with friends. It is in that point that danah makes a really interesting observation when she says the following in response to a high school student named Dylan that she recently interviewd …

What Dylan is pointing out is that the issue is that Facebook is public (to everyone who matters) and Twitter can be private because of the combination of tools AND the fact that it’s not broadly popular.

What she is saying is that because Facebook is so over the top popular with teens, their parents, relatives, and nearly everyone else that Facebook itself might as well be public. Sure it has a lock on the front door, but if every single person you know in real life has that key then there really aren’t any secrets. What is fascinating to me is the behavior “in the know” teens are exhibiting in Twitter to game this “openly private” conundrum they are in … they create private Twitter accounts so only their real friends (not Mom and Dad) can have access to. So FB becomes the place they shout everything, while Twitter is under the radar enough that they can whisper quietly to each other. Amazingly simple and amazingly smart. danah goes on to wonder if Twitter continues to become more popular will teens end up with yet another social network where they really aren’t free to be? Good question.

In my mind I see the same kind of thing emerging in my own social network use — I need different platforms to do different things. Facebook is overrun and I cannot use it like I really want to. Too many people have access to my profile for me to post some of the content I might want to post. Sure FB has the message features, but they feel really out of place — almost like I am violating some code of conduct by sending a private message to a single person in my network instead of writing it proudly on their wall. The Twitter direct message feels very different and I use that quite a bit more. I’ve felt the same pain with IM … over time I collect too many people that add way too much noise to my communications channels and have to create a new account. It seems like we are stuck in this loop and until something more like Google Wave hits we may be stuck in it. Any thoughts?

Doing it Right?

I had a crazy day yesterday … not that I am complaining, as I spent it with smart people near or at the top of the decision making chain here at PSU. I spent all morning and into the afternoon talking to a couple of groups about social media, social networks, and their potential for impact on students. I was asked over and over again how we as administrators and as an Institution should take advantage of Facebook (and blogs and twitter, and …). The rooms were filled with people of varying levels of comfort with social media sites so you could almost draw a line down the middle between “these sites make no sense” and “we absolutely need to be there.” The interesting thing I kept hearing was that students don’t want us there and that has me thinking about one simple question — Should Universities maintain an official Facebook presence?

Before I get too far down the path let me say that I am not talking about individual professors adding students as friends. I am talking strictly about an Institutional commitment to taking part in the network. As an example I can point you to my alma mater, West Virginia University, where they have (as it appears) made a serious decision about embracing everyone’s favorite social network.

WVU on Facebook

WVU on Facebook

What I wonder is if we need to be there? Should we use our resources (in time and people) to build a strong brand in FB? What does it yield? A place for alumni to reconnect (do they need us for that)? A place where we can do targeted marketing (can’t we do that in FB without a space)? A place to alert students of issues on campus (I hate to think we are relying on FB as our broadcast engine)? I’m just not sure.

There’s been all sorts of chatter about how to deal with the rapidly expanding demographic and how to personally segment the network based on who you want to see your updates. To me what that means is that we are seeing a network that is growing up. What was once the haven of a few geeks and a whole bunch of college kids has turned into a social network with an emerging identity crisis. It is no longer the land of twenty somethings … my Mom, Mother-in-Law, as are parents of my friends are on FB and know how to use it relatively well so something is afoot. Take into account the following from iStrategyLabs as an example …

The biggest surprise (perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising) was that Facebook’s 35-54 year old demographic segment not only continued to grow the fastest, but it accelerated to a 276.4% growth rate over the past 6 months.

Basically what I’m saying is that it isn’t just for college kids anymore … there are now lots of people to think about. So, I’ll return to my question, should Universities maintain an official Facebook presence? Anyone have any thoughts?

Facebook is Smart

Just a quick post to say that I can honestly say I didn’t see this one coming … my wife is on FB and invited me to one of those “rate the movies you like and compare it with your friends” applications — I think it is Flixster to be exact. Well, so I rated all the movies in the list as honestly as I could and guess what? Flixster actually listed my wife and I as “Soul Mates.” If you don’t believe it, you can check the image below as proof.

Facebook Knows

The really funny thing is that as I checked every other single female I am friends with on FB that also took this test, my wife and I are the only ones listed as Soul Mates. I have a few “Close Friends” in the list, but no one is categorized as my Soul Mate. Wow, I am sure glad that is settled.

The FaceBook Platform

I have only been following the rumors related to FaceBook’s newest jump as an outsider — the FaceBook Platform. Twice in the same day I am linking to GigOm … this time a very well composed post explaining the new deal. From what I am making of it all, the FB will allow partners (whatever that means) to write specific apps that live on top of the FB. In other words, the FB could be looked at like an OS and these new apps can rest on its foundation. I am guessing this will let normal people (at some point) tap the power of the FB’s data (and user profiles) to create new things that may only have interest to a subset of the users. This does all sorts of things if I understand it correctly, but one thing it does do is allow people to leverage the unbelievably active user base to create niche applications for specific vertical opportunities.

What this means to me is that I could write an application that linked FB traffic with say a course management system of sorts. Layering on top of the FB a whole host of CMS style tools — discussion, quizzing, assignment posting, and really anything else … and the students would never have to leave the FB. If I can do that, then maybe I would consider using the profile power of the FB to get at some very interesting content delivery options … this is all just happening to me in the moment here, but I am thinking of allowing course materials to be presented to you at different levels depending on profile parameters — foreign language students who say they’ve visited France may very well get more advanced podcasts of content to translate as an example. Students don’t spend hours in our spaces like they do in the FB and in the FB they are spending some of that time crafting their profiles to better match either their real or stated identity. Update, this morning while hitting the feeds I bumped into one of the first apps to run on top of FB, Project Agape. It is essentially a “Causes” engine that now has deep integration with the FB. Very interesting stuff.

I need to do more reading and more investigation, but it seems to me that the Marketplace FB just released last week may be one of these such applications. I don’t know that, but it would seem to make sense. I wonder what all this will mean for dedicated social sites who work to grab the typical FB demographic? If I can (or choose) to live in the FB, constantly crafting and honing my profile, why would I go to Flickr to share my pictures? Why would I need to blog outside the environment? Why for that matter, would I need to go to Google to find something? I know the web is the platform we all live on today, but there is something here.

Sorry for the rambling train wreck, but I need someone to help me think about this.

FaceBook Sells Stuff Too

What is more powerful than a massive location aware social network? Why, its the FaceBook Marketplace. Looks like everyone’s favorite campus hang out spot is getting into the clasified ads business — for free. Don’t be fooled, there is a business model in there. If you jump over to the NY Times you can read all the details in the piece, Facebook to Offer Free Classifieds. From the article …

Facebook, based in Palo Alto, Calif., is calling the new service Marketplace and plans to introduce it on Friday. It will allow users to create classified listings in four categories: housing; jobs; for sale, where users can list things like concert tickets and used bikes; and “other,” a catch-all that could include things like solicitations for rides home for the holidays.

This creates an interesting campus market place that could drive even more traffic through the FB. I have to say I think I know where I am going to be placing my ads to sell some of that old stuff I have. If you think about it, where else could I go to really reach this demographic? The University newspaper, maybe. A flyer to hang on a classroom wall, eh. But with this, the FB folks have pegged the three things you need to do business — location, location, loaction … oh, and a built in network of connected, trusted, co-located friends doesn’t hurt either. This is worth watching.

What I am curious about is how they will provide value to the marketplace concept using all that is right about social networking. I am wondering if there will be Amazon style recommendations based on my profile or the profile of my friends. Will I see items for sale from friends first? If so, will I be more likely to buy. On campus we hear from students that they go to trusted sources first when they need help with things like technology and coursework … will that translate into the buying experience? I am betting on that being a yes. I wonder what others think?

The Social Web Steps Up

I have been amazed at how the Social Web has stepped up in the face of the VA Tech tragedy. The major news sources were the first to the scene, but with content mostly contributed by i-Reporters … shortly there after, youtube was flooded with videos showing different views of what what had unfolded and tributes to victims. If you spend some time at Flickr you can see first hand what was going on during and after the events on Monday. These sites gave us all a view that we would never had gotten prior to current user-generated scene we are all living in and was certainly the fastest way to start understanding what was going — news conferences just didn’t cut it.

Perhaps the most interesting and amazing of all these spaces is the FaceBook. Instantly, FB groups emergered from all corners of their networks. Within hours, the PSU FB Network had already errupted into a half dozen groups. I searched for stuff from my Alma Mater, WVU, and instantly found the same thing going on there. Here at PSU, students rallied together to decide to create a giant VT in the stands of the annual Blue and White Spring football game this weekend — all within the FB. Within hours of the group forming it had over 800 members … all of them committed to showing support for VT.

I think this my be a turning point in our appreciation of tools like the FB. Students understand the power of social tools and so many of us are now seeing just how amazing these tools are for creating instant community opportunities. What I am also finding so interesting is how traditional news and the social sites are playing off each other to round out each other’s coverage. A traditional news site pulling profiles of victims from friends’ stories all over the web is just one example. Almost all of what I found on the FB was publicly accessible, so I am sure reporters used these same self-organized social spaces to discover much of the information they are reporting in the traditional news environment. In great respect of the tragedy, I find it all very interesting and think we are stepping into new waters — waters where traditional news sources (and the general public) have gained a new appreciation for user-generated content. I also think it starts the FB down a path of general acceptance and as a hub of information gathering and distribution.

Should We be Worried?

As we race towards the release of our Penn State Blog pilot I am bumping my head into the same question over and over again — will our students care? This isn’t really something I am being asked by people in general, this is one of those nagging questions that one of the various voices in my head is repeating. We all know that students do live fairly digital lives and the fact of the matter is that they are doing it more and more — especially when it comes to participation in social sites. Not sure if you’ve heard of MySpace, Facebook, or YouTube but PSU students have. Here’s just a couple of data points for you from a November PSU PULSE Survey on social software usage at our University:

  • 83% of Penn State students use Facebook (with the number at 90% at the University Park campus)
  • 50% of Penn State students report having a MySpace account
  • 85% of Penn State students report watching video on YouTube

So if you look at those numbers you can see they are consumers and producers of the digital lifestyle. You might argue that simply watching a video isn’t really taking part, but if you consider that about 16% of our students have posted video you see that there is a solid percentage contributing (BTW, at 80,000+ students 16% is a nice number). The results of the survey are not really surprising, but they do paint a very interesting picture for us to build a case for new services and opporutnities at the University — or do they?

At second glance I have to return to my question of will they show up if we build it. I am fumbling over this specific question and I am obviously going to take a wait and see attitude. Will they come out of their existing spaces to participate? Probably not … but the better question is if we can come up with reasons to pull them out and participate in our environments. The funny thing is that when I say “our” environment I am actually talking about their space. We want to publish their blogs/media/stuff into their personal webspace so they can actually take it with them when they go. I wonder how Facebook feels when you say, “thanks for the free account, but I’d like to take my stuff with me.” I can’t imagine they make it all that easy.

Another strange thing going on with all this is the Facebook’s CEO recent comments about becoming a publishing giant … relying on new tools within the FB environment to encourage its users to create and contribute stories. I found it both very interesting and disturbing. I can say from experience that it is very hard to maintain identity at too many places … in other words, blogging in both the FB and at their other PSU sites may be a lot to ask. They spend a lot of time in the FB — consider that about 25% report spending five hours or more a week in there! I know from other results that is more than they report spending on homework and is close to half of the typical weekly class load!

So, the question is being asked again in my head — will our students care? I’d like to know what you all think and I am really interested in seeing what we do about making it important to them. Or should we?