professional reflections

Why I suppose I ought to become a Daily Mail reader

It's Sunday evening…. Brian Kelly recently resurrected the debate about Facebook and its use in an HE context. I know he's on the road at the moment so I suspect he dipped into his blog post 'reserve' for this one ;-). My initial reaction was to smile and move on, but I was caught more by a couple of the comments, from Mike [ comment] and Marieke [ comment] (both people I know and respect), which have stung me into responding. (Brian is becoming a master at inviting comments of that sort, and his blog has a sufficiently high profile that the comments can invite a response like this one). There are two messages in the post and in the two comments:

  • Facebook can't be all that wrong because millions of people have accounts in it ("100 million users can’t be wrong")
  • If you say that you don't like or want to use Facebook, then it is because you are an elitist or a techie or both (and you should "grow up"!)

I have already characterised Facebook as a a walled garden. I don't feel particularly inclined to advocate the use of Facebook to support activities in HE. I wouldn't stand in the way of people wanting to access Facebook but the argument which says that university staff should 'go where the students are' is often raised but never really backed up - in fact, as Owen Stephens blogged a while ago, there is evidence to the contrary.

Perhaps I am elitist - not for me to say really. I suppose I may be a techie - not sure what definition to check. However, my reasons for not liking Facebook are, I think, reasonable and considered.

As for millions of people using Facebook: well, 2,258,843 copies of the Daily Mail newspaper (which to my eye appears to be a horrible right-wing rag of a newspaper) were sold in August of this year. Hmmm…. more than 2 million you say…. I read the Guardian, but its figures (332,587) just don't match up…. perhaps I ought to start reading the Daily Mail and recommending it to students?

Mike asks, "if they are [wrong], who cares?" I, for one, hope that our universities do!


[…] certainly not a fan of Facebook. I have yet to find a use for it in my professional life and have criticised before the assumption that, for example, Higher Education should be embracing it as a service because it […]

[…] the current one, in which there is no decent alternative.” And Paul Walk in a post entitled Why I suppose I ought to become a Daily Mail reader was dismissive of Facebook’s popularity although admitting that he “wouldn’t stand in […]

Hasty response from the number 267 bus….

This slightly misses my point. I'm not arguing that we should ignore FaceBook - it has its uses for millions of people. I'm arguing that it does not follow that we should necessarily advocate it's use to support teaching and learning in HE for example. There are reasons why it might not be appropriate.

Like you, I have never built a web application as globally popular as FaceBook. But I have built very successful webapps in an HE context. Different success criteria, different constraints, different priorities. When I was happily building webapps for HE, at no point did we ask ourselves, "yes, but will this help us become massively, globally succesful?". Quite right too - our success criteria involved making a few thousand users very happy.

Nor should we assume what our audiences want from us, just because they all use FaceBook. In my post above I linked to a post by Owen Stephens who cites a report suggesting how wrong such assumptions can be….

The Journal of X can be completely successful if it used by everyone with a close interest in X without needing to enjoy circulation figures of the DM.

respec' - thanks for that :-)

It's a bit of a sneaky point (as I know a man of your vast intelligence recognises) - the comparison with DailyMailness is guaranteed to wind me up, as DM readers are undoubtedly the spawn of Satan..

The reason it's not a comparison which carries much weight is of course that the conversation isn't about the content. I'm not endorsing (or otherwise) the content on Facebook. What I am suggesting in my usual, slightly simple way, is that HE (anyone!) would be incredibly stupid to ignore Facebook. However much us tech snobs (Marieke's point) think FB is "just a little last year", we shouldn't underestimate the absolutely huge impact that it has had to normal people. Facebook has done something more right that ANYTHING any of us has managed to do, been involved in or seen since the dawn of the internets. I've been doing this shit for 10 years now and nothing has come close to having the real-world impact that this site has had. Google is possibly another example which has, but it's not in the content business, so can't be compared, IMO.

Whatever the reason: timing, luck, design, virality, marketing, Facebook is bigger than huge. Hence the 100 million comment: I wasn't trying to imply that "because 100 million people like it, it is 'right'", just that 100 million people is an enormous chunk to ignore for the sake of some niche argument about content ownership and portability which those same users couldn't give a crap about.

The next phase of the argument: "SHOULD these people care about this stuff?" is a whole different discussion. And yes, there should (maybe?!) be some education about T&C's, privacy, portability and so on. But right now, the position is: "yes, they should, but no they don't". We can either capitalise, or argue ourselves into a niche corner that ignores our current audiences' requirements and expectations. I know where I think we should be…

There's only one thing worse than reading the Daily Mail… ;-)

Leave a comment!

Designed by Paul Walk