Farewell Facebook? Au Revoir Apps?


For those who move away from Facebook entirely, there are no doubt many others who haven’t left, but do far less on the site than before. Talk to parents, share unproblematic content, organise a few events…’harmless’ use can continue.

For everything else, new tools do the job. Students go where the family aren’t. They seek out specific communities of people. They form private networks away from prying eyes so they can keep in touch with their offline friends.

You don’t need to pretend to be several different personalities online. All you need to do is share particular types of information in particular places.

Say you buy a meal at McDonalds. You don’t explain to the cashier that you sometimes go to Burger King too. You don’t go to Nandos with your mates and announce that you also went with your Mum when she was visiting.

Your actions are public, but you keep the situations apart. Ever had one of those times when stuff clashed? Awkward.

A More Private Public?

When you’re online, you have new safeguards to consider, but it works in a similar way. Information, status updates and messages tend to linger. Plus, it’s easy enough for people to piece the information together and get a better picture of your actions. But when it comes to backing away from family, old school friends, and casual acquaintances, most bases are covered.

Information that you want strictly limited and kept away from particular individuals must be handled away from public services. If you broadcast stuff that you don’t want certain people to see, the safest option is not to broadcast it at all or do it in such a way that (almost) guarantees privacy.

And I don’t mean posting an embarrassing two-second Snapchat photo to someone in the hope that they don’t take a screenshot and share it with others. It means not posting the photo in the first place.

To App Or To Interact?

Facebook shouldn’t be concerned solely about young people who stop using the site. They should also think about those who have changed the way they use the service. Why? Because it changes the way they engage with the stuff that makes money. Everything changes…the way they see adverts, how long they spend on the site, their opinion of the service offered, the quality of the information they transmit, and so on.

When interest dwindles further, or if parents migrate to other services where their kids are hanging out (whether the kids like it or not…?), the knock-on effect could see older users moving away from Facebook too. This is all long-term stuff, which means the company won’t be resting on their laurels.

But is there a truly viable way for any social media players to keep up momentum and remain a solid player for many years to come?

I no longer think in terms of the sites and apps that people use. I’m more interested in the way they interact and the type of things they want to experience. Changes in these areas are potentially more telling than a service that’s popular at that particular moment. All it takes is one minor update or the next big thing to come along and all bets are off.

What are your favourite apps?

Now think about your answer. Will they still be your favourite apps next month? Next year? In a decade?

If you want to influence young people and connect directly with them right now, the big apps of the day matter.

But if you’re more interested in the overarching psychology behind the choices people make and the way people like to engage with each other, it’s time to look deeper than today’s top performer.

We’re Not Stereotypes, But We Share Similar Values

One thing you don’t want to do is assume that young people are wildly different to those in older generations. We all do things differently, but that doesn’t mean we want different things in the end.

People act the way they do because they have developed into that state. Sometimes we succeed, sometimes we fail. No matter how hard we try, we can’t form an accurate picture of each individual. We boil personalities down into stereotypes. But look closely and you quickly see a more complex reality that’s not so easy to summarise.

A Communispace survey found that people’s values stay roughly similar, no matter how old you are. Issues that were important way back are still pretty important now.

And younger people aren’t sharing their life stories online. Most of their private and personal matters are not broadcast. Mistakes can be made and promises broken, but we’re not witnessing a rise in explicitly open individuals who don’t care what others read about them.

We may be happier to communicate online that in years before, but the tools weren’t previously available. Advances in technology allow us to do things we couldn’t do a year or two ago, let alone decades back. These technological advances change actions and experiences far more than they do values and opinions.

No matter where you end up in years to come, the app won’t change you, but you might change the app.

Actions and Experiences

When Facebook and Academics (Almost) Collide

Have you ever thought of Facebook as a learning community? I’m guessing it’s not crossed your mind that much…

What if a tutor started using Facebook for some of your academic work? Would you feel comfortable letting the professor in to your profile? Maybe not.

Anouk Lang undertook a project to find a way to build a learning community within a social networking situation, but without infringing on students’ more personal space.

Lang wanted to overcome the barrier whereby students were negative about using Facebook to study. Even those who weren’t so daunted, they usually got uncomfortable past minor administrative and timetabling communications.

Lang chose to experiment with a set of peer mentors, who formed a distance between the student and tutor. Final year students would talk with second years and pass on their own experiences and knowledge, acting as a bridge between the student and the academic.

Conversation was able to grow academically because “those giving this input and doing this moderation were still peers and therefore not sufficiently different or forbiddingly unknown to the extent that their difference would stand in the way of other students participating”.

Even better, Lang’s experiment didn’t bother with annoying applications. This stuck with the basics, like posting on walls and sending private messages.

Peer mentors started conversations informally, with friendly chatter; something Lang highlights as important for the process to work effectively:

“…getting this right can be a powerful tool in increasing the attractiveness of the group by strengthening its relational interests.”

Students were happy to ask questions. In turn, the final year student mentors were equipped to give answers, because they had been in a similar position in the past.

Better still, anxieties were quickly tempered by mentors. Situations wouldn’t have necessarily been addressed so quickly and effectively using other methods. Facebook win.

But what if Facebook got overtaken by another service? It wasn’t that long ago when Myspace was dish of the day

Lang explains that proper mentoring requires understanding of online social worlds in general. Methods of communication are key, rather than being an expert in Facebook or any particular service:

“The peer mentoring model is, then, a way of ‘futureproofing’ the resource, as students will be more likely than academic staff to know which technologies are most popular with their peers, and once a framework for online mentoring is established, the SNS can if necessary be migrated in future years to different sites or applications as students’ usage patterns change.”

Can social networking sites benefit learning and student support? Lang argues that they can, “if such sites are conceptualised not as virtual versions of classrooms but rather as places where individuals come to participate in communities of practice”.

Online services are simply tools. They can be used in a number of ways. You can’t effortlessly blend social life and academic work without feeling a bit uncomfortable. But, as Lang demonstrates, it is possible to keep enough distance to enable the social and academic to operate on the same platform without muddling together.

If you didn’t have to sacrifice your informal digital identity, would you be happy to be a part of a social networking learning community? And if you are already, how is it working out for you?

Age is no barrier in social networks: why you need to ignore the statistics

I’m fed up with talk of Gen Y vs. Gen X.  I’m bored with hearing how young people are ignoring the past and building their own future.  I groan every time I see a report that says young adults shouldn’t use social networks because they’re for old people.

It’s all nonsense.

photo by 1Happysnapper

photo by 1Happysnapper

Social networking features on websites we all know about: Facebook, YouTube, Myspace, Twitter.  The list goes on.  And on.  We participate in conversations, follow events, state our opinions, collaborate and create.  So much of what we do online is now about us.

I don’t appreciate reports that suggest how pointless a service is because a particular group of people don’t use it.  In the US, all social media is apparently dominated by people aged 35-44.  Time and again, we’re told that Twitter is not used by students and that it’s an older person’s hangout.

The average age of a Twitter user in the US is 39.1 years.  What’ll surprise you are the average ages of some other popular services:
Myspace31.8 years
Facebook38.4 years
LinkedIn44.3 years

Not one social network studied showed dominance amongst the 18-24 age range.  On every occasion a different age range reigned.

You might have been put off by Twitter in the past after reading that the average user is seemingly so old.  But I expect you already have a Facebook account.  What student doesn’t?  Will you stop using Facebook now you know the average user is nearly 40?  Exactly.

In fact, there are so many mature students going into Higher Education that they may soon outnumber those who traditionally go to university straight after school.  Does that make you want to drop your course because you think it’s not so relevant for your age group?  Didn’t think so.

So just for a moment, ignore the averages.  As Sheamus on Twittercism says, “the ‘average person’ has one testicle and one breast”.

Age should not be the reason you do anything in particular.  No matter what the averages are, there are people from all age groups spending time on social networks.  They have different backgrounds, different experiences, different expertise, different reasons for being, different interests, and so on.  Age (and any statistical average) shouldn’t matter a bit.  If you feel you can only associate with a certain group of people on a service, use more than one service until it covers everyone you need to speak with.

While Facebook doesn’t particularly go beyond ‘real-life’ friends, other services reach much further.  For instance, the majority of the people I follow on Twitter are not people I’ve met in the outside world.  I speak to people younger than me and older than me.  These are amazing people that I wouldn’t have found based on statistics or a brief five minutes playing with Twitter.

Understanding how to make best use of a tool takes time.  But it’s time well spent.  No matter what statistics are thrown at you, there’s no way of telling what use it could be to you unless you try.  The information would have to be strongly against you wanting to bother…and even then the information may not be supportive of your own unique position.

Anyone who refuses to talk and network with people outside their own age is crazy.  It’s not how people go about life.

So the next time you see someone ridiculing a service based on the average age of users, or any other irrelevant statistic, consider the possibilities beyond that.  Many important business people, academics and student leaders are avid Twitter users.  So are many rising stars in pretty much every field.  They are keen to engage with you and help you learn, develop, and move on.  And they’re keen to engage with you to help them learn, develop, and move on.

Are you happy to pass by offers like that?  Right now, people all over the world are listening and ready to help.  Ignore that at your peril.

Believe in yourself

Facebook doesn’t equal worse grades.  It doesn’t equal better grades either, for that matter.  Facebook is a tool that you can make use of in any way you please.

It’s the way you choose to interact with a tool that helps shape your future.

Photo by Randy McKown

You’ll have noticed that I have spent some time away from TheUniversityBlog and my Twitter account (and other online services).  I could have worried about the decision and seen it in negative terms after having read about the dangers of getting off the Web2.0 rollercoaster.  I could have panicked about losing subscribers and followers, creating mountains out of molehills.

But I listened to myself, took responsibility for my actions, and made a decision that was best for me (selfish, but hopefully for the best).  While I missed working on the blog and keeping in touch with everyone online, I knew that I would be coming back both happy to communicate with you on all aspects HE and ready to re-engage with the tools that make it happen.  Thanks for sticking with me!

I wanted to write today simply to mention that you needn’t worry what others suggest when it comes to your own life.  You may have heard in the news about a study looking at Facebook usage and exam grades.  A lot of reports mentioned a clear link between heavy Facebook use and lower grades.  However, the academic study didn’t set it out that way. Turns out that Facebook usage doesn’t suddenly screw your life up and result in lower grades.  Unless, of course, you choose that destination…