My friend Kevin Deegan-Krause at Wayne State University just alerted me to a blog that is truly a treasure trove of information, opinion, and analysis on Facebook. Unit Structures, written by Fred Stutzman, a PhD student and teaching fellow at UNC’s School of Library and Information Science, offers much more than the more general reflections on Facebook that you will find here.
Instead, this blog is home to serious analysis and in-depth empirical research on Facebook and other social networking sites. The most recent post on the Beacon controversy is particularly worth reading. There is also a link to his “Facebook Research” that offers up papers, blog posts, research results, advice for students, and more. Stutzman has written so much about Facebook in his blog that he no longer updates that link.
One item in the research listed there that I found especially useful in thinking about why college faculty members out to think about Facebook as a phenomenon is that his research for 2006 indicated that 88 percent of UNC freshmen had a Facebook account. As Stutzman points out, any software application being used by 88 percent of new students needs to be taken seriously.
At the same time, though, I remain unconvinced that Facebook will become a useful teaching resource beyond being a communication and collaboration platform. Trying to fit teaching and learning into this environment is like trying to teach people to sing by handing them a book about music…the two things are related, but not sufficiently so that they will yield a worthwhile result.
On the other hand, I am very interested in the possibility of Facebook and other similar networks as archives of information about the lives of the ‘networked population’–those who have signed on to various social networking platforms to share information about themselves.
Do these sites retain copies of the data deleted? I sure hope so. I know that the very thought will make privacy advocates howl, but I think that once someone posts something about themselves online without privacy limits they have abrogated their right to complain about invasions of privacy.
The real reason I hope they are retaining these data–“wall” posts, photographs, music preferences, etc.–is because social historians of the coming generation might then be able to mine those data for their research on the days we live in now.