It recent posts Andy Powell and Graham Attwell have seemed to argue against use of Facebook as Facebook is a closed platform. These are all people I know, whose blogs I read and whose opinions I respect. But in this case I feel the situation is not as simple as they make out.

Andy argues that “Facebook appears to be pretty much useless if you want to expose any content you upload into it (photo albums, wall writings, notes, etc.) for aggregation by other services” whilst Graham asks “How can learners get their data from Facebook into their Portfolio. As far as I can see they can’t”.

I feel, though, that the situation is rather more complex than such comments might indicate. I have, for example, added the Facebook Docs application which is described as “the world’s largest library of schoolwork and other documents“. As can be seen from the image, it is possible to download documents from Facebook Docs (which is an interface to the Scribd service which I’ve discussed previously).

Scribd Application In Facebook

It is possible to download the document in various formats, including PDF, MS Word, plain text and as an MP3 file.

Other Facebook applications, such as del.icio.us and Twitter, similarly provide an interface to applications which allow the data to be accessed in various formats.

It is possible to regard Facebook as a closed interface to data which is openly available in other places. From this respect Facebook may be regarded as a useful aggregation of services, which has some parallels with adding various tools as FireFox extensions or plugins.

So rather than having a binary view of the openness of services such as Facebook I would suggest that there is a spectrum to openness. And we (as developers, advisers or whatever) need to have an open approach to how we respond to both the nature of the openness of such services and the values which users might attach to such issues (it would be inappropriate, for example, for an institution to ban use of Facebook because some of the applications may not allow data to be easily exported).

What approaches might be appropriate for addressing possible limitations in exporting data from Facebook applications? I would suggest the following:

  • Education: Informing your user community about the dangers oif using applications which don’t allow the data to be reused elsewhere.
  • Tools: Searching for or developing tools which will enable data to be exported.
  • Metadata: As illustrated in the screen shot, it is possible to include details of alternative locations of the data associated with Facebook applications. I have been using this approach for some time with Powerpoint files I have created: the URL of the master copy is included on the title slide and the notes page which enables the digital master to be accessed if only a paper copy of the slides is available. I have built on this approach when I upload my slides to Slideshare, including the address in the description metadata field.
  • Acceptance: Being willing to acknowledge that there may be cases in which users may be prepared to accept data lock-in e.g. cases in which the applications and data may be regarded as ‘disposable’.
  • Recontexualisation: Regard Facebook as the equivalent an Adobe PDF file or a Firefox plugin: providing a useful service to end users without needing to be fully open and reusable in themselves, as they form a small part of a bigger and more open picture.

I should also add that Michael Webb has also recently given his thoughts on Facebook and openness in a post on More about MyNewport and Facebook in which he suggests that, if users find the services provided from within the Facebook environment useful then “It seems to me utterly irrelevant to be ideologically concerned about whether Facebook is open or not“.