In a recent comment Mike Ellis reflected on the meaning of technology, where the complexity comes from, and what the bits under the hood bring to the party. Mike concluded “My take is: users aren’t just quite important, really important or reasonably vital: they are everything, bar none.

If you accept this proposition how should you respond to what appears to be the continuing popularity of Facebook? A quick snapshot of my friend’s status indicates that my Facebook friends are regularly updating their status, using a variety of mechanisms, with Twitter users automatically updating their Facebook status via Twitter.

Meanwhile Ruth Page on her Digital Narratives blog has written a post entitled “Facebook Fresher’s group: Success story“. In a review of the induction week at Birmingham City University (BCU) Ruth states that:

One of the great things has definitely been the take up and use of the Facebook group for the Freshers. At the beginning of the week we had 62 students joined up, and at the last look, 84 students out of an intake of around 120. But the numbers aren’t everything – it’s how the students evaluated it.

She goes on to add that the students:

loved the fact they could make friends with their fellow students before they even got here. That made a huge difference on the first day when it was so much easier to strike up conversations. But they also really appreciated the fact that they could ask questions and get the clarification they needed before arriving. Some of this came from me, but some of it also came from the students too, especially our student mentors who played a brilliant part in offering advice and encouragement from a student perspective.

Ruth concluded by saying:

The strength of using Facebook is that many of the students are already using it. I wasn’t asking them to take on yet another new form information, but tapping into a forum they are already familiar with. And, as a social networking site, that is what it is best at: encouraging friendships and connections that build the social cohesion so important for good progression and retention.

Now many IT developers and policy makers don’t like Facebook. I’ve heard comments along the lines of it’s a fad; it’s a walled garden; it’s commercial; it’s partly owned by Microsoft; the terms and conditions are unacceptable; …

These comments do have an element of truth to them. But if the users are willing to use the service, then maybe, as Mike suggests, these issues about the ‘behind the scenes’ factors simply aren’t as important as they are made out to be.

On the other hand, as Stuart Smith has commented, perhaps “variety is good” and although from “a user perspective the system doesn’t matter … from an educational grand plan perspective then lack of choice in education is limiting“. Stuart then goes on to argue that “We need to be careful that we don’t become populist for the sake of it, simply adopting systems because they are in mass use. Ideally we should consider why they are popular and then ask if they have educational value.

Facebook vs Twitter usage statisticsNow Stuart is right to acknowledge that popularity can be a factor. Back in April 2008 in a post entitled Facebook Or Twitter – Or Facebook And Twitter I responded to those who were arguing that Facebook’s popularity was on the wane by showing a graph comparing Facebook usage with that of Twitter which demonstrated that that Facebook usage wasn’t in decline. And the latest figures demonstrate that Facebook’s popularity is continuing to grow at a much greater rate than Twitter’s as illustrated (with a graph available on

But in avoiding being ‘populist for the sake of it, simply adopting systems because they are in mass use‘ don’t we face the danger of being elitist, and prioritising our view and our prejudices over the preferences of the users? And let’s remember that organisations can change – indeed as Andy Powell has just commented in a post on Thoughts on FOWA:

And finally… to that Mark Zuckerberg interview at the end of day 2.  I really enjoyed it actually.  Despite being well rehearsed and choreographed I thought he came across very well.  He certainly made all the right kinds of noises about making Facebook more open though whether it is believable or not remains to be seen!“.

What’s your take on this debate?