What does the Facebook API extravaganza tell us?

I know everyone has blogged about the recent openning up of Facebook to allow lots of new applications, but hey, it’s half term and I’ve only just got around to looking at it. Tony Hirst makes the point that it’s beginning to look like a learning environment. I’ve had a play with it, looked at the widgets, updated some stuff and here are some random thoughts on what it signifies:

  • Technology acts as a pull factor – I’ve gone back to Facebook because I wanted to see what new widgets they had (I added in the LastFM one). This demonstrates something I was talking about with the openlearn guys last week, that is by doing fun stuff with technology you drive traffic to your site from the users of that technology who are keen to see how it is being used. In educational terms this means doing fun stuff with educational content so that people want to see what you’ve done with Google maps, or twitter say.
  • The social network is the starting point – rather than content being the main focus and creating a network around this, Facebook demonstrates that the network is the key asset, and then you add value to this.
  • Adding features generates interest – I keep finding things in Facebook that I need to do. I’m not an avid user, so for instance I’ve only just joined a network (the Open University) and a group (Educational Technologists). But having these tasks makes me want to come back and see what else I can do. The educational point is that often we resist adding more features or tasks for fear it will confuse students. I’ve written about this in the VLE book – that a lot of the web 2.0 approach (of which rapid development is one) is at odds with higher education approaches (such as testing and scoping  features rigorously). What the pull in to Facebook illustrates is that more features creates a more vibrant environment. Not rocket science I admit, but still not something we necessarily apply to VLEs.
  • Openness is the key to development – if we didn’t know it before, then the Facebook example provides further evidence that open APIs and mixing of 3rd party software is the way to create a dynamic, vibrant site. The educational point is that most VLEs and many universities still want to create their own versions of tools.

I mentioned some work we were doing on a new social network based model of learning, which looks to be moving forward. It strikes me that ‘Facebook + some educational widgets + open content’ wouldn’t be a bad starting point.

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