My resolution last week not to be prejudiced against particular Things on the 23 Things Cambridge programme was rather severely dented this week with Facebook. I was already concerned about its treatment of privacy, and in a move of excessive caution signed myself up under an assumed name. It was only once Id done this that I realised that rather negated the point of me being on Facebook (and also that there were already several hundred people on there with my real name). When I read the instructions for changing my name there, however, I decided it just wasnt worth it. I also got frustrated by not being able to join the 23 Things Cambridge group, until I realised that I hadnt followed the instructions on the 23 Things blog properly (telling me that I needed to set myself up as being on the Cambridge network).
In contrast to Facebook, which was designed by students for students, LinkedIn, the other Thing we were asked to look at this week, seemed much more professionally orientated. I also liked the sound of Academia.edu (which Chris Williams mentioned in comments recently), and which is described as Facebook for academics. I was just about to write a post saying roughly Facebook bad, others better, when it dawned on me…
It doesnt matter fundamentally whether Facebook is or is not a better designed system than the others. For a social networking site, what really matters is whos on there. I could find some names I recognised on all three systems, but I wanted a bit more of a test. So I took five people and decided to see which of the networks they were on. The five are:
Why these five? I promise Im not stalking them. I wanted people who were reasonably web-savvy and so likely to be early adopters of networks. I chose men because, broadly speaking, they tend to have fewer worries about putting information on public web sites than women do. I chose people whose names werent so common that theyd be impossible to distinguish. And I also chose people with whom I already had some tenuous connection: Ive met them, or heard them speak at conferences or read their work, or discussed things with them on blogs. Theyre the kind of people who as an academic or an academic librarian I might want to get into contact with, or find out what they’re doing currently.
So what were the results?
Phil Bradley is on Linked In and Academia.edu, but there were too many people of the same name on Facebook to be able to identify whether one was him.
Tony Hirst is on Linked In and Facebook, but not Academia.edu.
Rufus Pollock isnt on any of the services.
Levi Roach is on Academia.edu, but not Linked In. Again, I couldnt be sure which, if any, of the Levi Roaches on Facebook was him.
Cosma Shalizi is on Linked In and Facebook, but not Academia.edu.
In this very brief test, Linked In just won out on the definite finds (3/5), but none of the sites really predominated, and none convinced me that I had to be on them. For personal use, I think academia.edu is potentially most appealing, but for libraries, the choice may be more difficult. Facebook is still the obvious place to put an academic library page, because it has the greatest reach among students, but its not clear in which networks, if any, most researchers are going to be found. Given how much it involves maintaining a presence on one of these sites, I think libraries are going to have to think quite hard about which services to sign up to.