This new development has left some in Higher-Ed who were early to embrace Facebook in a bit of a quandary. Some may have already set up Facebook Groups, to have a presence on the service and allow thousands of undergraduates to show their affiliation or appreciation for a particular club, sport, facility or service. For example, would an undergraduate library make a Facebook Page to have an official online presence, or would it continue with the Group it set up a year ago? How about the Alumni Association, or for that matter the university as a whole?
An interesting technical feature is the tie-in with the Facebook event stream. So for example if a prospective student becomes a "fan" of a particular university's Page, his or her friends will see that show up in their newsfeed. Or on a more micro level, a grad student confirming attendance at a department conference might broadcast that event to his or her friends via the same system. Facebook is promoting this as "viral spread" of marketing messages for corporate customers, but it's not completely irrelevant for building on-line community in the academic world.
What, then, are the major differences between Groups and Pages?
|Active Outreach||Post to Profile
||Post to Profile
Send Update to Fans
|Event Invitations||Invite Members||Invite Fans|
|Control of Associations||Partial||Yes|
For example, adding in one of the many RSS Reader Applications enables you to leverage the content updates you are probsuitableably already doing on your &privileged;main" online presence. Why bother cutting and pasting when RSS can do the work of syndicating the content on your Facebook Page? Here's an RSS Application installed on a Facebook Page that supplies an active, constantly-updated list of grants and fellowships from a MySQL database with a MovableType front end installed on depts.washington.edu. If a grant's deadline or description changes, the data is brought automatically up-to-date through the same workflow processes already in place for the website.
Facebook Groups cannot contain Applications, meaning you're forced to copy-and-paste content rather than use RSS. In addition, you miss out on all the other functionality of Apps -- such as Zombies.
Neither variable is under the control of the group owner. In the latter case, there is no guarantee that your members haven't configured their News Feed to the following setting:
This may result in your members being uninformed about what's going on in your group. Worth noting here is that the precise interplay between these sliders and the kind of information displayed is not well-documented. In addition, the sliders represent a relative proportion between competing kinds of information streams. If a user has no other activity to report at all, it's possible Group updates will appear in the absence of anything else suitible. Regardless, what's clear is that even in a best-case scenario, Groups must compete against a number of other information streams.
Facebook Pages, on the other hand, support a new kind of notification within the informational ecosystem: Updates. These updates stand alone and are much less likely to get lost in the stream of friend updates and other kinds of notifications.
These appear in a special subsection of your users' inboxes, helping segregate it out from the rest of the messages that users may be receiving on Facebook
As Fan Pages are newer and not as widely-known as other, earlier features such as Profile Pages and Events, it's safe to say that Page Updates have a priveledged position in the otherwise-overwhelming flow of updates and notifications in Facebook. An actual Update looks like this:
Interestingly enough the Fan Updates contain tools that empower recipients to either "opt out" of further updates from your Page, or even "report spam." Users can also specify which of the Pages of which they are Fans can notify them -- in essence, an opt-out feature.
Other uses for social advertising might include drumming up enrollment in small, specialized classes -- departments are already spending money on this problem when they print up posters advertising courses and hang them in hallways.
Common to both Pages and Groups is the "address book" interface, which allows you to select all or some of the related members or fans to invite.
Setting up a Facebook Page, as opposed to a Group, gives you a powerful took in the Update feature to draw attention to content. There is a somewhat fuzzy relationship between the Page-specific Update feature, which is capable of sending a picture, video, event or other item to the fanbase, and these data types' built-in Share feature. One difference is that Events which are pushed in a Fan Update lack the contextual RSVP buttons which a true Event Share features. Here is a Page-bound event which was pushed through the Update system:
Users must click through to the event itself, and the special icon for the event is not shown. In addition, the time shown in the metadata represents when the invitation was sent -- which is usually irrelevant -- rather than the time of the event itself, which is highly relevant to any RSVP decision.
In contrast, here is an event invitation which arrived in the normal fashion, through the baseline Events application.
In addition to a special icon, it features a special AJAX in-line RSVP function:
Note that no data is delivered until there are 10 fans signed up, and extensive drill-down on fans is not available until the fanbase hits an (unspecified) number after that. For low-traffic Pages, this renders some of the datamining potential moot.
Some of these ("Librarians and Facebook," "Library 2.0") are highly-relevant, but the others are more problematic. What happens to the official UW Library presence on Facebook if 'joke' groups start showing up on? These could potentially include groups such as "I write in library books" or "I've had my bag stolen in Odegaard." There is presently no way for Group owners to rearrange, minimize or turn off this associative-logic feature. Update: thanks to Melissa's comment below, I've realized Group owners can actually turn off the "Related Groups" box. If you want total control over your Facebook presence, Pages are better than Groups.