Facebook integration ideas

So I got around to reading an article that had been on my list, Researcher Profiles and Portfolios
:Use Cases of the Facebook Service and the University of Queensland Researchers Service, by Belinda Weaver, in D-Lib.

The University of Queensland (UQ) maintains an online research profiling system, UQ Researchers, to showcase the expertise of its academic staff and postgraduate students….  The take up of the UQ Researchers service, however, is patchy.  On the other hand, some staff and students were more than willing to spend time showcasing themselves and their work via social networking sites like MySpace2 and Facebook.

When I read this, a light-bulb went off in my head. Are you thinking what I’m thinking, Pinky?  Embed UQ Researchers services in Facebook using the Facebook platform, allowing users to enter information from Facebook into UQ Researchers, and automatically display their profile information in Facebook!

Alas, that’s not what the author was thinking, Brain.

Accordingly, it was decided to compare the functionality of a social networking service with that of UQ Researchers to identify any gaps in the UQ research profiling service and to arrive at some recommendations for improving it.

To be fair, knowing publication timelines, the research study reported was most likely conceived and implemented before the Facebook platform for embedding was available. But still, what’s discussed in the article is unlikely to be answer.

[Lack of uptake in UQ Researchers] been attributed to a number of causes, such as lack of time, lack of currency of the information provided, and reluctance on the part of staff to do direct data entry into the system.

Okay, yeah, probably, but you know what I suspect the real reason is users are unwilling to spend time entering a profile in UQ Researchers is, even though they’re willing to spend time, even sometimes “direct data entry” in Facebook? Because Facebook is where the people are. You’re not willing to spend time doing data entry in a system if you’re not sure your colleagues and other people you want to see your info and increase prestige among are ever going to see it. [Sadly, the interviews in this study don’t seem to have included a question that would verify this guess of mine, but I’d bet some money on it.]

Embedding a system like UQ Researchers in Facebook seems like the best of both worlds. Allow people to enter info in Facebook when they’re really entering info in UQ Researchers, but don’t even need to know it. Allow people to display their UQ Researchers profile information on their Facebook page too (whether it was entered through the facebook widget or directly in the UQ Researchers interface), putting it where they want to put it to show their colleagues.  Youv’e got the best of both worlds now, you’ve got the info captured in your system where you can do fancier things to it, you’ve got the info displayed where your users actually want it. Plus, in the embedded Facebook widget for UQ Researchers (both entering info and displaying it), youc an have links to more powerful features available only in UQ Researchers, further advertising your system. (Not assuming you’d intentionally hold back powerful features, but that some features will be infeasible to deliver in the Facebook platform).

So, sure, you can look at what users like about Facebook and try to duplicate them in UQ Researchers, both in terms of ease of use and functionality, there are undoubtedly things to learn there. But I think you’d have a bigger impact on uptake by embedding in Facebook platform. MySpace shows that users are willing to jump through all sorts of ease-of-use hoops to put info where the people they want to see are going to see it.  And the easiest to use interface is still too much time for a busy person to spend entering info on it if they’ve got no personal motivation to do so. Even if you hold out the hope of somehow building enough critical mass in UQ Researchers that an audience comes to see it motivating your users to enter their info–the best way, the best bang-for-your-buck, to get there is still by embedding your app in Facebook (etc), not by adding features trying to copy Facebook.

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