With today’s technology, there is a vast array of Web 2.0 tools available to web users – many of these tools are free of cost. These tools allow the user to easily search, retrieve, filter, and customize information sources according to the user’s information needs. Other important benefits include social networking and improved methods of collaboration.
The average web user no longer needs HTML development skills in order to publish information on the web, and web content is no longer controlled and filtered by the technical elite. Web 2.0 technology is “democratizing the process of Web content creation (Farkas, 2007).”
This trend, in which more of the mainstream population is contributing and interacting with the Web, is referred to as Web 2.0. Wikipedia states that “Web 2.0 refers to a perceived second generation of web-based communities and hosted services — such as social-networking sites, wikis, and folksonomies — which aim to facilitate creativity, collaboration, and sharing between users.”
Web 2.0 and Resultant Models
Web 2.0 tools have enabled users to fulfill their information needs without having to physically visit the library, or attend a classroom. The awareness of Web 2.0 among librarians, educators, and other information professionals has prompted changes in which new technologies are being incorporated into library and educational services. “Technological advances in the past several years have enabled libraries to create new services that before were not possible, such as virtual reference, personalized OPAC interfaces, or downloadable media that library customers can use in the comfort of their own homes (Casey, Savastinuk, 2006).”
As a result of this trend, other models have arisen, such as Library 2.0, Student 2.0, School 2.0 and Learning 2.0. “Be where the users are…” is the new mantra that has initiated advancements in the Library and Education worlds.
Social Networking Websites
The use of RSS, blogs, wikis, vidcasting, podcasting and even gaming have been introduced into the library and academic environments with positive benefits such as improved access to up-to-date information, facilitated collaboration, and improved interactivity with users, including the younger population. Appealing to the newer generations is an important focus of information service providers, as these users will be the customers of tomorrow.
One of the more controversial areas of Web 2.0 involves the use of social networking websites such as MySpace, and Facebook. The major concerns include invasion of privacy, and child safety, especially in regard to the younger users of MySpace. Despite these concerns, the mass usage and popularity of these sites cannot be ignored. “Whether we like it or not, our patrons between the ages of 16 and 25 overwhelmingly use MySpace and Facebook, and are not going to stop using them no matter what policies we put in place (Farkas, 2006).”
According to Alexa traffic statistics, MySpace is listed as number 3 and Facebook number 5 of the top websites in the United States (Alexa, 2007).
Student 2.0 is one of the models that has arisen from the use of Web 2.0 tools. These tools have changed how students find, gather and collect information, as well as how education is delivered. The article entitled “Web 2.0 Backpack: Web Apps for Students” discusses how learning has changed with the use of Web 2.0 tools (Catone, 2007). Google Docs, Zoho, Wikipedia, Delicious, Facebook and Zotero are listed as some example Student 2.0 tools.
A video produced by the Kansas State University Digital Ethnography Working group, entitled “A Vision of Students Today” displays a thought-provoking series of statistics that indicate how the nature of learning has changed as a result of Web 2.0 technologies. Some statistics included in the video claims that the average college student “read 8 books this year, 2300 web pages, and 1281 facebook profiles (Kansas State University DEW Group, 2007).”
Since its release in 2004, Facebook has grown to 57 million active users, as of December 2007 (Wikipedia, 2007). Facebook’s initial release was restricted to college students, so a major part of the current Facebook population are college-aged. “…Facebook is much more populated with college students than any other constituency and has far more college-age students than MySpace (Mack, Behler, Roberts, Rimland, 2007).”
A very appealing feature of Facebook is the directory of user-developed applications that can be added to a profile. Some of the most popular Facebook applications allow simple interactions between users, such as TopFriends, which had 2.8 million active users by October 2007, FunWall 1.9 million, and Super Wall 1.1 million (Schonfeld, 2007).
Some applications are used for entertainment, while other apps are used for educational purposes. Some applications that I categorize as Student 2.0 apps, include Book Shelf, Librarian, Projects, Easy Bibliography Generator, and UC Berkeley YouTube Video Lectures. These apps are helpful in student research, and other educational applications.
Many libraries have profiles and pages established on Facebook in order to better connect with their younger patrons. Performing a search on “Library”, and choosing the “Pages” tab will produce a long list of libraries, including Hennepin County Library. Farkas points out how some libraries have made effective use of MySpace and Facebook by gathering feedback from students, or setting up a profile as a portal to library resources (Farkas, 2006).
Facebook Application Development
In my first experience developing a Facebook application, I developed “SLIS Student.” This application resembles more of a mini website or portal. It includes an RSS feed to the Libr246 Cool Tools collection of podcasts and vidcasts, a book search and a catalog search.
This screen displays the first step in adding the SLIS Student application, including the About page.
I felt that I was partially successful in my development attempt, since I was able to complete the application process, and ended up with 20 users, according to Facebook statistics.
However, my application does not currently allow interaction between users, other than the Invite Friends feature. Another missing feature is a way for users to customize the application. The following sections describe my experience developing SLIS Student.
Configuring the Facebook Development Environment
Facebook developers have a choice of using PHP or Java. My only PHP experience was from one Libr 240 assignment that I completed a couple of years ago. Despite my limited experience, I decided to use PHP over Java, since I’ve heard that PHP development is much faster.
The Facebook wiki provides a “Getting Started Guide”. This will take you through the steps of adding a new application so that you can start developing and testing. In order to start developing and testing, it’s not necessary to have users added to your application.
There are many web pages that provide step-by-step instructions on how to complete the Application Settings form, but the page that worked best for me is written by Joey deVilla, entitled “Getting Started with Facebook Application Development (DeVilla, 2007).”
After completing the application settings, you will be assigned an API Key and a Secret which you will need to add to your code parameters, in a file called appinclude.php.
Figure – Each application has its own unique API Key and Secret. I set up a second application called “LIS Student” that I used to do further experimenting.
Configuring Web Server, and/or Web Hosting Service
The code for Facebook user-developed applications is not hosted by Facebook. You have a choice of either setting up your own web server, or renting space from a web hosting service. I was already renting space from Hostmonster.com, which is bundled with PHP web service, so that was my most convenient choice.
Once you have access to a PHP web server, you will need to download the Facebook API. The Facebook wiki has a link to download the Client Library.
While testing my first Facebook pages, I was receiving cryptic error messages – mainly complaining about incorrect syntax. After reading various blog posts, I found that I needed to upgrade my web service from PHP4 to PHP5. I was able to request this upgrade from Hostmonster support.
After the upgrade to PHP5, my syntax problems were solved, and I was able to display some simple code examples. However, a newer problem arose. I realized that I didn’t have an application design. What is my application supposed to do? Who are my users, and what are their needs?
In order to generate some ideas, I researched Student 2.0 tools, and tested some of the applications that were already available on Facebook – to provide a benchmark. My goal was to make an application that could be of use to students.
I noticed that the Facebook apps were more like widgets. They often perform a single function, such as the Twitter app which allows users to update their Facebook status using Twitter.
The Library app was of special interest to me. That seemed closer to what I envisioned for my own app. It contains a list of resources that a student might use for research, including a way to contact your local librarian. SLIS Student resembles the Librarian application in that it acts as a portal to other resources.
Notes about Facebook Coding
The features that I added to SLIS Student were limited to my technical abilities. It was helpful to find code examples on the Internet, such as the Magpie RSS API, and the Invite Friends code.
I created an RSS feed for the Cool Tools Library 2.0 blog by using the Magpie RSS API. The RSS feeder works well, although experiences time out issues once in awhile. It is the Facebook default to time out if the page takes longer than 10-12 seconds to load.
An important part of any Facebook app is to include a way for the user to invite friends to that particular application. The Facebook wiki has PHP code for the Invite Friends page.
FBML and FBJS
Facebook has its own markup language called FBML. This is an extension of standard HTML, and is easy to learn. Using FBML makes it quick and easy to add page elements, such as tabs, to your facebook application which conform to the standard look and feel:
The following screens show a brief overview of the SLIS Student application that I developed and submitted to the Facebook directory.
Figure – Home page of SLIS Student application. I intended to make this page for users to customize and share content by uploading documents, or adding notes.
Figure – Resources page of SLIS Student. This page displays an RSS Feed of my Google Books collection.
Figure – Embedded Google Search
Figure – Search results are displayed in an iframe which ended up not being too user-friendly since the screen is cut off. On the other hand, I had intended to keep the user within the application window.
Figure – The catalog search is the San Jose Library Catalog Search form.
Figure – The search results are truncated here – so again, not too friendly.
When you are ready to add users to the application, your friends can access the application using the canvas URL, e.g. http://apps.facebook.com/studentlib.
If the application has been set up properly, users will be able to add it to their accounts. The canvas URL is a unique URL that is determined at the time that you add the application – in the application settings. If the user goes to the Canvas URL of your application, and has not yet added it, he/she will see an option to add the application (see screen below).
Figure – Adding a Facebook Application to your account
Submitting the Application to the Facebook Directory
Adding your application to the Facebook directory is a separate step. The application will not be added to the Facebook directory until it is submitted for approval. One of the pre-requisites is that at least 5 users have been added to the application.
Figure – Before submitting your app to the Application Directory, you will need at least 5 users, and your application should be using the Facebook platform.
After I had submitted SLIS Student to the Application Directory, it was approved after only a couple of days. I was surprised how fast the turnaround was. Shortly after the application was approved, I noticed that I gained more users. That made me anxious since I felt that my application was still under construction.
I would recommend to other developers that the application be more fully developed before submitting it to the directory. After the application is approved, users will immediately start adding it to their accounts. I mainly wanted to add my application as an experiment to see how the entire process worked, and to document the process.
Figure – As of 12/8/07, SLIS Student had 20 users
The Developer application provides a page where you can view usage statistics for your application. Tracking usage statistics is one way to help determine the success of your application.
For each application, there are sections for a Discussion Board and Reviews. The users can leave comments, or report any bugs they’ve encountered. This might also be a good place to survey your users, and solicit their feedback – although, I might start gathering feedback from friends first.
Figure – Usages Statistics for your Facebook apps are provided by the Developer application
Web 2.0 tools have changed the way that students fulfill their information needs. There is an increased need for interactivity, customization and convenience for information seekers of today’s generation.
Facebook is an example of a Web 2.0 tool that has gained mass popularity among the college-aged population. Although there is controversy in the use of social networking websites, information professionals are establishing a growing presence on Facebook, and are successfully reaching out to their users.
Establishing a presence on a site such as Facebook is only the first step in reaching out to users. As Farkas discusses, there is a difference between being where our patrons are” and “being USEFUL to our patrons where they are (Farkas, 2006).”
One way of becoming useful to patrons would be to develop custom Facebook applications that tie into library and information services, such as creating citations, bibliographies, electronic catalog cards or catalog searches. Facebook applications can also be converted into an IGoogle Gadget, Second Life object, PageFlake, or integrated into a library website.
As I mentioned earlier, I only felt partially successful in my attempt to develop SLIS Student, since I was not able to implement a way for the user to customize or share resources with other users. I was successful in completing the process of building, testing and submitting the application to the directory. Other Facebook users were able to add and test my application as well.
I feel that developing applications that help students conduct their research, or facilitate the learning process would be useful to the Facebook population. This is an exciting and promising feature of Facebook, and I hope to continue development of Facebook applications in the future.
Alexa, the Web Information Company (2007). Top Sites United States. Retrieved December 9, 2007, from http://www.alexa.com/site/ds/top_sites?cc=US&ts_mode=country〈=none
Casey, M, & Savastinuk, L (2006). Library 2.0: Service for the next-generation library. Library Journal.com, Retrieved December 3, 2007, from http://www.libraryjournal.com/article/CA6365200.html
Catone, J. (2007). Web 2.0 Backpack: Web Apps for Students. Retrieved December 4, 2007, from Read/WriteWeb Web site: http://www.readwriteweb.com/archives/web_20_backpack_web_apps_for_students.php
DeVilla, J. (2007). Getting Started with Facebook Application Development. Retrieved December 1, 2007, from The Tucows Developer Weblog Web site: http://services.tucows.com/developers/2007/07/25/getting-started-with-facebook-application-development/
Facebook (2007). Getting Started is Easy: Add Facebook Developer Application. Retrieved from Facebook Wiki Web site: http://developers.facebook.com/get_started.php
Falko (2007). How To Set Up A Facebook RSS Feed Reader Application For Your Blog – Page 3. Retrieved December 1, 2007, from How To Forge Web site: http://www.howtoforge.com/rss_facebook_app_php_p3
Farkas, M. (2006, May 10). Libraries in Social Networking Software. Retrieved December 1, 2007, from Information Wants to be Free Web site: http://meredith.wolfwater.com/wordpress/index.php/2006/05/10/libraries-in-social-networking-software/
Farkas, M. (2007). Social Software in Libraries. Medford, New Jersey: Information Today, Inc.
Kansas State University Digital Ethnography Working Group (2007). A Vision of Students Today. Retrieved December 1, 2007, from Digital Ethnography @ Kansas State University Web site: http://mediatedcultures.net/ksudigg/index.php?paged=2.
Mack, D, Behler, A, Roberts, B, & Rimland, E (2007). Reaching Students with Facebook: Data and Best Practices. Electronic Journal of Academic and Special Librarianship, 8, Retrieved Dec 1, 2007, from http://southernlibrarianship.icaap.org/content/v08n02/mack_d01.html.
Schonfeld, E (2007). Facebook Apps Ruled By the Few. Retrieved from TechCrunch Web site: http://www.techcrunch.com/2007/10/08/facebook-apps-ruled-by-the-few/