Facebook and Knowledge Management

Until the advent of Facebook, no inventor of an Internet-based technology has ever been heralded on TIME Magazine as “person of the year” (Grossman 2010) until Mark Zuckerberg came up with an invention that “ate the world” (Grossman 2009). The importance of Facebook as a technological platform has been unparalleled precisely because it has transcended from being a mere digital platform to become a part of the social reality of people around the globe (Naughton 2010). In the “Facebook Age,” knowledge creation has become ubiquitous. People transmit and consume knowledge every second as they share information, thoughts, opinions, and multimedia (Richardson 2010). This innovation started out as a college tradition before becoming a social networking site (Grossman 2007). Facebook’s launch occurred in 2004 in a Harvard dorm room and started out as a networking for undergraduate students (Fuglsang 2008, p. 13). Students get introduced to one another using photographs into a physical “facebook” patterned after Hot or Not where students got to vote who looked “hotter” in compared photos (Schwartz 2003). From its origin as a networking tool, Zuckerberg developed it into a web-based service where members can post their profiles containing information such as birth dates, employment, interests, favourite books, favourite music, and others (Schonfeld, 2008). Moreover, the service enabled people to privately communicate with each other through “messages” or by posting a message on someone’s “wall” (Richardson 2010). During his interviews, Zuckerberg underscores the motivation behind Facebook: enhancing real connections (Grossman 2010). His theory revolves around the fact that “people communicate most naturally and effectively” with those they know – friends, family, and associates. All Facebook did was “to provide information to a set of applications through which “people want to share information, photos or videos or events” (Calrson 2010). Today, Facebook is a way of life for millions of people, which as of January 2011 total 600 million users (Carlson 2011). Due to its phenomenal rise and usage, Facebook has become a significant product that has several implications for the practice of knowledge management.

How Facebook has revolutionised collaboration for knowledge management

One area where technology has become a crucial tool for knowledge management has been in collaboration. Among the fundamental goals of knowledge management is to “improve organizational performance by enabling individuals to capture, share, and apply their collective knowledge to make optimal decisions…in real time” (Smith and Farquhar 2000, p. 17). Knowledge management goes beyond technology facilitating information sharing and collaboration; it creates and sustains communities of practice, copes with culture and behavior of people, and creates trust and validated content (Payne 2007).The use of technology for collaboration has vastly changed from what it meant 10 years ago. The evolution could be divided into stages:

Disks and file transfers via email. Before, collaboration referred to the process of transferring files one-by-one via email or passing around floppy disks. This proved time-consuming for people and difficult to retrieve information; labelling was either incomplete, out-of-date, or the contextual information was vague. The effect was that people took too much time browsing in order to retrieve data (Adler and Kwon 2002).

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Network drives. After file transfers came the more advanced collaboration tool by using “network drives” so that all folders can now be accessed by all through a local network. Yet, this system of collaboration posed problems: it was limited by memory and attention spans and personal connections. People still relied on others to determine where data can be retrieved. A linear relationship existed between the time required to manage data and the size or number of data being managed. Hence, managing data was still time-consuming and people found minimal incentives in dealing with data or information management.

Web-based software solutions. The advent of the Internet made collaboration easier especially when Web-based collaboration software was developed by companies. A case in point is Microsoft SharePoint which offered features that allowed the smooth flow of information: alerts, document libraries, forms, surveys, discussion boards, personal profiles, categorizations, and functions such as pulling information from data sources on the Web (Payne 2007). Despite expanding access to resources and organizing data at the same time protecting information, what lacked was a critical element of the collaboration process: user participation.

Social networking. Encouraging people to become active participants in the knowledge management process is a challenge. With the popularity of social networking sites like Facebook, knowledge management has now considered the use of the social media approach to stimulate collaboration (Shih 2009). Facebook offers not merely a platform where people exchange information – it also enhances satisfaction and emotional gratification because the engagement becomes personal and hence, “more fun.” Effective collaboration requires two primary elements: adoption (number of teams having access to the system) and engagement (number of people regularly using the system) (Alavi and Leidner 2001). Social media such as Facebook has revolutionised the way knowledge management among organisations has been defined.

Current state of the art of Facebook: a review

From a simple networking technology, Facebook has progressed and evolved in terms of interface and interaction for users, ability for knowledge creation, as well as potential threats to knowledge creation (Gawer 2009).

Interface and interaction for users. Many interface changes have been made to address privacy issues and improve page management for Facebook users. Some of these changes were received positively and negatively. On the one hand, the new privacy features limited knowledge sharing and exchange while on the other hand, it also enhanced trust during the knowledge exchange. Some of the following listed here are the major interface changes in Facebook:

May 2006 – Networks are expanded to workplaces as well as colleges and high schools.

September 2006 – News Feed and Mini-Feed are added, aggregating profile changes of friends. New privacy settings are made available. Additionally, registration is expanded so anyone can join.

May 2007 – Facebook launches their “Applications” platform.

July 2007 – Facebook removes the profile field that allows users to list their courses.

March 2008 – New privacy controls are added (Lampe, Ellison and Steinfeld 2008).

October 2010 – Facebook changed user interface to accommodate its Groups feature. The “Edit Notifications button” was changed to “Edit Settings” and users have the option to opt out (Constine 2010)

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February 2011- Providing one-click link for various administrative tasks, removal of tabs for page improvement, a new masthead composing five images latest to be added (called “Photostrip”) (Ware 2011)

Ubiquity in knowledge creation. What makes Facebook lead its rivals such as MySpace is its friendliness to third-party application developers. Facebook developed an application programming interface (API) which developers can now use and take advantage of in the context of social networking at Facebook. Developers can now utilize user social graphs and from there design applications which would enhance user interaction in a myriad of ways. Aside from user interaction, businesses stand to gain from API because advertising and financial transaction functionalities can also be integrated. However, the key element to the ubiquitous knowledge creation in Facebook is the “news feed” which has already been patented to Zuckerberg. Developers could now tap into the social graph of users and create applications of all types that would allow people to interact in new and interesting ways. Once a user posts information, status, media, or installs an application, a message kicks off and appears in the news feeds of all the user’s friends (Treadaway and Smith 2009, p. 186). For November 2007, more than 7,000 applications were developed using the Facebook Platform or roughly 100 every day (Rampell 2007). There were over 400,000 registered application developers (Ustinova 2008). Moreover, Facebook simplifies gathering and connecting information between images, videos, and text. Its structure allows individuals (nodes) to be connected to information from non-connected individuals; for instance, a user can view messages through the news feed made by unconnected contacts to the user’s “friends.” Moreover, groups are able to create knowledge based on interest such as social or political groups or a group of experts exchanging knowledge. Another interesting feature that enhances knowledge creation is “Notes” which allows individuals to create content on topics or concepts (Kirkpatrick 2010). People may respond through the “comment” facility which refines and develops information further. Some of the numerous features which Facebook has that contribute to knowledge creation include: “liking”; comment; ratings; threaded conversations; feeds; automatic updates when specific things of interest happen; the ability to ask questions (survey); the ability to make requests; and the ability to pass word along about things that are happening (Hearn 2008, Gawer 2009).

Factors that help or hinder KM when using Facebook. While Facebook’s API platform has made knowledge creation and knowledge sharing easier, it has also raised questions of privacy. Some of the popular “apps” that Facebook has have become “spam” or in some cases, relayed identifying information without users’ consent (Acohido 2011). These are then transmitted to advertising companies and Internet tracking businesses (Steele and Fowler 2010). Privacy issues have affected nearly 10 million Facebook users; this issue is forecast by some tech experts to plague Facebook for years to come (Malbon 2011).

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The impact of Facebook of KMS

Knowledge work. Facebook has facilitated the process in which users share their knowledge with a group of other users or an organisation (Hearn 2008, p. 74). The sharing of knowledge can be within a closed or open community. In the knowledge sharing process, users possess the knowledge they contribute (Van Grogh 1998, p. 151). This means that the identity of the users is known and associated with the contributions. Ideally, users have full control over the content with respect to granting and withdrawing access rights for sharing, grouping, and annotating contributions (Alavi and Leidner 2001) but loopholes in Facebook has led to significant privacy control issues (Van Grove 2010).

Collaboration & communication. Mass collaboration using digital technologies like Facebook is transforming all aspects of the knowledge society even more rapidly than envisioned (Howlett 2010, p. 21). These users can give hints, make suggestions how to solve the problem, or give concrete solution directions (Choi and Lee 2003). Private communication between the users through the collaborative problem-solving platform is not possible, thus all feedback, hints, answers, and solutions provided are visible to all users of the community (Golder and Huberman 2006). There are however features which allow for private communication.

Management. Facebook has had several implications for management. First, there is the perceived loss of productivity because of excessive engagement with social networking sites. An article featured in The Economist stated that an IT company lost over 1.4 billion pounds (USD 2.3 billion) yearly due to overuse of social networks during working hours. The same article cited how banning Facebook from the workplace would improve productivity (‘Yammering away at the office’ 2011). However, Facebook has also revolutionised the recruitment process because it has made information transparent. In fact, almost half (47%) of executives in the U.S. reported that they browsed through the Facebook pages of potential candidates and from that information, made decisions pertaining recruitment (‘Anonymous no more’ 2010).

Trust issues. Perhaps the biggest issue with Facebook in relation to knowledge management is trust (Schwartz 2011a). Privacy experts have repeatedly indicated that Facebook sent user information to its advertising through cookies (Van Grove 2010). Essentially, Facebook is said to have ‘deanonymised’ the whole social networking process and only when the issue gained significant media mileage did Facebook act (Malbon 2010).

The future of Facebook

The future of Facebook with respect to KMS seems bright but if it is unable to resolve privacy issues, it may find itself out of the lead (Schwartz 2011b). Facebook may lead to fast and easy knowledge creation but the high participation of end users presents problems such as privacy issues and low productivity. The Facebook Platform allows the integration of different kinds of knowledge particularly the integration of applications and the constant creation of content (Gawer 2009, p. 134; Kirkpatrick 2010). Facebook, when properly managed, can provide knowledge management support for professional organisations as well as of non-professional organisations.

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