Facebook as a social research tool

Let me preface this posting by saying that as yet I’ve not conducted a rigorous literature review on the topic of using Facebook as a social research tool. I’m interested in this aspect of Facebook because I am using it as a tool for my social research on the named flats of Dunedin, and I think I’m going to have to devote a chapter to talking about it. Without Facebook the book wouldn’t be happening, so it’s only fair 😀

Also, I think it’ll be interesting to explore this some more.

It just so happened that Facebook fulfilled a need I had at the time (Nov 2007) – to share a bunch of photos and see if I could make some connections with the Scarfies who’d lived in those flats. It’s working. To date there are 1233 members who are tagging photos and making comments. So, Facebook is largely fulfilling that initial need of mine beautifully.

I’m finding however that there are things I’d like to do, or would be interested to discover, that Facebook currently doesn’t seem to allow, and that is due more to my needs as a researcher rather than a failing on Facebook’s part. It is, after all, inherently, a social networking forum, a place to meet and chat and share, not so much a place to easily gather, organise and distribute data.

It would be handy though.

For instance, I’d like to be able to download all wall posts to excel, I’d like to be able to download all the comments and tags against each photo in my collection. I’d like to be able to track the rate of membership against date in order to ascertain what, if any, external or internal factors may have influenced sudden leaps in numbers, for example, the freedom of the post exam period at the end of term or articles published in the media or a group of friends all joining at the same time.

Groups, it seems are being replaced by fan pages – here’s an issue. It may have a few extra features but I have a heap of data in my group and I’m not going to try and manage two sites. That’ll be a headache.

Here are some other sources I’ve found which touch on using FB for social research. Like I said, I’ve not yet thoroughly scoured for sources, I will. I’m interested to hear from anyone in the know on the subject.

Facebook research / orgtheroy.net
Poke 1.0 – a Facebook social research symposium
Supporting collaboration in the Era of Internet-scale Data / Cameron Marlow

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