Facebook Groups for Schools

Facebook Goes Back to its Roots… Trouble Ahead?

Editor’s Note: This post has first been published on edcetera – straight talk on edtech.

Facebook’s recent trip down memory lane with the (re)launch of closed groups for schools, colleges and universities is a pretty telling one.

When I first heard about it, I asked myself, “Why should a successful company that decided to kill the closed campus-based networking model in favor of an open social network for everyone on this planet who is older than 13 go back to its startup roots close to the IPO?” Apparently, Mark Zuckerberg and the team at Facebook see enough value in this market to dust off the initial idea and bring it back to life. Hence there seems to be a business opportunity.

Facebook is also trying to get rid of its notoriously bad image when it comes to privacy and security. This feeling (and often proven fact) amongst educators and faculty was the basis for specialized closed and secure social networks like Edmodo, who not only attracted significant funding and high-profile advisors but have also seemed to gain traction in the education market rather quickly.

Nevertheless, there are a ton of questions left unanswered, and I am pretty sure that along with the adoption of this new feature by students and teachers, there will be problems for Facebook down the road.

File Sharing

Teachers and students can upload and share 25MB of data in the .edu groups. And that is not a typo. In the age of Dropbox (which gives you 3GB for free) and rumors that Google will launch its competitor with 5GB of free cloud storage in a couple of weeks, Facebook gives away 25MB. It can’t be an infrastructure problem, as Facebook is hosting all these photos on its servers, so giving away 250MB, 500MB or more would not be a problem.

I think this is a safety measurement to keep students from sharing other files like .mp3s or movies illegally on the platform. 25MB is totally fine for a document or screenshot, but it makes it impossible to share larger files. That does not mean that Facebook won’t upgrade this feature later on or even roll it out to its entire userbase outside of the .edu groups. Maybe those groups are doubling as beta testers for a new Facebook cloud service? That would make total sense to me.

Copyright Infringement

As Charlie Osborne points out in her blog iGeneration, you give Facebook a non-exclusive, royalty-free right to use the content you upload in any way they want. If you upload a copy of a text you don’t own the copyright for, you are already getting in trouble. And we already saw first backlashes with note functions in digital textbook apps, for example the lawsuit of Kno against Cengage. Which brings us to the whole problem of note sharing itself: is it legal or not? Do faculties allow it or not? You get the idea.

The .edu Email

As a final thought: what happens with your data when you lose your .edu email? Or vice versa, as Audrey Watters pointed out in her collected list of potential issues. What happens if a graduate keeps his .edu address and still has access to the closed group? What if he works for a recruiter and can now “snoop” for information of potential candidates in the group?

All in all, this is a very complex field that Facebook is getting (back) into. But as I said above, Zuckerberg and team would not do this if they were not sure that there is money to be made. It could also be part of the strategy to keep people as long as possible on the site – after I finished my work in the study group I can still play some Farmville.

Kirsten Winkler is the founder and editor of EDUKWEST. She also writes about Social Media, Digital Society and Startups at KirstenWinkler.com.