Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Facebook Gets Interest[ing]

In March, Facebook debuted a little item called "Interests".  They have had interests, but those have been listed in your profile.  These are INTERESTS which show up on your home page in the bottom left hand corner.  The symbol looks like an RSS feed.

What are "Interests"? It seems Interests are a way for you to create custom lists of pages/people that you can add a category too.  Much like Twitter lists, or tags, or other ways to curate and categorize information.  FB Interests let you create feeds from pages and people.  Once you select the people or pages you want in that list, it becomes a feed of just those pages.  The key difference between Interests and Favorites (in which you can create custom news feeds by grouping people) is that you can add pages and people to an Interest list AND they can even be pages you have never officially "liked".  Thus, you don't have to actually make a connection to those pages, but you can add that to an interest list.

For instance, if have an interest in Gardening, you can create a Interest list that has people who you follow who have something you like related to gardening, and you can add  pages to that same list.  It's a mix and match of people and pages.  You can set the privacy settings to share or not share that list.  If it's a public list, others will be able to subscribe to it.  Once you create a list, other people can subscribe to that list and it will show up in their INTEREST area.

If you go to the Interest area and click on "more" you will already see some predefined lists that people have created.  If you have friends, it will show their created Interest lists first.  After that, you'll see a random (albeit I suspect it's related to your profile) list of Interest lists for topics people have already made.  You can subscribe to these, or go to the next step and create your own lists.You can continue to add to the items on the Interest list as you continue to find pages or people who fit that topic area. 

When you make a new list, that list name shows up in your news feed that your friends see.  Therefore, if they happen to see it they might subscribe to it.  They will also see when you update that list.  However, in your profile, there isn't a dominant box for you Interest lists and they get lost on profile pages.  I think this limits the ability for people to easily find and subscribe to your lists.  Twitter does a good job of making this more prominent. 

I suspect Facebook is just getting its feet wet with Interests, and as time goes by, they will do more with them.  The symbol for an Interest list is an RSS feed box, which makes me think that in the future, the Interests lists might be consumable by RSS readers.  For now, it seems to be just an internal FB feature.

I'm not sure if you can share feeds with each other outside FB, but if you want to try, here is a link to an experimental feed for Texas Agriculture that I am building  It's a public listing so I think it should be able to be seen by anyone inside FB.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Help with Evaluating and Analyzing Reach

When you work on public outreach and education, being able to measure, analyze, report and evaluate sometimes can be daunting!  If you are often confused as to what is "meaningful" versus what is "reportable", join the club.  Days gone by, it was acceptable to measure and report page hits.  However, lets get real, after 20 years of web technology, page hits are not really where we should be measuring.  It's only logical to conclude that as the number of people who use the web increases, so will page hits.  Therefore, unless there is a significant "before we made a drastic sight redesign and change" metric you want to measure the "after" for, what is page visits telling us anymore?  What we all need to be doing is digging into numbers and reporting reach in more meaningful ways. 

When I need to learn about what more there is to measure, I have found a great resource maintained by Sarah Baughman at Virginia Polytech on for Cooperative Extension Evaluation.  It has all kinds of resources to think about related to evaluation for outreach and education.  This week, one of the "scooped" articles was on the use of Facebook Analytics.  Very helpful because those analytics change as often as the interface.  Yesterday I knew exactly how to use those, today I was lost.  I'm still not exactly sure how those numbers are going to feature in my annual reporting, but I do know that the more I understand how to use them, the better my programming will be because I can learn to target and focus more.  Picking up and analyzing data on my reach is probably going to help me use my time more efficiently and also perhaps be able to target users interest better.  These are the same skills I use in face-to-face planning and programming. 

Just a helpful resource to share for those of you who are struggling to figure out how evaluation can work in your outreach.