Last week I sat around a large table on the top floor of Bush House in London with about twenty other people while we talked about the ways radio is changing and tried to imagine how English-language programming on BBC World Service could take advantage of the online, multimedia world that is emerging around us.
I was invited because I appear on Digital Planet each week to think out loud about the impact of technology on our lives, but this was an internal BBC meeting rather than an open seminar, and the discussion was never intended to be made public.
That didn’t stop one of the other attendees, technology correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones, from recording a segment of the introductory remarks that Ben Hammersley, the associate editor of Wired UK, made and posting it online via AudioBoo. And it didn’t stop several of us tweeting about our presence, or me posting a photo of the Rory at his end of the table on yfrog.
The examination period is always stressful, both for those sitting GCSEs, A levels and the International Baccalaureate and for their parents and siblings who get ‘second-hand stress’ without even a certificate to show for their efforts.
My friends and I used to revise together, hoping that it would create enough social pressure to keep us working through the evening, but being in the same room is clearly no longer required. My daughter, in the midst of IB exams, and my son, facing GCSEs next week, have email, instant messaging and of course Facebook and other social network sites to keep in touch with their school mates and share revision tips and exam guidance.
Some revising schoolchildren probably found their access to Facebook severely curtailed last month, however, after The Sun revealed that those who checked the site every day dropped a grade in their studies while heavy users were doing as little as an hour of school work a week.
The fuss over Facebook’s attempt to modify the contract with its millions of users has died down for the moment, and I haven’t noticed any of my friends closing their account or even significantly changing their behaviour in protest despite the widespread coverage of the incident.
The problem started in early February when Facebook updated the section on its site which establshes the legal agreement with its users. Like most people who use it I didn’t notice the change, and even though Facebook clearly knows who I am and how to contact me I didn’t get a message or see a notification in my news feed about it.
I like Facebook, and I use it a lot, but I don’t trust random applications that ask for access to my profile data or want to be able to post on my Wall, so I don’t add them even when people I like ask me to do so – I’ll settle for the few apps (like Causes and 30Boxes) that are useful to me.
The coming year is not going to be a comfortable one for Facebook.
It might just manage to avoid upsetting its users with new services like Beacon, the misjudged advertising feature that told your friends about your purchases.
It might spot fake profiles of famous people, like the two Bilawal Bhutto entries that fooled both Facebook and some newspapers, and remove them before they get noticed.
And it could even avoid falling victim to one of the frauds that are likely to be perpetrated against users of all social network sites, outlined in Mark Ward’s review of the biggest security risks of 2008.
But even if Facebook is lucky it will still get a lot of coverage.