MIT Admissions

Massachusetts Institute of Technology


Chris Peterson SM '13

Sep 23, 2011

Facebook & Google Plus

Posted in: Miscellaneous

So I'm currently at NACAC in New Orleans. I'll post more about the awesome people I'm meeting (and delicious food I'm eating) next week.

But right now, I'd like to discuss something that's been on my mind for a few months, in the hope of generating some kind of useful conversation here in the blog comments.

The MIT Admissions site was one of the first higher ed sites to "go social", if by "going social" you mean things like respect, understand, and integrate the importance of social production and community involvement on our website via the blogs several years ago.

But over the past seven years some things have changed. Much of the community involvement that used to happen in the blog comments now takes place elsewhere, and especially on Facebook, across a variety of groups maintained not by our office, but by students. We of course have our Facebook page, where we share blog posts, answer questions, and have discussions. But the trend - not by our efforts, but by the natural ebb and flow of how people use the Internet - has been towards disaggregated conversations across multiple communities and spaces.

One of them has been Facebook. But Facebook has changed over the years. When I joined Facebook, in 2005, there were no groups, no photos, no news feed, just a profile photo and a comment box called the Wall. It was open only to college students, and you could only friend people at the college you attended. It was a very different places.

Over the years obviously many things have changed. Some of them - like friending people at other schools, photos, videos, etc - have been great. But quite a few of them have not, or at the very least have been contested and controversial.

Facebook just announced a new feature called Timeline. Timeline allows for your friends to basically scroll back through your Facebook forever to see developments that have occurred along the way, as dramatized in this promotional video:


This really bothers me. In the beginning, Facebook essentially served as a platform for establishing and maintaining weak ties. Not only was the technology not nearly as advanced as it is now, but the audience – remember, limited to just college students – was also very thin. Both the simple technology and the thin potential audience meant that it was pretty difficult to collapse contexts, because the limitations of the space and audience effectively (not identically) worked like the informational constraints of the real world.

As time has gone on, both of these things have changed. One thing which has changed is the fact that Facebook is now delivered to a much broader audience. And the other thing which has changed is that the technology now supports a much deeper interaction among members of that audience.

When you think about it this way, it’s a striking transformation. What began, by design and audience, as a social utility intended to facilitate the maintenance of weak ties has become, by design and audience, a social utility built around profound sharing with supposedly strong ties. It’s a complete overhaul of the entire social ecosystem, and a complete reversal of Facebook’s mission and role in people’s lives.

So that's one thing that I'd like to hear people's thoughts about.

The other is Google Plus. We haven't done anything with Google Plus yet as an office. I personally love Circles (but I'm biased, as Circles mirrors my own previous research into what Facebook could do to improve its privacy). But I haven't begun using it yet, and I don't yet have a sense of how students are using it, or finding it useful.

So this blog post is an open thread for your thoughts on the following question:

Assuming that our goal is to help spread our message and continue our conversations throughout spaces where students are, what should we be doing as an office in Facebook and/or Google Plus?

What is the best way for us to use Facebook pages? Groups? Does Google Plus help at all? Are you concerned about your use of Facebook or G+ going forward based on privacy concerns / real name issues / etc?

Two years out of college, I'm now beginning to feel "old" in that I realize my own experiences with social media are a generation out of date. So please, tell me how to understand what is happening.

Comments (Closed after 30 days to reduce spam)

Well, last I checked, Google Plus is still not open to everyone in the general public yet. I expect that it wont be quite the social juggernaut facebook is, but personally, I prefer the G+ system.

Some of the facebook groups I check most often are those with an active variety of media. Pages that only engage in a specific type of media tend to bore me across the board, regardless of type. In my opinion, and in my observations, I've found that the best way to use pages and groups to unite people is to prevent your page from becoming stagnant.

Also, I find groups to be more effective than pages, as updates and posts to groups appear in your notifications.

Posted by: Zach Barreca on September 23, 2011

Zach, G+ is now available to everyone...
I think that now its too early for MIT admissions to consider about G+. It really doesn't have too many active users now, most people who have made profiles there are in 'experiment mode', they are checking and discovering what new G+ have got. So if MIT admissions is considering getting on to G+, then I would say to wait and see how G+ is growing. Remember Google Wave, there had been lots of hype about it when it first came out, but now it lies forgotten.
It would have been really cool if there was any way to link fbook and G+, like we could link Twitter and Facebook today. Then life would have been easy lol :p

Posted by: Phoenix on September 23, 2011

FB groups are a pretty effective medium for exchanging information about college/educational groups. This is actually the most quintessential use case I can think of. And yeah, groups are definitely more intended for active interaction than pages are.

Communication was rather inefficient in the 2015 FB group since none of the frosh seemed to realize that you can search a group's wall, and a lot of basic questions like "what should I bring to the dorm?" "how do ASEs work?" were frequently repeated. User awareness should improve over time, though.

As awesome as G+ would be for broadcasting admissions information, the admissions site already serves that purpose (although cross-posting is obviously valuable), and anyway it seems inherently more difficult to establish globally symmetric communication within a closed/moderated set of people on G+ than in FB. Correct me if I'm wrong, since I haven't used G+ in a while.

Then again, I have no idea what prefrosh prefer, as I'm getting pretty old and crufty myself.

Posted by: Rachel F. '12 on September 23, 2011

Rfong -

Agreed with groups and it's definitely something we discovered with MIT 2015. I do think groups aren't quite optimized for this - the notifications became burdensome for many, and not everyone knows how to shut them off - but much better than pages.

We are working for some solutions on the repeat question problem for this website but ther is obviously nothing we can do for fbook.

And I think your thoughts about G+ are descriptively accurate, which is part of the reason I posted this to ask and see if I was right.

And yeah - the cruft will catch up with you.

Posted by: Chris Peterson SM '13 on September 23, 2011

Go to G+. At the least, you'll have a place for people who prefer G+/dislike Facebook. At the mosy, you'll be prepared in case FB ever does anger people to the point of mass exodus. Also, I know that this has been talked about before, but a Twitter would be useful for people who can easily get cell service, but who don't have reliable internet/access to computers. You can get some of the CS students to write a script that auto-tweets blog posts/news/site updates, and someone can man it (doesn't need to be 24/7)

Posted by: Ross on September 23, 2011

hey Phoenix we can also link google + and facebook .

Posted by: Aashish on September 23, 2011

I should have been more clear up there, can we link groups and pages together? I am not really sure this option is provided by G+. If it decides to provide (or is already prividing? ) such a service, then MIT admissions can simply link those two. In this way, people can access the page/group from either fbook or G+, depending upon what they prefer. Also, this will relieve MIT from posting updates on both places. The best of both worlds, in short. But its all kinda utopian...

Posted by: Phoenix on September 23, 2011

Honestly, I don't understand why everyone whines about the features of facebook. Stop being an avid user of something that you don't believe in; when you're not the epitome of hypocrisy, then complain to the world about the double platinum social website that is "faltering".

Posted by: MIT Student on September 23, 2011

Hmm. I'm a member of the MIT admissions Facebook page. I joined it like a month and a half ago when I first got to know about MIT. I was 'shocked'/'surprised' to see that for a college like MIT, their admissions page only had 2000-something likes.

Now, that clearly shows that you haven't been advertising it a lot. You probably should let people know that you have a page on facebook. I didn't get to know about it through the blogs, I personally typed 'MIT' in the search bar to get to it. You sure have a link on your homepage but I doubt it if most people check it.

And, one more thing. Maybe you could add a 'like' button to the articles. I use facebook a lot and I personally find that sharing something takes way more than just liking the article so I only prefer liking it or just leaving it. Though a few blogs impressed me so much that I did share them but that doesn't often happen. Since I can't like it, I usually just '+1' it but, liking would definitely be better.

And, you probably should answer the questions of the students on the facebook page more frequently. I mean, as far as I know, I hardly see you guys answering the queries. Most of the time, it is those who are applying and those who are going to apply, who answer the queries.

And, google plus? It's not open for those under 18. So, I think that an MIT admissions circle on it would be a complete waste because those below 18 can't join it.


Posted by: Adarsh Rao on September 23, 2011

Here's a few observations as an exclusive G+ user (for now, pending the end of my self-imposed Facebook hiatus).

- Profiles on G+ can be publicly indexed if you want them to be.
- Granular control over your audience for individual posts, any of which can also be set to be publicly viewable. I'm not sure what globally symmetric viewing is, but if it means what I think it means, then the globe is spherical and has many planes of symmetry, so no problem there?
- "Friending" on G+ is more like following on Twitter - that is, it doesn't have to be mutual. So I'd probably keep public posts to things regarding MIT Admissions, and posts limited to certain circles for things you want to say among friends. I might try this out later.

- To date, G+ has no equivalent of a Facebook page. You'd be using your own name, but you can act as a representative of MIT Admissions and use privacy settings per post to emulate the same thing.
- I haven't seen very many of my friends use it often; the primary user base is just people who were swept up by Google fever / real techie types (which I think would describe many applicants, but not all of them)
- ...but you have to be 18 or older to have a G+ profile. As most applicants scarcely turn 18 by the time the admissions season comes around, this whole Google+ plan is probably dead

Posted by: Emad T. '14 on September 23, 2011

With regard to Facebook, I think students are actually more likely to self-organize (2015 group, case in point). So as admissions, let them do that, because that was half the fun of the group.

Things you could do to supplement this, much of which were already done to some extent: have upperclassmen join the group and be sort of ambassadors, link to admissions blogs and cross-post important/interesting information, etc. Basically just as a way to reach out to more students spreading the information which is already there. And by there I mean here.

And now that I've written the above I just realized that this applies to admitted classes but not so much to prospectives, which admissions is probably actually more concerned with. I think prospectives are a lot less likely to self-organize in this way, so if you did intend to use Facebook to reach out to prospectives... I'm not sure what the best approach would be.

Posted by: Anthony L. '15 on September 24, 2011

Well anthony I think we're interested in both. I was very happy with the organic growth of the 2015 group this year, and next year I'd like to try and have the same thing. The only thing I didn't like was that, because it was an unofficial group and we kept it totally unofficial, we never advertised it, and so a lot of admitted students didn't know it existed and never joined.

So it's kind of a problem of finely balancing that organic growth and freedom with the hope to get all of the students in there.

For prospectives - I think a Page is still our best approach, but hopefully we can find ways to tweak it.

Posted by: Chris Peterson SM '13 on September 24, 2011

Chris, it's easy to get crvfty quickly when social media changes so frequently. A few inaccuracies in some of the above comments:
-G+ is now open to everyone
-FB now does allow controlling the audience of each post, even retroactively
-FB has the option of a Twitter/G+ like asymmetric subscription model
(And all of this happened within the past few weeks!)

I think for now, Facebook is your *only* option for maintaining an online presence since organizations (and other entities which don't represent a single person) can't currently have G+ accounts. You could encourage all individual bloggers to cross-post to their personal accounts, but then it's difficult for a prospective student to follow every blogger at once. Though, again, G+'s policies could change any day.

Also, a tip on how you might be able to better integrate the admissions blog with Facebook: Have you ever commented on a TechCrunch article? It links your comment with your FB profile and posts a story to your wall (erm, "timeline") so your friends will read about it. This leads more people to discover the blog post. I can see a couple of issues using this for the admissions blog (eg, wanting to post anonymous comments, or really anxious students who are still under 13 and don't have a FB but want to participate), but I think it might help overall.

If you want to read more, it's the comments plugin at

Posted by: Jacob H '14 on September 26, 2011

Yeah we've thought about that comment integration, Jacob, but I've felt very uncomfortable doing it because of the tie-in and also (for me) because of the deep tracking Facebook does with Like/Recommend buttons.

We have been thinking about moving to Disqus which allows for Facebook Connect as one optional way of identifying yourself though.

Posted by: Chris Peterson SM '13 on September 26, 2011

Comments have been closed.