Facebook is holding a conference exclusively for academics this August, right before the American Sociological Association 2014 Annual Meeting. The social network is planning on running shuttles between the Sociological conference in San Francisco and their headquarters in Menlo Park. On the itinerary for the Facebook event is teaching researchers how to use Facebook's data tools, providing demos of the tools and software stack.
In an exclusive document obtained by Venture Beat, Facebook says the academic meeting focuses on "techniques related to data collection with the advent of social media and increased interconnectivity across the world." Peter Brandon and Michael Corey are organizing this show. Brandon is a sociology professor at the University of Albany and Corey is a Ph.D. candidate in sociology at the University of Chicago.
Corey has been working at Facebook since last summer as a quantitative researcher. The team he works on helps Facebook expand to developing nations. By expanding Facebook's presence, Corey and his team help Facebook sell more advertising.
Venture Beat wisely points out that sociologists "enjoy an anti-capitalism reputation." But the data Facebook has might be worth giving up a little bit of their rep. Facebook has 802 million daily active users, sharing, liking, posting — and generating the kind of data that sociologists need for their studies.
There is also an added authenticity to the data. Laura Nelson, Ph.D. candidate in Sociology at UC Berkeley, said, “So I give you a survey you fill it out, which is very artificial. Whereas ethnography, as soon as you walk into the room, you change that room, because you are a foreign presence. There’s a scientist in the room. People get self-conscious. They don’t act naturally.”
But Facebook is much more natural: “It has no artificial construct, you are not bringing people to the lab,” Nelson said, “So you are recording social interaction in real time as it occurs completely naturally.”
So the sociologists have something to gain by attending the event. Facebook wants their insight, sociologists want their data, and soon we might see more and more academics flocking to corporate America.