MergingArts has a good audio interview with Inigral CEO Michael Staton. Michael makes some good points about the nature of sites like Facebook that raise questions about a number of academic social networking efforts. Essentially, he argues that people don’t want to mix their work and social spaces. There’s an almost ontological separation of the two. Unlike, say, chat, which isn’t a “space” per se, Facebook is a “place” where people hang out. They’ll go there to check out what’s happening when they have a little free time, like a dorm floor lounge or a favorite pub. This is very specifically not what people want to do with work spaces, and they don’t want them mixed. Most people don’t go to the office to hang out in their spare time. So how can social networks enhance work-like endeavors such as formal education?
Inigral’s answer is to carry the work relationships over into the social space. If we make friends with and hang out with the people we work with, we will probably feel better about our work, try harder to please our colleagues, be less afraid to ask for help from them, etc. Other efforts that focus on embedding social networking tools directly into an academic space like an LMS may have a tougher time of it. It’s not obvious that current-generation social networking tools will transfer to direct work tasks in the way that, say, presence awareness and chat do. There’s definitely some more thinking to be done in this area.
On a related note, Inigral has posted a survey regarding how new media is being used in higher education. If you have something to contribute in this area, please go on over and participate.