As the value of Facebook outside of learning to maintain a virtual farm or keeping virtual mobsters at bay unravels, it's become clear that social media need a trusted, solid, robust platform. As I wrote earlier this week,
It’s time for an alternative and it’s time that we demand that social media not only meet our needs but meet their own potential in personal, business, and educational markets.
While I put my money on Google to deliver such an alternative, Jason Perlow put Microsoft at the top of his short list for the next big thing in social media. The key, regardless of who built it, was to provide a toolkit that could be localized and sandboxed for organizations or generalized for public consumption. The platform had to be something everyone was using anyway for it to add value in schools, just as Facebook could have if the privacy concerns and noise didn't wipe out any potential it had.
Currently, SharePoint Online is a subscription service for businesses and schools (Live@Edu is built on many of its technologies). Like a locally-hosted instance of SharePoint 2010, it provides users with the capability to share pages, updates, and media and to aggregate their own social streams. It also allows users to collaborate on documents within this social structure. It's quite easy to imagine not only a free version that leverages Windows Live services, but provides a familiar and easily integrated interface for users deploying SharePoint in their organization.
Taking my musings a step further, let's imagine that some version of SharePoint can gain traction as a mainstream social media tool. Students are using it, teachers are using, parents are using it...you get the point. Now imagine that a school embraces Live@Edu, or better yet, SharePoint (or some combination thereof) and takes advantage of new federation services available from Microsoft to allow students and staff to sign into school collaboration environments with their existing personal SharePoint accounts. Obviously, this is all a bit pie in the sky, but it's a completely reasonable scenario and one that would provide safe, secure, no-nonsense interactions between students, teachers, and parents within the context of a platform that they are using already.
Will this fly? Maybe...A look at SharePoint's technologies and available out-of-the-box social functionality certainly suggests some interesting possibilities for schools (and businesses and organizations for that matter). With Microsoft now pushing the concept of SharePoint as a platform for development (and a large and growing developer ecosystem) and their scalable SharePoint Online offering, I don't think I'm that far out in left field.
Talk back and let me know if you agree.