A social networking call to arms

I don't care who replaces Facebook. I just need a replacement sooner than later that meets a few key requirements to make it useful in education and beyond.
Written by Christopher Dawson, Contributor

Last night, I wrote a post about Google's potential role in creating a serious Facebook alternative, given its experience individualizing its Apps products for educational and business domains. There was an important takeaway from an educational perspective, though: Facebook is no longer even worth considering for use in education other than for publicity and outbound communications that need to reach a wide audience. The privacy concerns simply overwhelm any potential benefits of social learning. 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.

Sure, I think that Google will probably end up providing us with exactly such a service, tied into its Apps/Docs model. However, when it comes down to it, I don't care who provides me with an alternative to Facebook. I care about a fairly limited set of requirements:

  • It needs to be ubiquitous. Students need to be using it anyway, making it natural for them to interact with teachers and peers, both in and out of school. Students will not tend to check "yet another site" and it should be fluid and seamless for them to extend learning outside of the confines of the school day and a physical building.
  • It needs to be secure. Even the perception of a lack of security will kill adoption. Look at the UC Davis GMail pilot, the failure of which was gleefully covered by ZDNet's own Zack Whittaker. The arguments cited by UC Davis struck me as nothing more than anti-cloud FUD, but Google's Buzz missteps were enough (among other Google privacy concerns) to let naysayers torpedo the project.
  • It needs to be robust. Facebook is everything from a video repository to a photo album to an RSS feed for people. The new tool doesn't need to have Farmville (in fact, it damn well better not have it), but the platform has to be well-integrated and sticky: users should not need to look elsewhere for the tools and services they need (aside from following the external links provided by peers and instructors). ePals is on the right track with this one with their Learning Space platform. By integrating Office Web Apps, solid groupware, blogging utilities, etc., students can go to one place for all of their Education 2.0 needs. The focus on K-12 education means that ePals doesn't satisfy my first requirement above, but the stickiness and security are both there. There's something to be learned here, folks.

If Facebook is useless to teachers and increasingly problematic for students, parents, and practically everyone else on the planet, then it's time to move on. It's also time for a bit of irony. Why don't you join a small group on Facebook called "I’m Actively Seeking a Facebook Replacement." I did. The next great platform is out there. Maybe it will be Ning, although I'm not really feeling it.

But whether it's Ning, or some incarnation of SharePoint from Microsoft, or Google's Buzz 2.0 (no, that doesn't really exist, but the name seems apt, doesn't it?), it's time for a social media platform to emerge, displace Facebook, and finally provide the social media tools that schools, businesses, and consumers need to take interaction and collaboration to the next level. Join the Facebook group and help us find something better. Bask in the irony for a bit, if it helps, follow Jason Perlow's advice while we continue our search for alternatives, and be ready to jump ship when it appears.

Editorial standards