The City University of New York (CUNY) recently announced that it has released a ‘Commons In A Box’ free for use by the public (H/T Wired Campus). Based on the school’s Academic Commons, the software is intended to help groups create and populate an academic social network to facilitate scholarship and exchange.
Reviewing the history of the project, I have to say I’m not sure that its success really comes from the underlying technology. There appears to have been a strong receptiveness to the idea within CUNY that made certain an online space would have enough activity to be sustainable. The proposed collaboration with the Modern Language Association (a disciplinary society) in establishing a commons for them suggests that the technology is not nearly so important in projects like this. Not that I think anyone is looking to start an academic space by themselves, but a large, possibly spread out group seeking additional ways of communicating to each other could take to this kind of tool well.
It may also be useful to see the growth of CUNY’s Academic Commons and note that despite Facebook’s subtle campaign to become the Internet for most people, there is value in distinct (if overlapping) online spaces. That is, some still prefer to keep one kind of activity in one place, and other activities in other places.