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NASA’s Spacebook website to shut down June 1

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Lower than expected usage rates have forced NASA to decommission its three-year-old social networking website Spacebook.

NASA plans to shut the site down on June 1 and archive all user accounts and content uploaded to the website, according to an internal email sent to employees last month.

“When Spacebook came, we were on the initial cusp, but with Facebook and MySpace…the marketplace is a far more challenging space,” Sasi Pillay, NASA’s chief technology officer for information technology, said during a telework event inWashington. “Even getting some tools adopted internally is hard.”

NASA launched Spacebook in June 2009 to facilitate collaboration among new and established staff and the agency’s community of scientists, engineers, project managers and support personnel, said Emma Antunes, web manager for Goddard Space Flight Center.

The internal website allows users to create profiles, show their status update and current projects, join forums and groups and share files, Antunes said in an interview Wednesday. If you had a small team, this was a great way to get around not having to email everyone and users could view past discussions.

She said the concept evolved from NASA’s need to improve teamwork, communication and access to information across its diverse projects and centers.

But “participation has not been as high as anticipated,” according to the email. “On average, only 14 users log on per weekday and zero on the weekends. There are alternate internal social media tools, such as Yammer,” that employees can access using their nasa.gov email addresses.

Users were encouraged to download any documents or media saved on Spacebook before the June deadline. Although the website is shutting down, Antunes said Spacebook is viewed as a success because it was innovative and NASA learned a lot from the project.

“In 2009, there were not a lot of products out there that could do what we wanted,” Antunes said. But social collaboration tools have evolved since then, and NASA will adopt new technology that best supports the mission.

“We need to be agile and not be wedded to any one thing,” she said.

The ideal approach is for the government to partner with vendors and influence their product offerings early on so that agencies can readily adopt them upon release, Pillay said

“Why would someone want to recreate something available in the commercial [sector]?” he said. “We should use these tools and adopt them as necessary.”

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