Blog post

After bashing on Govbook, here comes Spacebook

By Andrea Di Maio | June 23, 2009 | 8 Comments

social networks in government

By one of those interesting coincidences in life, just one day after I posted my rather controversial view about how bad an idea it is to create a government version of Facebook, I read that the Nasa Goddard Space Flight Center has just launched its own homegrown social network, named Spacebook.

I cannot access that (indeed it is meant to be used only by authorized users), so I cannot make any sensible comment on how good (or not) it is. I do understand the rationale, of course, and some of those who responded to my post yesterday probably feel perfectly comfortable with something like Spacebook, as well as with Taxbook, Healthbook, Schoolbook, and other possible versions that apply the basic social networking principles within organizational boundaries.

The CIO at Nasa Goddard Space Flight Center, reveals some of the background on her blog, saying:

This is similar to Facebook, except that it is restricted to NASA’s secure internal network. It’s open to every employee of NASA.
I need to tell you that this whole Web 2.0 thing gives people the willies. We delayed the launch one week to make sure we addressed the very valid concerns raised by our stakeholders. Our legal folks wanted to make sure that we met our policy and regulatory obligations; our IT security folks wanted to make sure that we didn’t expose NASA data or NASA networks to any additional risks; and finally our Office of Human Capital people wanted to make sure that we were all well-behaved and personally accountable.

From her blog, it looks like building a Spacebook was the only way to overcome organizational resistance to the adoption of social networking. I reached out to her and she confirmed that “Spacebook was a reasonable entry point into the social networking space, given the business driver of the need for collaboration internally among the scientists and engineers at Goddard and the barriers posed by cautious reaction to social networking among the population”. They also took into account the peculiarities iof the user environment and the organizational culture

The challenge now will be to make sure that NASA employees see the value of using Spacebook as opposed to other tools that they already use on a personal basis, within or outside the work environment. In fact, users of Facebook or other external networks may have little incentive to use a different platform and lose their existing contacts. Those who do not use social networking tools yet need to see something particularly compelling that will drive them to Spacebook. In both cases the key to success (or failure) is with individuals who animate discussions and create content, and not with the organization.

The main limitation of an environment like Spacebook is that it creates artificial boundaries around the individual: users can network only with colleagues, but experiences in social media in all industry sectors show that the value is most likely created at the intersection between corporate, professional and personal networks. The reassuring element in this case, though, is that the Nasa Goddard CIO seems very well aware of all this. She told me: “The bottom line is that collaboration and connections are so important in my opinion to an enterprise, anything that reduces the barriers to entry is good.”. NASA already has a presence on external networks: the real question is whether, when and how those two worlds will become one. I’m pretty sure she will be actively looking forward to that.

Comments are closed


  • Michael says:

    I’m curious to know if there has been any study done that shows allowing access to the public Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, etc increase overally productivity as an organization or company. Gartner should know, right? Why do major companies block these sites (and personal web email as well)?

  • A recent study says that impact is positive (see but these things always need to be taken with care. In an earlier post, I talked about a client who is monitoring use, which seems to contribute to less than 4% of network usage.
    As a client once reminded me, it is a management issue. While social software is an individual tool, it is up to the organization (and its management) to stimulate employees to show business value. We published a research note on this very topic last year, which is available to subscribers:

  • Anonymous says:

    Really, what did you expect? They can’t officially sanction facebook for data security purposes. There are loads of legal restrictions – some of which can carry very severe penalties (including jail time) for breaking – on what information can be released to whom and when. They can’t assume that putting that on facebook would be acceptable. For that matter, they can’t even assume that they can allow that off of their own network. Since facebook (and twitter, for that matter) are not open source, the only option to run it on a trusted server in a trusted network with suitable access control is to grow your own. Hopefully, Google Wave will be a bit more conducive to participation by government and business entities, as anyone can host their own limited-access server and still be interconnected. Or if, perhaps, the regulations for data release are stepped back from Cold-war levels, there would be less obstruction to data release.

  • anonymous says:

    I’m curious. Did your analysis look at the internal social networks for other large organizations? IBM, Deloitte, Booz-Allen, etc? You seem to imply that there’s no value to enterprise social networking, even for large organizations.

  • Sara says:

    You can read more about Spacebook and some other government social networks on

    The Facebook Phenomenon – How Government is Getting Into The Act

    Starting your own Facebook- Lessons Learned from NASA’s Spacebook Project

  • I never said there is no value for internal networks, and several Gartner analysts have written extensively about the topic. Assuming that the purpose for collaboration is strong, compelling and magnetic, internal networks can and do thrive.
    The problem is when that purpose is not entirely clear and one wants to deploy a generic platform to support collaboration. In these cases I would argue that a mainstream platform that some (even if not the majorty) of users are already experiencing and where they have established some useful contacts that can be leveraged for professional purposes too does make sense.
    In the former case, it is important to deal with how to get to the intersection between internal and external networks: expanding successful internal networks beyond the boundaries of the enterprise (albeit in a secure fashion) is an issue that needs to be tackled earlier rather than later.
    In the latter case, there could be perfectly valid reasons (such as security, IP protection, brand management) that play against using consumer social software.
    The additional element that is tiliting the balance toward the use of Facebook and the likes is the rather somber budgetary outlook: where one would play with all sort of tools up to last year, now people look more closely at inexpensive solutions to pilot the impact of social networks, before deciding whether to select an enterprise solution.

  • Roan Yong says:

    Hi Andrea,

    Good point! Experts like Wenger and Shirky have argued that in every thriving social network, there are about 10% active participant. The purpose of having a social network itself need not be made clear from the beginning, as it depends on the changing nature of the participants’ needs and wants.

    The challenge is of course, finding the active and passionate core group. A social network analysis might reveal such core group.

  • Anthony Bradley says:

    Success will really depend on what specific collaborative challenges NASA addresses with SpaceBook. Otherwise it is the typical provide a tool and pray something good comes of it. I’ve witnessed many organizations replace their corporate directory with a social network under the general auspices that people can now collaborate better. They often find adoption lacking because people don’t go there to solve specific collaboration challenges. I rarely use Gartner’s corporate directory and I certainly don’t use it to collaborate. If they swapped it with a social network I might not notice. Real adoption involves tapping a real need.