I think this software is good for allowing a group to convene over a topic or issue of shared interest. However, I don't think it really feels good for a replacement VLE. That's because each page or person is generating their own forum and discussion -we digress! Fine if we say that a group may like to work cooperatlvely on personal projects. Each person can report on personal progress and obtain feedback from others.
The problem then seems to be holding a focus in the centre (something that perhaps this software doesn't seem designed to do anyway). Without such a focal point it risks feeling too detached from everyone else. Online events may provide some social glue and a common experience but otherwise I would imagine using this as a glorified web page or myspace portfolio tool might be best. Perhaps a living portfolio kind of tool is a useful application for this kind of facility. In this day and age I would also want to see other facilities in here. Things such as video and picture blogging from mobile phones etc would be nice and are available on sites such as Ning.
The major VLEs can all offer personal pages and feeds and blogs etc (several already do) and that leaves you wondering why the need for social networking software aside from learning and teaching across course and institutional boundaries. That would be an example of where it might be most useful for students and staff to network with all and sundry online and they can patch it into work in other online contexts - courses, projects etc. In that sense I think this kind of facility may be obviously very useful - as a bridge.
It would allow people to work across groups and to obtain input from a variety of other sources through dialogue or resources available elsewhere -networking. This positions it alongside alternatives such as myspace, facebook etc etc. These places are already being regarded as slightly old fashioned by many who look instead at networking via youtube and more recently SeeMeTV where user-generated content can be part of revenue-sharing.
So, to be reductive, its an interactive web page! You can mix your own stuff with content from elsewhere and discuss it all in the same place. Nothing wrong with that.
eChina Project Team Lancaster University,