ALA Connect replaced the previous Online Communities service that ALA offered as a virtual, collaborative, workspace online. A few member groups had been using Communities, but it wasn't widely adopted, so we've revamped it using new (within ALA) software called Drupal. We hope this will become a centralized space where official ALA groups can work together online. In addition, any member can create new communities (unofficial ALA groups) without any staff assistance, so the site combines association work with communities of interest in one place.
Every active ALA group has a space in Connect automatically, because we've pre-populated it with data from our membership database (iMIS), and we synchronize member data nightly, so we'll always know which committees you're on and which other official ALA groups you're part of.
Both ALA groups and communities use the same types of tools. By default, each one has blog posts, online documents (like wiki pages), a calendar, polls, a chat room, a discussion board, and images (logos, pictures, etc.). The group can use whichever of the tools it finds valuable.
Non-members can register in Connect to create a free account, but they will only be able to view and add to public content. They won't be able to search for ALA members, view member data, or take advantage of any of the networking features.
In phase one, we implemented features that let members identify other members as co-workers, frequent collaborators, classmates, and friends in order to create an online professional network that mirrors and extends their physical world on.
But it's really phase two (which we're in now) where we start offering ways for you to find and connect with other members around professional interests, issues, advocacy, your job, the work of the association, meeting up with friends & colleagues when you attend ALA conferences, and the like. Some folks have referred to this as "ALA's social network," but it's more accurate to think of it as ALA's professional network, an online version of what has traditionally taken place in the physical world. This isn't going to be "ALA MySpace" or "ALA Facebook," although there will be hooks into and out of some social sites such as Flickr (for pictures), and Delicious (for bookmarks). We know you don't need yet another place to go to update your status, but you might find it valuable to see what your colleagues are working on and where.
Because ALA knows a little bit about you (if you're part of a division, how long you've been a member, what committees you've served on, etc.), we plan to help you pre-populate your profile with all of the great work you've done for ALA in your professional career. That way, if you decide you want to display your profile to colleagues, potential employers, or even publicly, we'll have created a curriculam vitae of all of your contributions. We really appreciate members' efforts, and we want to help others appreciate you, too, by letting you show off the great work you do.
We hope to make your Connect experience as easy and practical as possible. You can read more about ALA Connect on the ITTS News blog, and view the Roadmap to find out what's planned for future development. Read through the user guidelines before you start posting content. If you have a specific question about the site or our goals for it, please feel free to post a question in the Discussion Forum.