I have just received the following email:

Subject: Important EduSpaces news

Hi All,

We would like to inform all users of EduSpaces that we will be shutting down the service on Jan 10th, 2008.

We have provided a mechanism for you to export all your blog posts in either an RSS format or HTML. To do this, go to your blog and select the submenu option you require. For those of you with files, you might want to download those as well.

Thank you to everyone who has supported EduSpaces over the last three years.

So on 16th December I received notification that any content hosted on EduSpaces will be unavailable early in the New Year. Not much time to do anything, is it? And most unfortunate for anyone who is taken an extended break over Christmas.

But at least they aren’t in breach of their terms and conditions:

  • We reserve the right to modify or terminate the EduSpaces service for any reason, without notice at any time.
  • We reserve the right to alter these Terms of Use at any time. If the alterations constitute a material change to the Terms of Use, we will notify you via an appropriate method. What is a ‘material change’ is at our discretion
  • We reserve the right to refuse service to anyone for any reason at any time.

And Frances Bell (“Anyway thanks to elgg bunch, Eduspaces was nice while it lasted“) and Josie Fraser (“huge thanks to the whole Eduspaces team for the massive contribution and commitment they’ve made to demonstrating what’s possible, and to moving the discussion forward so much in terms of technology, and web 2.0/social technologies for education“) have both expressed their gratitude to the EduSpaces team.

But what does this tell us about the sustainability of such services? And what lessons can be learnt?

Was their policy on openness (“We claim no intellectual property rights over any material you provide to the EduSpaces service“) a contributory factor to the difficulties Eduspaces seem to have in finding funding to provide a sustainable service? In a recent post on The open source misconception Ben Werdmuner commented on the unrealistic expectations that people may have about services driven by open source software such as Eduspaces: “... software is not developed by magical elves. It doesn’t appear like water, for free. People have to put time and hard work into creating it.” He went on to add that “Elgg in particular has no funding beyond Curverider, despite a common misconception that it’s the recipient of public grants or affiliations.

So did those of us who signed up to the service (including myself) fail in our responsibilities to our communities by not expressing concerns over the bluntness of the statement that “We reserve the right to modify or terminate the EduSpaces service for any reason, without notice at any time“? And as the service was relaunched on 8 October 2007 as “the world’s largest social network for education and educational technology” users of the service might be surprised at the sudden demise of the service.

And what will happen after the service is shut down on 10th January? Will the domain name become available, and likely to be taken over by a domain squatting agency or a porn company? This would be rather embarrassing for people, such as Salvor at Brighton) who has links to what is currently legitimate posts about their elearning activities. (Of course, a clever porn company would ensure that blog RSS feeds continue to be served, but delivering information about Russians teenagers seeking western husbands rather than reflections of elearning strategies!).

I’ve just discovered that I am not along in having such concerns.  Mandy Honeyman has commented that “I used eduspaces as my portfolio for my teacher training and so it is quite extensive if not necessarily public. I have downloaded via the html option, but what a mess! I guess I could install my own elgg just for me, but I’m about to move hosting so that’s not really an option. I guess I could install elgg on the server at school, but that’s windows, so that’s not an option either. This is a pain.

Or are such criticisms unfair – maybe we just have to accept that such services, which we do not pay for, will come and go and we need to spend more time and effort in planning for the demise of such services. And I think it is true to say that EduSpaces played a valuable role in introducing the benefits of edublogging and social networks to educational technologists around the world. For that, we should express our gratitude to the EduSpaces development team.