A new Duke platform likened to an academic Facebook aims to increase information sharing and collaboration, but many students and administrators do not know about it.

Concourse, an enterprise collaboration program that allows for online communication and data sharing, has had a positive introductory period since opening to faculty, staff and students last week, said Julian Lombardi, assistant vice president of academic and research services for the Office of Information Technology. The program is based on WebEx conferencing and sharing technology developed by Cisco Systems.

“What we didn’t have at Duke—and what there really aren’t options for in higher education—is a collaboration suite, which is exactly what Concourse is,” Lombardi said.

The University worked for several years to offer the program, identifying several technology companies as possibilities to develop the software before choosing Cisco, Lombardi said. He described the system as somewhat akin to an academically minded Facebook, citing the ability for users to create and join groups and thus personalize their intake of content.

“Your activity stream shows posts made to your communities,” Lombardi said. “You get customized collections of content.”

Users sign in using their netID, which allows Concourse to link to other netID services, such as ACES and Sakai. Among the program’s other notable features are several opportunities for real-time communication.

“The ability to instantly reach out to other Duke Concourse users through “click to chat” and “click to call”… [is] a game changer,” Laurie Harris, senior project manager at OIT, wrote in an email.

Users in Concourse can also engage in live screen sharing and document sharing.

“Making it possible for everyone to run remote screen share sessions means it is much easier to work together even if you are not in the same place,” OIT system architect Mark McCahill, wrote in an email Tuesday.

He noted that such technology has the capability to be very effective in the academic sphere, mentioning his use of it in a course he taught last semester.

Members of the Duke community were emailed invitations to sign up on Concourse two weeks ago, and several communities have already been established on the network. John Nicholson, adjunct assistant professor in the Master of Engineering Management program, chose to use Concourse for several of his consulting practicums this semester, and the Innovation CoLab, a group supporting innovative media engagement, is using the network as well, McCahill noted.

“All indications are the roll-out period is going well,” Lombardi said, noting that more than 200 accounts were set up in the first few days after the 35,000 invitations were sent.

Many members of the University community, however are not aware of the new program. Provost Peter Lange said he is unsure what exactly Concourse is, and many students share the uncertainty.

“I have no idea what it is,” said junior Jen Skarritt.

Junior Ishi Singh noted that she does not recall receiving the email invitation, which included a brief description of the program and a link to create a profile.

“It will be interesting to see what the response is once more people have had a chance to see it—we are still in the very early days right now, and it takes a while for social software systems to get traction,” McCahill said.

Today at noon, OIT will host a session titled “Tips & Tricks for Using Concourse” as part of the “Learn IT @ Lunch” series.

The program will be held in the RENCI Center at the OIT Telecommunications Building on Science Drive and will last an hour.