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World's First and Oldest Academic Social Network #HASTAC

World's First and Oldest Academic Social Network #HASTAC

NB:  We have inserted into this timeline to show how it fits in Internet history.  The original timeline was assembled by  NetCraft and Internet Live Stats (elaboration of data by Matthew Gray of MIT and Hobbes' Internet Timeline and Pingdom):     Do check out their websites for the real-time entry of new websites, faster than the blink of an eye.  It's a wonderful resource.

Recently, from an external evaluation of our NSF grant funding, we learned that HASTAC is the "world's first and oldest academic social network."   Founded in 2002, we are a year older than the oldest scientific academic social network, nanoHub.  We existed before MySpace or Facebook.    Wikipedia barely existed.  Wordpress did not yet exist nor did Twitter, LinkedIn, YOUTube, and on and on.

It didn't seem that revolutionary at the time.  After all, the legendary WELL had existed as a virtual community since 1985.  Started by Stewart Brand and Larry Brilliant, the WELL (Whole Earth 'Lectronic Link), was part of Brand's Whole Earth Catalog and its attendant movement.   Why not a WELL for academics, for scholars, for teachers, who were equally dedicated to institutional, pedagogical, educational, intellectual transformation, a better way to think and act together with goals of social justice, equality, and community?

Well, why not?  Humanities, Arts, Science, and Technology Alliance and Collaboratory.  We'll call it "Haystack." 

Keep in mind that when we launched, most people had no idea what the concept of an open social network even was.   That it could have an educational or academic function was beyond the pale--and certainly so for those in the humanities and social sciences.   We said anyone could write anything on the website so long as it was relevant to our mission (Changing the Way We Teach and Learn--a motto that actually came much later) and was respectful of other community members.  Other than that, there would be no editors, no gatekeepers, no disciplinary guardians or guard rails.  No peer review.  Except, of course, the peers seeing what one wrote in an open, public, free website.

It was a new concept, a new model of scholarly collaboration and communication. 

The president of a major scholarly society heard this and pronounced us "charlatans" for thinking such a thing could work or that it could possibly have any validity or be meaningful. 

And no one thought it would last.   Who would contribute to such a thing?  If it wasn't peer reviewed, why bother?  If it wasn't a sanctioned, professional, disciplinary, official association, it wouldn't count.  What in the world was a social network anyway?  

And whoever heard of an alliance of Humanities, Arts, Science, and Technology?

Well, as of September 2014, there are now over a billion websites on the World Wide Web.   And HASTAC is still there.  A small but important part of history.   Because of you, the network, users, the collaboratory.  

The term "collaboratory" was the NSF terminology, originally defined by William Wulf, for a  “center without walls, in which the nation’s researchers can perform their research without regard to physical location, interacting with colleagues, accessing instrumentation, sharing data and computational resources, [and] accessing information in digital libraries” (Wulf, 1989).

NSF and the inimitable program officer Miriam Heller heard about HASTAC and supported one of our earliest conferences.  And here we are, all these year's later.  Still working at it:  "Changing the Way We Teach and Learn. "  "Difference is not our deficit.  It's our operating system."



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