The Next Social Network: WordPress

221 Comments

WordPress logoCould open-source blogging platform WordPress serve as your next social networking profile? Chris Messina, co-founder of Citizen Agency, thinks so. He’s started a project called DiSo, for distributed social networking, that aims to “build a social network with its skin inside out.” DiSo will first look to WordPress as its foundation.

This could be the next step towards the unified social graph that some technologists wish for. WordPress suits the purpose because it provides a person-centric way of coming online, offers an extensible architecture, and already has some features — such as an OpenID and a blogroll plugin — that can be pressed into social networking service. And its users represent exactly the sort of audience that might appreciate the permanent, relatively public identity that DiSo aims to offer.

Why blogs and not Facebook or MySpace

In contrast to social networking, blogging offers a person-centric way for individuals to come online. A social network like Facebook gives you your own place online, but it’s not really your own place. As Copyblogger Brian Clark recently said in a blog post, “For me, there’s really no appeal in spending a lot of time creating ‘user-generated’ content via a social networking application. That’s like remodeling the kitchen in a house you rent.”

Clark was responding to an ongoing conversation launched by blogger and cartoonist Hugh MacLeod, who proposed that blogging is far more important to him than social networking. Bloggers including Stowe Boyd and Darren Rowse seconded the idea. This growing disenchantment with social networking and return to blogging suggests that in the future we could see a migration, at least among tech bloggers, towards more distributed social networking — along the lines of what Messina envisions.

WordPress, why and how

WordPress is ideal for experimenting with a distributed social network. It has a plug-in architecture that makes it easy to extend. And people who use it are already comfortable to some extent with coming publicly online as individuals. Though there are, of course, WordPress installations that don’t represent just one person, in many cases they do.

Messina, along with Steve Ivy and Will Norris, is exploring how WordPress can serve as a social networking profile. To that end, a blog needs a way to identify itself to other blogs and share its contact lists, ideally in a privacy-protected manner. The OpenID identity standard can serve as a distributed identifier for both a person’s blog and the blogs of people to which that person is related. Messina and his partners plan to develop a WordPress plugin that exposes the contact list. An OpenID plugin for WordPress already exists; it was developed by Will Norris.

Not everyone wants unified social networking

WordPress-as-social-network, like the unified social graph meme, will most likely appeal to those who want to create one strong identity online. But not everyone does. Blogger danah boyd has written about how some people use social network identities in an ephemeral manner. Those who prefer a more multilayered and multifaceted depiction of themselves online might prefer to create multiple social networking profiles on different sites, representing themselves in different ways as the situation demands.

But those who already use WordPress probably want to build a strong and persistent online presence and identity. Plus they’re the geeky sort, with whom with the idea of a unified, distributed social network might resonate. And at least some of them are refocusing on blogging. The next hot social network might just be built out of blogs.

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Full disclosure: Automattic, the company behind WordPress.com is funded by True Ventures, which is also an investor in GigaOM.

221 Comments

linkerjpatrick

As a WordPress user and developer of web sites that use web press as the backend not only for blogging but also for general content management I find this interesting because I am also ready using tools the accomplish to a degree abit not totally integrated with WordPress itself apart from the RSS feeds it generates.

One of the things I will do is run the RSS feed generated and then managed through feedburner.com through a service called Twitterfeed at Twitterfeed.com. Notification of blog post and links will show up in my Twitter account for my followers to see. I also do this with my flickr RSS feed too. It doesn’t stop their. I also pipe my Twitter posts to Facebook via the Facebook Twitter application so even more people who don’t normally follow my blog or twitter feed but are in my circle of friends with get a notification that I have written something on my blog.

I’d love to centrally manage this through my WordPress admin panel but I would also like to extent my own site to have a social networking component.

Jim Rutherford

Shame on you Chris. This is a very unoriginal ideas. You posted on your blog a while back about a little project called ChickSpeak (http://www.chickspeak.com). In your blog post (http://factoryjoe.com/blog/2007/07/18/wordpressmu-making-a-smart-platform-choice/) you spoke about how this project was one of the first to use WordPress as a social networking platform and encouraged the developer to open-source and share his plugins.

The project is now being developed at http://www.buddypress.com and is open source. Shame on you for stealing Andy’s thunder! Shame on you for not choosing to contribute to this project.

Mario Olckers

We do this as a service for clients in South Africa, and it is precisely this niché market where we fill the gap. WordPress is powerful and perfect for this purpose, but one does need a geek on call to run it full time as a serious publishing media or social network.

Tao Schencks

I have often thought “i must search out a blogging application for my Facebook profile…”

How stupid is that!

I love the way that facebook allows you to be connected to each other and follow each others movements, comments and updates but I also love the ability to write my own blog and maintain its appearance too.

MySpace is too messy and Facebook is too restrictive (which can be a good thing). WordPress is a very powerful platform and I think it could turn it’s hand to anything, given the right plugin.

Imagine if you could install a Social Networking plugin to WordPress that links you to other “friends” blogs to see their posts, comments and updates they left at other sites etc. You could even link into Flickr, del.icio.us and other sites too via RSS. Present that all on an extra “page” in your WP installation – done!

Craig

I agree that blogging and social networking are indeed a next step. However wordpress is a bit cumbersome for your average users. There are a ton of people out there that just don’t have an easy way to take advantage of this exciting technology. We have built a platform that allows the owner to have control of blogging and social networking features without having to conform. Blogging, social networking and static content should flow naturally and become as one.

Folletto Malefico

I’ve defined with a few friends some project guidelines called Trustlet in september (based on a february concept): a system to allow distributed p2p social networking, platform indipendent.

A good way to make it working should be to distribute it both as a standalone service and as a WordPress integrated plugin. Maybe with OpenID for authentication and some sort of push system to allow real-time messaging (pull is slow, networking needs speed, see Twitter).

Another critical feature is trust, that should be integrated in this protocol. I was looking for integration with OpenSocial… maybe we could just use that protocol. :)

Ravi

As much as I’d love WordPress to become the next center for social activity, I think it’s a pipe dream. Of my 500+ contacts on Facebook, 10 of them know what WordPress is, and only 1 actually uses it — me.

The reason Facebook is so successful (and Myspace too) over competing services is, quite frankly, how easy they’ve made it for the average person to use. As the technorati, we ooh and aah when Facebook implements Ajax loading for photo albums; most people just think its a cool effect.

There’s a reason so many blogs get created each day — but then die a couple months (if not weeks or days) later. Most people just dont have the persistence to stick with blogging (myself included to an extent). Even as a WordPress evangelist myself (I use it for all my sites, my client sites, and I’m using WordPress MU for a new “social” project), I can’t envision a blogging platform superseding a true social network in usefulness.

Steve Ivy

Hello,

I just want to address something Valdis said: “you still have to join something[WordPress] to ‘network'”. The DiSo Project is working on WordPress plugins that could be installed anywhere – be it a hosted service like wordpress.com or your own server. Yes, it means knowing how to run a blog, or know someone who does.

WordPress is a starting point (not the end goal) for us because it’s easy for a moderately technical user to manage, it’s open-source, and it isn’t – life Blogger – limited to a single provider. If you have suggestions or ideas, join the group and participate.

Thanks,

–Steve
http://redmonk.net // http://diso-project.org

Saurabh Kaushik

OpenId is great idea to move close to Semantic Web World. And if WordPress can integrate it into their solution, i think it will start a wave to support it and eventually, Facebook types of business will come around and dance together.

tarun1026

More bad press for Facebook from India site reporting about Head hunter tactics. According to the report, potential recruiters would be checking out your profile (social networking) to make the career relevant decision.

http://www.techbanyan.com/archives/83

Nima Negahban

You guys need to get out of the valley and go to other parts of America and the world and talk to REGULAR users. Most people when they use word press for the first time find it difficult and cumbersome , unless they are in the tech industry. It’s a great idea and a nice article, but a little dose of reality and practicality never hurt anyone.

Valdis Krebs

Back to blogging? yes!

Person-centric? Hell YES!

WordPress? Nope.

What if I want to stay with Blogger or Live Journal? Same problem as with Facebook/MySpace/LinkedIn/etc… you still have to join something[WordPress] to “network”, you have to choose one product/service over another. That is NOT how we network in real life! In RL we network in various ways/medias that overlap and that seems to work on-line also… blogs, email, chat, groups, skype, etc.

Aswath

We have a built an application with similar objectives. Soon we will be adding real-time communication capabilities as well. As you have noted, OpenID and OpenAuth will be th facilitating technologies.

Also as Moshe Maeir notes in the trackbacked post, traditional social network and our application will complement each other. In our view traditional SNs are like public social gathering places like bar and we view our application to be like one’s living room. Both have their roles in one’s social life.

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