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

Entrepreneur

I have an early stage company which involves an online community of bloggers and video. Initially I was going to do a membership based model where members pay a fee, but I have decided to take on the advertising model. (I need some advice though on how to base the advertising fees since I haven’t found anything yet on a Google search of YouTube’s model and how they arrived to those figures). My members will have profiles similar to myspace where they can post their own blogs to show off their knowledge and allow web visitors to read or subscribe to each member’s blogs. Someone recommended Word Press MU to me. I’m not sure if hosted is the way to go or to host my blog on my own server. There will be no interaction in the members’ blogs with their readers, but the members will be allowed to post their comments for pure reading enjoyment. This way, a user won’t have to weed through spam.

I will also offer sub-domains where my members can have user feedback on their blogs. Any advice?

virgil the pilgrim

I am already doing this. I wanted to build a unified social network site that combined the best features of blogs and portal sites, while balancing the needs of the individual with those of the community. I am pleased to say it is qute a success so far. I am testing with a small (undr 100) group of users to see how the database is affected. but WordPress is very flexible it seems.

for those interested in what might be the next thing, check out Lucid Magazine at http://www.lucidmag.com

David Mould

I also believe that blog centric networking is the natural evolution. Using platforms like Blogger to aggregate a lot of the information that you can see in the many standard social networking platforms that you use today.

Felix Zaslavskiy

Whats really needed is a open protocol for social networking applications. It has to have a strong basis in crypto, key management, p2p networking etc… Each person will essentially own their digital identity and social graph data. They will retain complete control over how they wish their data to be accessed and by who. How its implemented is not as important. But for best results it should probably be a combination of a desktop application and online web service. None of this is a trivial engineering task nor is there much of a profit motivation so this is just a wish without much hope of actually happening anytime soon.

Tech Roach

I hate Social Networking in the first place. And, oh no. WordPress too ? Oh well. We got another martyr for this madness.

PJ Brunet

I was saying this two years ago, or maybe it was three, but gave up on the “control your content” speech when I realized how high the hurdle is. We already run blogs, we take for granted the steep leaning curve.

Well, didn’t WordPress (Automatic?) just recently buy Gravatar? In a way Myspace is just a big collection of Gravatars. To me it’s not that interesting of an idea, because if I want to trade links with another blogger I can do that without much trouble. And I don’t see the point of trading links with lots of bloggers, which would probably dissolve PR. So I don’t see the need for an automated system like mybloglog.

Nick

There are not too many other open source web apps that use microfromats extensively. The WP dev community and the Microformats communities share members, have the same “culture” if you will. And many of the developers and architects know each other personally, so they are more likely to work with friends. If there were another platform that would win due to meritocracy, the developers would already know each other, and that platform might have been chosen. For some reason, the Microformats community prefers XFN over FOAF, and they probably have a good reason. XFN is already built-in to WordPress. The WordPress developer plug-ins has a thing for Microformats. That is just where the momentum happened to go.

Brian Clark

Lars said: Blogging – explained in an abstract way – is sequencing and publishing short text messages. Blog postings are published, read and forgotten about quickly.

May I respectfully suggest you’re reading the wrong blogs?

Sunder

I honestly think most of the social networking sites existing now cater to a very small set of population. There is a whole set of population which is ignored by warm valley planers.

There needs to be something which is widely done normally and is not yet implemented on web (something like what ebay did for auctions which was there for thousands of years).

Mikko

What am I missing? Why not just integrate with FOAF? Why build own tool from scratch and not integrate with Elgg instead?
Just curious…

Nick

Think of it like this: I am going to make a personal helicopter. Instead of doing this from scratch, I am going to star by hacking this lawnmower. Don’t criticize until I’m done.

tcoburn

WordPress is not even close to the same thing as a Social Networking site

A Social Network, would be more like a discussion forum, a place where people collaborate with one another in a open social way. WordPress is just a blog, a content management system for a single or company website, it is not even close to the same thing. blogging and social networking are two entirely different entities.

Andrew

Thanks for the heads-up about DiSo. However, I think that this post is rather too WordPress-centric. In terms of coding, the DiSo project starts from some existing GPL’d WordPress plugins. That’s because these plugins provide a useful starting point, rather than because there’s anything WordPress-specific about DiSo.
I made these points in a post on my WordPress.com blog last night, but the ping hasn’t shown up here yet.

Lars Ludwig

Blogging – explained in an abstract way – is sequencing and publishing short text messages. Blog postings are published, read and forgotten about quickly. Blog postings are not so person-centric as described here. Publishing about oneself is different from just publishing oneself. Social network pages show profile information and preferences not easily to be learnt from blog postings. I think a personal knowledge management and publishing system using blogs, micro-blogs, and conventional publishing would be a better starting point for a unified social graph or open social network.

I myself developed the Semantic Wiki ‘ArtificialMemory’ (www.artificialmemory.net) to show how realy person-centric application and content could look like.

:-) Lars

xamox

I actually used to run my blog in this fashion. I moved from blogger, to wordpress, then eventually drupal. I used it as a mashup of various web services like for my flickr pictures, twitter updates, etc. I still kind of use it that way, but have moved much of the stuff to facebook do to their application platform. The problem I noticed with this, is it was too open. There where things I only wanted to share with my friends, but the problem is I don’t want my friends to have to login to their site, mine into theirs, facebook breaks down a lot of these barriers and makes things more organic by allowing many people to build a lot of the applications for it. Now I know there are many open standards coming out, and with things like openID this may eventually be the case, but just because you build it, doesn’t mean they will come.

KirkH

@daniel: I see your point but there is a huge difference. There is no incentive for MySpace and Facebook to adopt standards. In fact they need proprietary profiles to keep people from migrating to the competition.

It’s about more than features, it’s about open standards. We need openness to address privacy concerns and standards for interoperability.

FPB

look, i don’t understand the technology and the differences between open and closed systems, blogging v social networking etc. it’s just ‘people fascinated in people’ to me. and if it means that WP becomes the next big thing and that many 1000’s more people find their way to my incredibly interesting site, then so be it. bring it on
fpb

daniel

@Kirk: As bad as Myspace is, it already does have a fully functional blog built into any/all profiles. Facebook has about 100 applications that let you build custom blogs inside of their API as well. It doesn’t sound like this would be anything new if you are saying that online profiles will have optional blogs, since they already do.

Michael Paige

There is a solution to the open source craze, if you look at places like facebook who use steadily available and readily developed software, and then at places like http://www.contineo.co.uk who used open source based development platforms, you can automatically see which i would prefer! The latter has many more features and is easily customisable to suit visitor needs.

KirkH

@daniel: When this is all working well people who don’t blog will sign up thinking it’s a social network. Blogs aren’t some amorphus inevitability, eventually we’ll probably all just have online profiles that include blogs optionally, not the other way around. Imagine if all blog software had admin panels that included profile info like the Facebook/MySpace.

WordPress is popular, open source, and has a good plugin system so it seems like a good place to start.

Nick

DiSo is built on ideas around OAuth, OpenID, and Microformats like hcard and XFN. If you take the time to understand these, they will fully understand what DiSo will become. OAuth, OpenID, hcard, XOXO, and XFN are all open standards that anyone developer can play with today. Open Social tried to re-create this all with proprietary standards. And where is Open Social toady? The hype from last month is gone. An it seems it is really only open to the big network apps like MySapce, Freindster, Orkut. I don’t see any blog posts about hackers saying “hey, look what I did with open social” because it is not open.

Self-hosted WordPress is the best place to start for this idea. It is open, a lot of people use it. DiSo could become a set of standards that will power other applications all over the web that have nothing to do with blogging or social netowrking. DiSo+Wordpress will be a proof of concept using several existing open standards. That’s all. Those that understand the benefits will use it. Those that don’t will come around later. DiSo could be a fork of WordPress. DiSo may or may not become part of Worpdress.com hosted blogs. It is too early to tell.

BuddyPress seems really cool. I cannot wait to play with it. But BuddyPress is kind of like having your own, LiveJournal or install (that means multiple blogs, multiple users, networked together). It can be public or private. It uses WordPressMU. This allow for multiple blogs to run on one server. It is great for communities or even intranets.

DiSo will allow separate self-hosted WordPress installations to talk to each other in new and cool ways. Sort of like how anyone can e-mail anyone else. Email apps can send Email to other e-mail apps. Not just Yahoo mail to Yahoo mail or only Hotmail to Hotmail. They reason email works across email apps is because they all use the same standards. Now expand the idead beyond email, trackbacks, friending, blogrolls, think of and think of all the Facebook applications that are out there. That will be possible with OAuth+OpenID+hcard+XOXO+XFN=DiSo.

daniel

This won’t work because:
A. 99% of people on social networks have no interest in blogging (go look at any average dude’s myspace or facebook page, and wa-la! no blog entries, or at least none since they originally signed up! and most of them feature the word ‘test’)
and
B. WordPress is way too advanced for the casual user, even if you created the most intuitive UI for WP, it will still be too complicated for the regular myspace or facebook user. I have messed around with all the fun php that makes up the guts of WP, and as someone with very advanced web design and developement skills, its still intimidating.

Its a great idea, but if you build it….. you need people to come!

I think the balance of freedom and ease will be the key, but saying the WP is the future social network is a bit shortsighted.

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