Over the 4th weekend I did a test install of WordPress MU and BuddyPress. There are several community projects that I’m involved with that could use this sort of technology, and I wanted to explore how far these new tools get there. The answer, I think, is not quite that far yet.
WordPress MU allows you to create a multi-blog site (for example, a blog hosting service, multiple blogs for local food in different communities). BuddyPress lets you set up a social network with profiles, a “shoutbox-like” feature, activity streams, and groups. In theory, this could let you connect a social network of social networks. In theory, the “open stack” of standards would enable independent sites to hook into the network, too. But we’re not there yet.
Here’s the vision that would mirror the structure of existing communities in the world. Say, the SF Bay Area environmental community. There is a large loosely connected overall community. There is no way to get a big picture of what’s going on. Individuals have closest ties to a number of smaller groups in their town, subject matter area, political group, affinity groups. I’m using the environmental community as an example, but see this model everywhere – in politics, music, sports, many places people get together.
* a main site that aggregated posts, calendar events, and a view of the overall people network, giving an overview of the community.
* “chapter” sites that have their own posts, discussions, calendar items, and social ties
* independent sites, with existing urls and applications, that register with the central community and have their news, calendar events, and activities aggregated into the main site view.
* each “chapter” and independent site has substantial power to communicate with its group of users (unlike the FaceBook model.)
An individual has a single login for the main site and its chapters. Oauth is used to bridge authentication for people whose primary identity is kept at an independent site.
The OpenStack conversation is currently focused on solving authentication technical and usability problems. These are needed and useful. But authentication is just convenience. We’re saving people from typing another username and password.
Distributed communities are about killer applications – about doing powerful, bottom up community organizing and political campaigns, about building hyper-local news sites with a sense of community that reflects how people affiliate and feel, about enabling networks of people who engage with music, sports, gardening, some sort of culture. I’m really eager to see progress at the functional end of the stack – the standards and sample apps that actually let you bridge and aggregate social networks.
I wrote a bit about this topic earlier here, focusing on distributed profile aspect.