WordPress and Social Networks

Blogs and social networks are often contrasted. For example, we could say that blogs are about content, and social networks are about connection.

It may seem strange, then, that there are a couple of reasonably prominent projects out there that use the WordPress blog software to build social networks. One, DiSo, is prominent because of its links with standards efforts.

Another, BuddyPress, has just become more prominent because it has become part of Automattic. By that, I mean that Automattic has just hired Andy Peating, developer of BuddyPress, and has added BuddyPress to its projects.

In announcing the news, Matt remarked that the future is social, and Om said that we told you Automattic saw it that way.

A bit of history: Andy developed a social network called ChickSpeak, using WordPress Multi-User to do so. BuddyPress was his project to take that work and make it an open source social network platform. It’s still his project, but now he a paycheck and other support from Automattic to work on it.

In terms of Automattic’s direction, the most interesting aspect of BuddyPress is the contrast with the Prologue theme. Matt described a WordPress blog with that theme as like a group Twitter. He went on to say that:

Some folks have suggested that using WordPress, Prologue, and RSS you could create a pretty effective distributed version of Twitter. This isn’t something we’re personally interested in, but we’ve made the theme available as open source under the GPL so if you want to hack around it yourself you’re welcome to.

So, Automattic isn’t going to pounce on Twitter; it’ll leave that to Pownce. But it is going to jump on the opportunity to build an open source social network platform.

What DiSo Means to Me

Many feed readers (mine included) just caught DiSo. That’s not as unhealthy as it might sound. The term refers to distributed social networking. Maybe it might have been called DiSoNe, but that would be a silly name.

DiSo is a free/open source software project. The software will implement web standards such as OpenID and OAuth. 2007 was a big year in terms of the definition of these standards. It seems to me that one of the more immediate goals of DiSo is to make 2008 as big a year in terms of implementation.

The DiSo model “can be described as having three sides… Information, Identity, and Interaction.” I think that the first and last of these sides correspond to Content and Connection. I admit that’s rather like saying that I made myself a hammer a while ago, and now everything looks like a nail. Perhaps I need a term for Identify beginning with C: character? How good a term is that? It depends on how closely web identities resemble fictional characters.

Does all this stuff about standards and models sound rather abstract? I’d say yes, and that if the abstraction is a problem, then the DiSo project is an attempt at a solution. It’ll produce code that people can use. To get gradually more specific:

Well, that’s what I’ve found out or deduced about DiSo so far. I hope that the above is helpful to others. I had to do some digging and head-scratching before arriving at this understanding. I found Anne’s post at GigaOm to be too WordPress-centric (yes, I believe that it’s possible to be too WordPress-centric).

I tend to sync better with Chris Messina’s ideas than with his writing. For example, I don’t find the term The inside-out social network very helpful. And, after reading the last paragraph of his post with that name, I feel rather tired, vaguely inspired, but none the wiser.

Of course, the rather tired thing may be because it’s 3am here. If, due to that or any other cause, there are mistakes in the above, I hope that someone more knowledgeable and/or awake will correct them.