Aaron Sumner


Why I'm no longer excited about BuddyPress (or Elgg, or MT 4.2)

I know, I know: A few weeks back I was all jazzed up about the BuddyPress project. Well, I'm not anymore. I'm also not too enthused about the new socially-aware MovableType, or Elgg, or PhpFox, or any of the off-the-shelf, "white label" social network platforms. (I'm also not too hot on Ning.)

Want to know why?

If you're dealing with people who know their ways around social media and Web 2.0, the above-listed packages might work for you. On the other hand, if you're like me and most of your user base has no exposure to Facebook or blogging or wikis (other than thinking Wikipedia is the root of all evil!), then you've got problems.

If you've read Groundswell: Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies by Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff, you know that, essentially, younger audiences tend to be your heavy users of most social networks' core functions (your Creators, Critics, and Joiners). But you know what? Building yet-another-tool for those folks is the proverbial fish-in-a-barrel situation. What do you want to do if you want to trick convince your core audience to share their materials, comments, and expertise?

That's why I decided to forego what's out there now and write my own thing. (OK, also, none of those above are Ruby and/or Rails in nature.) Over the last couple of weeks, in pockets, I've been developing a social network for people who don't think social networks can be useful. (Screenshots pending.) It's got groups, discussions, user profiles, and rudimentary social functionality (interested in a particular topic? Click it to see who else in your workplace might be a good resource on that subject). It's still rough, and I'm having to bone up on some Rails techniques I've been ignoring/avoiding to make it work the way it should. I've gone out of my way to take as much of a plugins-first approach–if someone else has written great code, why do I need to duplicate?–and thus have been inspired greatly by Jim Neath's excellent blog.

We're going to start rolling out my work gradually in the coming week. I don't know if I'll release this code on a larger scale, since I'm sure most seasoned Rails developers could do the same thing in their sleep. At this point I'm more interested to see whether it can make any difference in individuals' use of and/or attitudes about social media and its applicability to real, professional or academic uses.

Oh, and also, I'm theoretically trying to finish up my master's degree with this project. So hopefully it goes according to my roughly-hewn plan.

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