Where next – a statement of intent

January 24, 2006 | Leave a comment

Pardon me while I blow our trumpet for a little while.

In aweI think this is the best release we’ve done, and the closest we’ve come to fulfilling the original vision. If you don’t mind me saying, Elgg is pretty damn good web software, and performance tests on this new version back me up when I say that not only does it do more, but it does it faster than ever before. As usual, I’m posting this from my Windows weblogging client, which sits on my taskbar. Before long, I’ll be able to keep a blog using WordPress, or Movable Type, or LiveJournal, Blogger, b2evolution, MSN Spaces, Typepad, or whatever else I could possibly think of and have the content automatically populate my blog here, with custom tags depending on the source. So my Flickr photos could automatically become part of my blog, tagged with the word ‘photo’, and my del.icio.us links could be automatically posted, tagged with ‘link’. Then I can add whichever extra tags I need from within the blogging interface.

Trackbacks were a big part of the original vision, and they’ve been conspicuously absent until now. This is because trackback spam is notoriously prevalent, and I didn’t want to make Elgg susceptible to unwanted advertising. Lately, though, I’ve been playing with other software, and I’ve come to realise that they really are an important part of the blogging experience. If someone posts about something you said, you want to know about it; if you post about someone else’s content, you may well want them (and their visitors) to be able to link back and see what you have to say. I’m always talking about decentralisation, and this technology really decentralises the conversation; it makes it possible to follow discussion over several different installations of Elgg, or from Elgg to WordPress to MovableType to Typepad and back again. This is worth the risk of spam – which in any event is reduced with the new anti-spam functions.

As Terry Wassall suggests here: “Beware ‘mission creep’. Be true to the philosophy.” This is really important. While it’s exciting to have a WYSIWYG editor, a new RSS engine, a social calendar or Moodle compatibility – eye-catching trees to be sure – we have to maintain sight of the forest. It’s all about connections; learning is not a solitary pursuit; the Internet is people. Everything we do has to have the vision behind it; we have to be doing it for a reason, to enable people to communicate and reflect and connect more easily, otherwise it’s just done for the sake of technology. I think we’ve done a good job of keeping that ethos so far.

My end vision for all of this, as regular readers will know, is a decentralised network where anyone can connect to anyone else and it won’t matter what server you’re on; you’ll be able to join communities, share resources, restrict information and link up with people on any server. I want it to be seamless: you won’t know you’re using FOAF, RSS, ECL or whatever else ends up powering it, and you won’t care that the professor you’re sharing papers with hosts his profile in Spain while yours is in Australia. It’ll just work; you’ll just connect, whether you’re sharing blog posts, a paper, podcasts, audio, video, presentations …

This is a big job; it hasn’t been done before, and goes beyond limited standards like IMS, beyond the field of education to the cutting edge of the World Wide Web. For it to happen correctly, it’ll need free and open standards; simple ones, that people will be able to implement easily. I have an idea how it will work, but I’m afraid you’ll have to wait a while to see it in action. But we’ll certainly get there, one step at a time.

In the meantime, we hope you enjoy using Elgg, either here on Elgg.net or on one of the other services springing up all over the place. It’s a bit cheeky, but I feel I ought to remind you that Curverider Ltd is there if you need support, hosting or custom development. If you have any questions, let us know; we’ll help you out as best we can.

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