Note: As of 2011, this is no longer true.
Enough people have asked me about this over the last year, that I thought I’d write a little more about why I don’t do social networking work.
Most regular readers will be aware that I co-founded Elgg, the open source social networking framework. If you weren’t, it’s not hard to work out: my last name is Werdmuller von Elgg, and my work centers around the open web. In fact, Elgg is so named because I had bought the domain name elgg.net for my personal email, and didn’t have anything to put there. When Dave Tosh and I conceived of the project, it seemed easier to put it there than anywhere else. (It’s a great domain name: short, memorable and not immediately definable.)
I also co-founded Curverider, the company created to provide commercial Elgg support, which allowed us to build it into the project it is today: an enormously popular social networking platform used by organizations like the WWF and the World Bank.
For various reasons, I chose to leave Elgg and Curverider last year to go freelance and work on some of my own projects. (The last version I was involved with in any way was 1.5 – since then I haven’t been privy to development decisions or involved in the process.) Because of this prior association, however, people still ask me about working on social networking projects all the time – whether that’s a distributed social network, a new platform, or an Elgg-based site.
My answer is always the same: I’d love to, but I can’t.
As you’d expect for a founder, I’m a shareholder in Curverider. As part of this, I am forbidden from competing with the company’s business (which, of course, is social networking – a rapidly growing portion of the entire software market, but that’s a conversation for another time). As a result, I don’t work on social networking platforms, and I’m unable to provide Elgg services, despite it being an open source framework. A process exists for me to obtain an exception for potentially competing products, but this would involve divulging the project and business model, which I don’t believe is an ethical way to treat a consultancy client’s information. So I don’t do it.
Of course, I’m available for web strategy advice, writing opportunities and development services in a range of other areas, including publishing, e-learning and mobile content. I’m also developing a few new ideas that you should see in action soon. As ever, if you’d like my feedback, please feel free to get in touch.