I believe a truly decentralized social web is required to fulfill the web’s potential as a platform for business collaboration, and I’m very interested in helping to push the technical and conceptual boundaries in that direction. I spend a lot of time on this blog writing about that, but I think it’s also important to remember that a huge amount is possible using the technologies, standards and ideas that we can currently pick up and use.
Creating a new web tool, or adapting one for your own use, can be a bit like pitching a movie: a lot of people come to me and say things like, “it’s like Delicious meets Youtube, but for the iPhone”. That’s great, and can result in some very interesting ideas, but I think it’s always best to go back to first principles and ask why you need the tool to begin with. My post The Internet is People addressed some key points on this:
- Your tool must plug into an existing network of users, or be useful for user 1 (the first user to sign up). Delicious lets you save your bookmarks into the cloud; Flickr lets you easily upload photos so other people can see them. Both services come into their own when you connect with other users, but the core of the site is useful before you’ve done so. Facebook is different, but it had the Harvard real-world social network to plug in – and it now acts as a useful aggregation of your other activity on the web, which arguably is useful for user 1.
- You can’t build a site and assume people will come and use it. It’s a lot of hard work, even when the technology is ready for launch; you need to lead by example, constantly adding content and using the site as you would like it to be used. Not to mention the hours you have to put in promoting it elsewhere.
The feature set itself should be tightly focused:
As each tool should focus on one particular network, or at least type of network, I’d argue that the exact feature set should be dictated by the needs of that network. Educational social networks might need some coursework delivery tools; a network for bakers might need a way to share bread recipes. The one common feature in any social network is people; even profiles may not be entirely necessary.
I mention at the end of the post that these principles were the guiding ideas behind the design of the Elgg architecture. They’re now the principles behind the tools and strategy I develop for my clients.
In this blog you’ll find lots of talk about new technologies, innovative approaches and the ethics of social media. These allow us to build interesting new tools, but they always sit on a firm foundation: the Internet is just people connecting and sharing with each other, and the purpose of web tools is to make that as easy as possible.
I’ve been off the radar for the past two weeks, taking some time out to develop some ideas (as well as take a week’s holiday in Rome, which is a beautiful city that I highly recommend visiting).
Now, though, I’m back to work, and firing full steam ahead on two new projects:
OutMap is an accessible, powerful take on geographic information systems (GIS).
Let’s say you want to create a map of all the free wifi hotspots in the world: you create an OutMap space, and then invite people to contribute either directly, or via a service like Twitter or Flickr. It’s also sophisticated enough to be used for scientific data gathering, and we’ve got a scientific advisor on board who will ensure the service is relevant and useful to those users.
An initial version will be released in June, and you can sign up on the website to receive an invitation once the beta program starts (as well as to be notified when the site is available for general registration).
Ben Werdmuller Consulting
I now provide Web consulting services. As well as an inside knowledge of the Web, social media and the industry, I’ve got the technical, business and organizational knowledge necessary to turn a project idea into a reality. I’m excited about working with companies and organizations who want to be at the cutting edge of the user-generated Web.
I’ll be talking more about where I’m headed over the year; some of you who were at BarCamp Oxford will note that there’s another, third project I’m conspicuously not mentioning here. More on that later on.
Update: Interested in what I’m doing now? Check out my about page.
I have a major announcement to make:
I co-founded Elgg with Dave Tosh five years ago, and it’s been a heck of a ride. I’ve been immensely proud of what we’ve been able to achieve, not least establishing the most popular open source social networking platform, helping establish the first social network to run campus-wide at a university, and developing a commercial business with a first-class team of brilliantly intelligent, creative people. Each major milestone has been both a thrill and an honour.
However, I have decided that the time has come to move onto other projects. As of Wednesday, April 15th, I’ll no longer be part of Curverider or the core Elgg team. I’m immensely excited about my next projects, and announcements will be made about these later in the year – it’s too early to talk about them now, but I intend to continue pushing the envelope of what’s possible on the Web. I’ll also be providing expert advice to organizations who want to create excellent Web-based services.
I’m also very excited about Elgg’s future plans. I’m very proud of the team we’ve created, and the platform is about to enter its own new era. Keep an eye on Elgg.com.