Where’s “My” Community?

I am imagining a better WordPress. For those of you who don’t know, it’s the engine behind Gradin.com, as well as countless other blogs on the Interweb. I have been using WordPress for several years now and I really enjoy it. Its many features have grown, and grown on me. Now that I am expectant of the plugins and updates provided by WordPress and its community, I find myself wanting even more.

Upgrading to Web 2.5
The Web 2.0 movement brought, among many other ideals, the concept of a truly “communal” Internet. We saw the entrance of communities such as MySpace, Orkut, Friendster, and of course, the blog, emerge. I maintain a regular blog and dabble in these other Internet communities, but ultimately find that they are not my thing.

What MySpace, for instance, did for me was to create a social community of friends and people with related interests. It’s a great concept, if only simple. I encountered two main problems with these solutions – set aside your particular opinion about the communities. The first, and most immediate, problem I had was that the site distracted me and my potential audience from my own blog. The other problem, something that took a little longer to become apparent, was that I was stuck into a much larger community than I was really interested in becoming “buddies” with.

My solution to these problems involves the maturation of Web 2.0 – perhaps to Web 2.5. I have heard of Web 3.0, but I don’t think the industry can make such a leap without some smaller steps in between. Web 2.5 allows the blog proprietor like myself to become part of these communities without stepping out of their home base.

The Case Study
My imagined solution looks simple at first glance. I maintain a blog. My friends maintain blogs and/or social networking profiles. I have other blogs/services out there to which I would like to drive attention. Now think of each of these things as containers to which I can subscribe, sometimes in a granular fashion. I build a collection of “friends,” “family,” and “interesting people” that I would like to have a reference to on my site. Today, you have blog rolls or even RSS feeds doing this. But what if you could access a container having someone’s profile and avatar, their blog articles, twitter feeds, and MySpace posts. From that container I can choose what I want to see, and how often I want to see it. Perhaps I just want digests. What’s more, the originator of that container can actually validate my request to subscribe to this data. They can also choose what they’ll allow me to see using templates (e.g. friends, family, co-workers), or define a custom rule just for me. The data continues to remain available through conventional means – say the RSS feed, a MySpace account, etc, but the personal container has controls.

I can extend it beyond the profile containers. Say you want to interact with your email or IM system through your blog. Think about having a single entry point to your personal web experience. The personal blog transforms into a personal dashboard with both public and private views. On the public side, you present your audience with your blog, some profile data, contact information, and perhaps a friend’s blog. Privately, you see your email, all your friends’ blogs, address book, and a calendar with your upcoming events.

There are ways to achieve most of this through conventional means, but there is no “solution” to it all. It takes a fundamental shift.

Back to WordPress
At the beginning of this post, I referred to my need for more in WordPress. WordPress utilizes a model of communal sharing already that leads me to believe that it is one of the strongest contenders to make my dream a reality. I’m jaded, of course, because I use WordPress a lot. However, I’ve also read about the WordPress.com Multi-User (MU) extension making its way to the public domain, BuddyPress. BuddyPress will make WordPress.com (and any other WP MU implementation) a community blog with integrated social networking a la MySpace. This is exactly what I’m talking about, if only on a very small scale. WordPress may have the framework to get where I want, but I still have to reach further for the over-arching API that allows WordPress to talk to social communities outside of itself. I believe WordPress has made the first move in my imagined Web 2.5.

The Solution
In brief, I imagine the final solution as being a web service that handles a centralized API for the OpenSocial, or something similar should the industry choose a better standard. Blog systems such as WordPress would have to utilize plugins to communicate with the API, but MySpace, Orkut, LinkedIn, and others would fit into the picture by being a part of OpenSocial. The custom web service would handle the “mash-up” of these different systems into a personal container. And of course, the user would manage their own container; permissions and contents.

In the end, I’d have my blog, my friends, and my choice. Web 2.0 moves forward and brings together the biggest social community ever on the Internet. Our personal sites become personal dashboards and launch points to our other interests. I think the way to Web 2.5 is clear, and someone out there is surely already working on it. You heard it here, first!