Seems like using an open source application like WordPress Multi-User to create a social networking tool where people actually control their work is making some headway. Most notably in Matt Mullenweg’s recent announcement that Automattic is backing BuddyPress (an open source initative that transforms WPMu into a social network).
Part of my own thinking about WPMu has been along these lines, and it is exciting to see people who can code (and now have a little capital) blazing the path. Nonetheless, how we think about such an application in regards to a more local installation of WPMu that is serving a particular learning community such as Edublogs or UMW Blogs remains.
And this focus is what has me very excited about recent posts from Andre Malan, Justin Ball, and David Wiley. All of whom are starting to imagine WPMu as both a dynamic learning space, as well as a social networking application wherein students, professors, and learners of all kinds maintain control of their own work, rather than putting it in applications like Facebook that make getting it out equivalent to a painful tooth extraction (something I know a lot about these days).
Yet, I think Andre’s comment on Justin’s post here is extremely important to keep in mind and worth repeating here:
I do think that the coding is possible. The only problem is buy in. Facebook’s greatest value as a social networking tool is the fact that “everyone” is on Facebook. Where would all the millions of Facebook users get these modified blogs from? Do 99% of users care whether or not their data is in a silo? The only way I see something of this scale working is to work with Automattic to incrementally incorporate these features into WordPress.com.
This is key, but I am not interested in market penetration necessarily. Nor am I overly concerned with the 99% of users who don’t care about the portability of their data at this moment in time, because very soon I think that will necessarily change. What I would rather do is take a community, educate them about the possibilities of such a model, and iterate/pilot/experiment towards giving a community the option of using such a tool to network, publish, present themselves, and benefit from the fact that they control their own online identity.
I don’t think this is radically different from what has been happening at UMW, and I think building in a social networking dynamic may make the benefits of such a paradigm more apparent generally, and failing that would at least point to an example of how we should be mainitaing our digital identities as we move closer to crushing the LMS (you can substitute BlackBoard here if you like) once and for all! For as of now, that is my mission in life, and I won’t stop until I die or it is a bonafide reality.