Community Platforms

Apparently I’m not alone in thinking about community platforms. Chris Prillo is talking about the tools available for community owners, operators, moderators and members. Adam Kalsey talks about the work on IMified, SacStarts and ActivityStream. Both are building on top of Drupal, which has generated support from Boris Mann of Raincity Studios. I haven’t done a lot of work on Drupal in recent years, I last evaluated it for a project in 2005. But the superb work of the Raincity Studios and Lullabot continues to blow me away.

But I started to wonder what other software platforms were available for building communities. Here is the list that I was able to come up with:

There are other tools like the Community Platform that powers http://expression.microsoft.com/ and TechNet and MSDN, that are not commercially available.

I’m starting to think about the tools that we’re missing to enable the Toronto community. The discussion has focused around the technical details of the platform:

  • OpenSocial
  • OpenID
  • OAuth

But it’s when Chris talks about the functionality and participation and discovery that I start to think about the potential and needs.

I don’t want a social network, I want a socially *RELEVANT* network (both on-site and beyond). I don’t want a community platform, I want a participation platform where members are rewarded and ranked appropriately. I don’t want a place where people can just blog, because I’m going well beyond the blog. It’s not just about hosting videos, audio files, or any piece of random media – it’s the discovery mechanisms between them that make them more relevant.

It’s discovery – no matter the community, no matter the type of content. Imagine coming to a site and not just reading about what other people are interested in, but what interests they SHARE with you! Imagine coming to a site and seeing how someone ranks in answers pertaining to your own questions! Oh, I’m confident you may have seen these features elsewhere – but what about for your own site, what about for your own community, what about for your own ideas?

It’s about the connections, the participation, and the discovery of relevant details. Time to think about this a little more.

19 thoughts on “Community Platforms”

  1. This is something we struggled with at TakingITGlobal some six or seven years ago. In creating a suite of tools for action and means for communication we felt challenged to help people discover and expose the threads that connected their interactions using the various features we provided.<br />
    <br />
    Initiatives such as the TIG Projects app (<a href="http://projects.takingitglobal.org/), " target="_blank"><a href="http://projects.takingitglobal.org/)," target="_blank">http://projects.takingitglobal.org/),</a> </a>which integrates the organisation's email groups system (I built that!), country sites (such as <a href="http://canada.takingitglobal.org/), " target="_blank"><a href="http://canada.takingitglobal.org/)," target="_blank">http://canada.takingitglobal.org/),</a> </a>and, over the last four years, TIGed (<a href="http://www.takingitglobal.org/tiged/) " target="_blank"><a href="http://www.takingitglobal.org/tiged/)" target="_blank">http://www.takingitglobal.org/tiged/)</a> </a>have been ways in which we/they have I think quite successfully worked to implement the things you and Chris Pirillo talk about.

  2. I think Facebook is actually a good starting point for a community, because no matter how good the platform is, there will always be the issue of getting people there. With 1 in 5 Torontonians already on Facebook, I think there is a strong potential to really bring the Toronto DemoCamp community together in a group on Facebook. People can post events, photos, share news, discuss stuff and most importantly …&quot;see&quot; other members and connect with them online. How about using Facebook to manage the event registration instead of Eventbrite for local Democamps ?

  3. To me the issue is less the platform and more than it aggregates and disseminates information to sites that are used by community members.<br />
    <br />
    Most communities are not homogenous. Members come to a community with a variety of interests and spend time on sites in proportion to those interests. To me this is the inherent problem with platforms that want to become a destination for a community. While being a destination can to help define the community at the same time one needs to overcome the personal habit and individual interest &ndash; which may in aggregate actually be the thing most community members value in the community.<br />
    <br />
    What I&rsquo;d like to see is a platform that recognizes communities are networks of interests (people &amp; organizations) and doesn&rsquo;t try to become a destination &ndash; but enriches the entire ecosystem by distributing the comment, discussion and event notice throughout the ecosystem &ndash; so the opportunity for shared experience actually increases because every site becomes (in part) a reflection of the community.

  4. This is something we struggled with at TakingITGlobal some six or seven years ago. In creating a suite of tools for action and means for communication we felt challenged to help people discover and expose the threads that connected their interactions using the various features we provided.

    Initiatives such as the TIG Projects app (http://projects.takingitglobal.org/), which integrates the organisation’s email groups system (I built that!), country sites (such as http://canada.takingitglobal.org/), and, over the last four years, TIGed (http://www.takingitglobal.org/tiged/) have been ways in which we/they have I think quite successfully worked to implement the things you and Chris Pirillo talk about.

  5. Now, which of those listed platforms have portable data? Which of them are a suitable platform for building the (invariably) custom pieces that each community may want as they grow?<br />
    <br />
    The tough part with many systems — especially closed, hosted ones — is that they provide great initial starting points, but then often lack in customization or growth options. And god forbid that your platform provider &quot;go away&quot; — then you're completely stuck, and need to start over.<br />
    <br />
    This is why I have chosen to go with fully open systems, because they can grow with communities and can never be locked down or disappear.<br />
    <br />
    @Varun:<br />
    Facebook is ultimately closed and not a participant in the &quot;open web&quot;. And it's someone else's platform with someone else's rules. I would hope that we steer around such closed instances and strive to connect openly.<br />
    <br />
    @Peter Childs:<br />
    &quot;What I&rsquo;d like to see is a platform that recognizes communities are networks of interests (people &amp; organizations) and doesn&rsquo;t try to become a destination&quot;<br />
    <br />
    I think this is spot on — don't try and a become a destination IN AND OF ITSELF — but rather add value through various aggregation and hub features. This also seems to argue for mini-networks that cross sites.

  6. Learnhub.com embodies some of these elements. Like expertise ranking of members relative to specific subjects and mini-communities.<br />
    <br />
    It's almost overkill while they still have a small base, but will be interesting to watch as it scales.

  7. I think Facebook is actually a good starting point for a community, because no matter how good the platform is, there will always be the issue of getting people there. With 1 in 5 Torontonians already on Facebook, I think there is a strong potential to really bring the Toronto DemoCamp community together in a group on Facebook. People can post events, photos, share news, discuss stuff and most importantly …”see” other members and connect with them online. How about using Facebook to manage the event registration instead of Eventbrite for local Democamps ?

  8. To me the issue is less the platform and more than it aggregates and disseminates information to sites that are used by community members.

    Most communities are not homogenous. Members come to a community with a variety of interests and spend time on sites in proportion to those interests. To me this is the inherent problem with platforms that want to become a destination for a community. While being a destination can to help define the community at the same time one needs to overcome the personal habit and individual interest – which may in aggregate actually be the thing most community members value in the community.

    What I’d like to see is a platform that recognizes communities are networks of interests (people & organizations) and doesn’t try to become a destination – but enriches the entire ecosystem by distributing the comment, discussion and event notice throughout the ecosystem – so the opportunity for shared experience actually increases because every site becomes (in part) a reflection of the community.

  9. Now, which of those listed platforms have portable data? Which of them are a suitable platform for building the (invariably) custom pieces that each community may want as they grow?

    The tough part with many systems — especially closed, hosted ones — is that they provide great initial starting points, but then often lack in customization or growth options. And god forbid that your platform provider “go away” — then you’re completely stuck, and need to start over.

    This is why I have chosen to go with fully open systems, because they can grow with communities and can never be locked down or disappear.

    @Varun:
    Facebook is ultimately closed and not a participant in the “open web”. And it’s someone else’s platform with someone else’s rules. I would hope that we steer around such closed instances and strive to connect openly.

    @Peter Childs:
    “What I’d like to see is a platform that recognizes communities are networks of interests (people & organizations) and doesn’t try to become a destination”

    I think this is spot on — don’t try and a become a destination IN AND OF ITSELF — but rather add value through various aggregation and hub features. This also seems to argue for mini-networks that cross sites.

  10. Learnhub.com embodies some of these elements. Like expertise ranking of members relative to specific subjects and mini-communities.

    It’s almost overkill while they still have a small base, but will be interesting to watch as it scales.

  11. &quot;There are other tools like the Community Platform that powers … MSDN, that are not commercially available.&quot;<br />
    <br />
    MSDN is running Community Server (<a href="http://communityserver.org) " target="_blank"><a href="http://communityserver.org)" target="_blank">http://communityserver.org)</a> </a>by Telligent.<br />
    <br />
    Community Server also powers the MySpace.com forums (<a href="http://forums.myspace.com)<br />
    " target="_blank"><a href="http://forums.myspace.com)" target="_blank">http://forums.myspace.com)</a> </a> <br />
    Lastly I read that you mentioned OpenID support. Our newest version, Community Server 2008, has OpenID support built in natively.

  12. “There are other tools like the Community Platform that powers … MSDN, that are not commercially available.”

    MSDN is running Community Server (http://communityserver.org) by Telligent.

    Community Server also powers the MySpace.com forums (http://forums.myspace.com)

    Lastly I read that you mentioned OpenID support. Our newest version, Community Server 2008, has OpenID support built in natively.

  13. I listened to Chris Pirillo's community manifesto with interest. Having worked recently with RainCity to implement our latest community iteration at Harlequin, he covers a lot of the some of the same issues we fought with last year. Ultimately, Drupal had the open philosophy that we wanted and the right blend of community features that we needed.<br />
    <br />
    After a successful (but ultimately limiting) seven year experience with a proprietary and very closed community platform, we knew we needed something open and extensible.<br />
    <br />
    Drupal fit the bill in almost all respects and the RainCity team tweaked it to our specific community needs. We're now a few months afloat with the Drupal system and our users have picked it up swimmingly. <br />
    <br />
    We're now building a rev.2 wish list based on feedback from our hosts and members. Thankfully, we can dig in to the guts of Drupal and change what needs changing for our community. Our hands aren't tied on specific developers, companies, or approaches.<br />
    <br />
    Don't worry, Boris! RainCity is still in our hearts and minds… but it's nice to have that option! It's also a good selling point when you are pitching open source apps in your enterprise.<br />
    <br />
    Every platform will have at least one pitfall, so finding one that is both flexible and open is the key. If that pitfall becomes a crevasse over time, an open system will allow you to pick up your data and move on.

  14. I listened to Chris Pirillo’s community manifesto with interest. Having worked recently with RainCity to implement our latest community iteration at Harlequin, he covers a lot of the some of the same issues we fought with last year. Ultimately, Drupal had the open philosophy that we wanted and the right blend of community features that we needed.

    After a successful (but ultimately limiting) seven year experience with a proprietary and very closed community platform, we knew we needed something open and extensible.

    Drupal fit the bill in almost all respects and the RainCity team tweaked it to our specific community needs. We’re now a few months afloat with the Drupal system and our users have picked it up swimmingly.

    We’re now building a rev.2 wish list based on feedback from our hosts and members. Thankfully, we can dig in to the guts of Drupal and change what needs changing for our community. Our hands aren’t tied on specific developers, companies, or approaches.

    Don’t worry, Boris! RainCity is still in our hearts and minds… but it’s nice to have that option! It’s also a good selling point when you are pitching open source apps in your enterprise.

    Every platform will have at least one pitfall, so finding one that is both flexible and open is the key. If that pitfall becomes a crevasse over time, an open system will allow you to pick up your data and move on.

  15. MSDN is currently running an older version of Community Server for blogs, but the site itself runs on two custom platforms: MTPS (MSDN-TechNet Publishing System) and the Community Platform.<br />
    <br />
    Rob Howard may not be familiar with the Community Platform, but it is definitely not Community Server, which only runs MSDN blogs.

  16. MSDN is currently running an older version of Community Server for blogs, but the site itself runs on two custom platforms: MTPS (MSDN-TechNet Publishing System) and the Community Platform.

    Rob Howard may not be familiar with the Community Platform, but it is definitely not Community Server, which only runs MSDN blogs.

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