Warning: mildly incoherent rambling ahead…
I’ve been giving a lot of thought recently to what the best way of creating online communities are. This is partly Simon Dickson’s fault.
Back in March, Simon wrote, in a post titled “Because you can’t do bettr than Flickr”:
I’ve just started work with a local community group keen to build a civic website. I’m looking at open source CMS solutions like Drupal as the base system… but I must admit, I’m wondering if the best idea isn’t simply to aggregate stuff from elsewhere…
Take the example of photo sharing… you won’t find a better website than Flickr. So why not just create a group, and let the members feed into it. Let Flickr take all the pain of hosting, user access rights, etc etc – not to mention the expense. That’s why they’re there. Meanwhile, you just consume the various RSS feeds (or whatever) back at base.
The more I consider it, I think this use of best-of-breed web services to add content to a community is the best way of doing things. The problem is with what you use as the ‘base’.
For example, VodPod is a great way of aggregating community chosen video content in one place. It also provides neat tools to display the content through the use of embedded widgets, which work within blog sidebars or within the bounds of a static web page.
It’s easy enough to create Flickr groups, or even just use tags, and use the RSS feed to republish the content and provide links back to source, as Simon points out.
But how to assemble it all in one place? You could have a central blog, which the community members contribute to – but then that kind of goes against the spirit of the enterprise. What would be better would be that members author their own blog posts, and choose in some way whether or not they make it to the community or not. WordPress blogs could manage this as it can produce feeds for individual tags, for example. Another option might be to use a specific de.icio.us tag and pull in headlines from that feed.
So, what about the base system? Drupal could do it, but it’s complicated! You could hack together a batch of pages using MagpieRSS, for example, but it would be a lot of work to get something looking professional.
One option would be to use WordPress and the FeedWordPress plugin to aggreagte blog content to fill the main page, with other media content in the sidebars. But there is a problem with this approach, which is that the RSS feed won’t include this supplementary media!
Perhaps something could be done with Yahoo!’s Tubes system, but I have to admit to not entirely understanding that.
Does anyone have any ideas on how various social sites could be pulled together successfully?