Social Networking is a preoccupation of mine. Also, as a blogger, WordPress is a key part of my work flow. And a question I keep asking myself is, what if WordPress became a Social Network?
Here’s the thing, WordPress already is a Social Network, of a fashion. Once you’re signed in to their main WordPress public website, all the comments you’ve made on other WordPress-powered blogs are collated for you to revisit at your leisure.
However, I tend not to be signed in all that often. The reason? Once signed in, you can’t add a custom link to the comment field, which I nearly always do. For me personally, that’s a barrier which I’d rather not cross.
The duality of WordPress — us and them
There are two WordPress worlds. First there’s the inner world, populated by those whose blog is hosted by WordPress. Then there’s the outer world, populated by those, like me, whose blog is hosted elsewhere.
This duality is more like a schism. Surely there should be no division at all?
But for all those like me who’ve registered their external blog, there’s sort of a bridge between the internal and the external. And it’s this bridge that forms in interesting point for inserting a Social Network.
If we look at all those other Social Networks out there, there’s usually a theme or a interest that people gravitate towards. In the case of a WordPress Social Network, the theme would be blogging and the currency would be comments.
How many times do we write a comment, only to never follow it up? Unless the external blog is running an appropriate Plugin which pings out emails with comment updates to those that sign up — which isn’t as common as you’d think — then all we’re doing is firing and forgetting.
The idea of a WordPress-powered Social Network isn’t as far-fetched as it might sound. There’s already a Social Network out there, running on WordPress Mu called ChickSpeak.
Granted, this was a pretty complex — bordering on Herculean — effort, but it’s a fine example of how tightly and seamlessly blogs can be stitched together into something that is substantially more than the sum of its constituent parts.
But this isn’t a Social Network officially sanctioned by WordPress. This is the work of someone else.
A true bloggers Social Network
So let’s assume WordPress have themselves their very own Social Network. What might it look like?
As of writing, the WordPress website boasts 3,569,839 blogs with 170,755 new posts today. Those are no small numbers. There’s no measuring the quality of all those blogs and their massed ranks of posts, but that’s another story.
What we have is a huge volume of content, much of which isn’t being served as well as it should. Sure, there’s going to be a lot of those blogs that were set up and forgotten. Then there are the Splogs, or Spam Blogs. Also, there are those that are of less reputable standing .. ahem! And then there are those that really aren’t all that good.
What remains I would imagine is a collection of mentionable and merit-worthy blogs that are, for the most part, hiding their light under a bushel.
But how do we find these blogs? A good place to start would be all of those Tags & Categories people assign to their posts. So much like all your favourite Tags are listed in StumbleUpon or Mixx, you could subscribe to your favourite Tags & Categories, or to similar sounding variations which would appear in a tab somewhere in your Dashboard on WordPress.
There’s already the Tag Surfer option, which accomplishes much the same thing. But what I propose would extend to all those external WordPress blogs, too. And with Blog Surfer, you can bookmark all of those excellent blogs you’re discovering.
Taking things a step further, now you’ve bookmarked those blogs, why not subscribe to their feed? Makes sense to me!
So now we’re all in place, subscribing to blogs, as well as groups of Tags & Categories, we need some way of talking amongst ourselves. A way of sharing our thoughts & ideas. Fortunately, much of the hard work has already been done, with Prologue fitting the bill as a Twitter-esque service specifically for WordPress.
Prologue already provides a way of creating Groups, which would instantly lend itself to our imaginary Social Network. But what I’d like to see wouldn’t be a Twitter clone, but IM (Instant Messaging), so we can all chat in real time.
However, in its present form, Prologue isn’t perfect:
“And how much of a challenge is it going to be to sell Prologue into environments that aren’t using Twitter? Probably very difficult, since to make Twitter work, people have to want to share, which needs to be habitual and be in-line with corporate policies.”
So a more likely future for Prologue is within a Social Network powered by WordPress.
The business of blogging
Just imagine being able to pick out a blog from your own or a friends Tags & Categories list, then share it with friends, letting them see your comments and then adding their own.
Straight away, all those one-off comments have the potential to be true discussions, which actively encourage friends and colleagues to comment themselves. Once obscure, all but forgotten blogs are unearthed and given the attention they deserve.
Quite quickly, the front page News Departments section would be transformed from a simple, loosely categorized list into a deeply populated directory, containing many hundreds of thousands of blogs.
And comments suddenly become shared, collective conversations; which from an internet marketing point of view is the holy grail these days.
With an emphasis on creating dialogues with a healthy churn of UGC (User-Generated Content), the advertising potential of a WordPress-powered Social Network isn’t to be ignored, either.
And going beyond advertising revenue, I still believe WordPress has a future as a commercial CMS (Content Management System).
Community is a big part of any blog, and a key ingredient in its success. Anything that helps distribute the wealth of comment currency would be worth a Social Networking fortune…