Wikia, the independent commercial wiki site founded by Wikipedia's Jimmy Wales and Angela Beesley, is releasing components of its very nice social networking toolset under the GNU General Public License 2.0.
The ability to set up an Open Source social network is now available to anyone who can put a Mediawiki install on their servers. Look out Ning and other proprietary social networking platforms!
ArmchairGM in particular has been a big social networking innovator in the Wiki market and was acquired to help drive the design of the whole Wikia ecosystem. That site is made up of news driven editorial and has a remarkably active community of participants.
Why do social networking on a wiki? On one hand, a wiki is just a web site that's easy for anyone to edit - see Mahalo for example, another Mediawiki-based community. Beyond that though, social networking features create more points of contact for users with a website and help populate the site with content far beyond what the site's owners or solitary users editing alone could put in.
The source code released offers Wikia's features for profile creation, avatar upload, friending (and "foeing" - the making of enemies in a network!), and a Facebook-"Wall" style messaging system for individual and group friend messaging called the Board. These features are now available for Mediawiki-based sites anywhere on the web, including for commercial use.
[Story continued below screenshot of profile page]
There are quite a few other features on ArmchairGM that I wish were being released but aren't. See the Digg-spy style Site Scout, for example. The Recent Changes display on GM is also quite nice but not being open sourced.
Why This Matters
This release is sure to be of interest to the owners of and participants in thousands of Mediawiki-based communities focused on a wide range of topics.
More generally, though, it could impact the social news and networking economy overall. We wrote earlier this week that the big social news aggregator model (Digg, Yahoo! Buzz) is vulnerable to market share erosion at the hands of niche social news sites. The same can be said for the big, general interest social networking sites. While most users will probably always want some presence on big sites, the potential is there to have the majority of communication online occur in a targeted niche community of people interested in and informed about the specific topics that an individual is interested in.
If you're interested in the wacky world of wikis, here's an RSS feed of blog posts about wikis (filtered with FeedRinse to remove mentions of Jotspot just because that's going to clog the airwaves for the next 48 hours), here's a wonderful video explaining wikis in plain english from CommonCraft, and here is wiki consultant Stewart Mader's great short video series 21 Days of Wiki Adoption.