WordPress parent company Automattic got good blog-press today with the hire-acquire of social networking plug-in suite BuddyPress, further indication that the blogging company is preparing to blur the lines in social media and challenge the likes of Facebook and MySpace. The elephant in the middle of the room, though, is data portability and distributed social networking.
Now that there are millions upon millions of dollars in play, is Automattic moving toward a strategy that will prioritize growing its own market share far beyond (and sometimes at the expense of) a broader vision of user-centric social networking?
BuddyPress is a social networking framework built on top of WordPress code and is seen put to use well at ChickSpeak, a social network for hot, vapid sorority "chicks." It's a solid social networking code base but doesn't attempt to solve the fundamental problem with social networks: silos. ("Get me out of LinkedIn and onto ChickSpeak!" the suits are shouting silently.)
Distributed social networking advocates are working to create bridges between different networks so you can take your data from one to the other and back again. Drupal to MySpace to Ning.
There's a world of opportunities for niche social networks to augment the big town squares of Facebook and MySpace, to break off from general communication into focused conversations with like-minded people around a particular topic.
Distributed VisionsThere's a community project in the works built on WordPress and called DISO, the Distributed Social Network. WordPress founder Matt Mullenweg links to DISO in his blog post announcing the move, but all's not well in the data portability community.
David Recordon, associated with both SixApart and the OpenID Foundation but apparently commenting independently on TechCrunch, had the following reaction [excerpted] to the news:
"It is certainly interesting though that they chose to purchase BuddyPress versus working with the DiSo project to build distributed social networks. While the BuddyPress.com site is now just an Automattic logo (not really a good start for Open and Free), it seems that BuddyPress is actually more like Movable Type Community Solution which powers sites like Boing Boing and thus is being incorrectly described as distributed social networking.
I completely agree distributed social networking is great for blogging and great for the web. I truly hope to see Automattic engage the community that has already started creating and shipping this stuff instead of forgetting that it exists."
How's it going to go when the rubber hits the road? Only time will tell.
The Existential DiSo Interview from Chris Messina on Vimeo.