Why the Fuss About Social Blogging?

Recent posts at ReadWriteWeb, at GigaOm, and elsewhere discuss the “social” direction that blogging is taking. The discussion seems strange, given that blogging has always been social.

One way of explaining it is that:

  • Blogging is conversation (Naked or otherwise).
  • Conversation = content + connection.
  • There’s a current emphasis on connection. Connection is of course the defining feature of social networks such as Facebook and LinkedIn.
  • Connection is also a feature of blogging software, such as Movable Type and WordPress.

It is indeed on Movable Type and WordPress that the RWW and GOm posts focus. I’ll keep that focus, despite comments that Drupal and Elgg also belong in the conversation. But I’d like to make the comparison between Movable Type and WordPress, just as I’ve made elsewhere the comparison between Six Apart and Automattic, the respective firms behind MT and WP.

Here’s what Anil Dash of Six Apart recently announced.

Movable Type Pro lets you turn any site into a full social publishing platform, combining all of Movable Type’s abilities as a blogging and CMS with social networking features like profiles, ratings, user registration, forums, following, and more.

Six Apart offer three platforms: MT, TypePad, and Vox. There is no TypePad counterpart to MT Pro (although there is something called TypePad Pro). Vox is, and has been from the start, a “social blogging” platform, with its content and connection features sharing top billing.

While Six Apart offer three platforms, Automattic offer one: WordPress. While Six Apart’s MT Pro moves social networking up alongside blogging, Automattic’s BuddyPress moves social networking up in front of blogging: BuddyPress will move the main focus of WordPress MU away from blogs, and onto the actual member profile.

While MT Pro includes forums, BuddyPress doesn’t. That’s not because Automattic consider forums unimportant; it’s because they offer specialized forum software: bbPress.

Now to try and summarize the different ways in which the two blogging firms are increasing emphasis on connection. Six Apart offer social blogging in two forms: MT Pro for the enterprise, and Vox for the individual. Automattic offers blogging in the form of WordPress, and social networking in the form of BuddyPress.

Of course, summarize often means (over-)simplify, and there’s a lot of simplification above. For example, BuddyPress is essentially Multi-User WordPress plus plugins and themes, so the relative emphasis on content (blogging) and connection (social network) can be calibrated as appropriate.

I leave any further clarifications to this account of social blogging to comments…

WordPress and Social Networks

Blogs and social networks are often contrasted. For example, we could say that blogs are about content, and social networks are about connection.

It may seem strange, then, that there are a couple of reasonably prominent projects out there that use the WordPress blog software to build social networks. One, DiSo, is prominent because of its links with standards efforts.

Another, BuddyPress, has just become more prominent because it has become part of Automattic. By that, I mean that Automattic has just hired Andy Peating, developer of BuddyPress, and has added BuddyPress to its projects.

In announcing the news, Matt remarked that the future is social, and Om said that we told you Automattic saw it that way.

A bit of history: Andy developed a social network called ChickSpeak, using WordPress Multi-User to do so. BuddyPress was his project to take that work and make it an open source social network platform. It’s still his project, but now he a paycheck and other support from Automattic to work on it.

In terms of Automattic’s direction, the most interesting aspect of BuddyPress is the contrast with the Prologue theme. Matt described a WordPress blog with that theme as like a group Twitter. He went on to say that:

Some folks have suggested that using WordPress, Prologue, and RSS you could create a pretty effective distributed version of Twitter. This isn’t something we’re personally interested in, but we’ve made the theme available as open source under the GPL so if you want to hack around it yourself you’re welcome to.

So, Automattic isn’t going to pounce on Twitter; it’ll leave that to Pownce. But it is going to jump on the opportunity to build an open source social network platform.