Building online communities is a tricky business. In my opinion the key values for any social network is simplicity. This applies to function, design and purpose. Yet as @_ianr of Twitter pointed out “Surely the key is ‘all your friends are on it!’”. Whilst the technicalities of a social network could be perfect, it takes time to build up a user base.
During my GCSEs I was very active in a game making community which was centred around a project aptly called Game Maker. If you have ever wanted to make games then check this piece of software out. You can build games using a drag and drop interface, as you become more comfortable you can program using GMC (Game Maker Code) which closely resembles the Delphi language.
When constructing games for Windows I noticed that whilst I had creative ideas and could code to an extent, I was useless at creating graphics. This sparked an idea of mine to build an online system for Game Maker users to communicate with each other and create team projects. It was a good idea as the Game Maker forum system did not cater for this feature, even if it did my system would be better.
The project relied upon the PHP language and from the very beginning a friend, Robert Mumford, became involved. We called our project Team Builder (another apt name) and a user base began to grow.
It was incredible. People communicated using our system, our code was working in the background and the service was useful for people. We even received an email from Game Maker asking for this system to become part of their website. It was shocking. Over a period of time this project may have made money, it was heading that way. Although we were not interested, for us the community counted.
After a year the website was stopped. Both of us had lost interest in the project. GCSEs had taken up a large amount of our time and this website was a distraction. A few months later I saw a thread on the Game Maker forum labelled “Team Builder, what happened?”. Users were sad to see the website go. It is a project which had potential and I abandoned it. To this day I regret not continuing that website.
Now that I have found myself working within the technology industry I have come to appreciate the value of users. Many do not realise how valuable their personal information is. Microsoft, Apple and Google all want the largest share of users. Notice that registration is free for all these online services – the companies just want you.
Companies try and fail all the time. Apple and Google have had their fair share of flops. Nobody cares about Ping, Buzz or Wave (for the record I love Google Wave).
Everybody cares about Facebook and Twitter. Two projects which were started out of passion, not for profit. Perhaps this is the key ingredient for a social networking site? It must be born from passion and not for profit.
In particularly the online community which Facebook boasts, a reported 600 million users, has changed the way in which online communities are built across the internet. Instead of users signing up multiple times to a range of different websites, they only need to log in once.
OpenID is dated (2008 which makes the vision impossibly Victorian in digital terms) but universal logins are not just about user convenience, it is a remote userbase. It is a bit like putting all of your money into a central bank account for multiple people to use. Websites who allow people to login to their own website using a form of OpenID technology have given away their audience away.
Facebook Connect has sparked a wave of social networking which is more than just signing up to a website. It is a physical port of your privacy options and friend connections. Being part of the DataPortability Project provides a user convenience and smart business move for Facebook. Other websites and networks have connected with Facebook, it keeps Facebook alive.
End of muse…