Build Your Own Social Network : Elgg

Inside the Harvard Science CenterThe question one finds asking themselves before taking any task of considerable effort is  whether they really want to do it. This past weekend, I exerted some effort to get myself from Washington D.C. to Cambridge, MA to attend a conference. The topic of discussion was Elgg. What is Elgg and why did I go to Cambridge? Read on and discover why.

Last week, it was brought to my attention that Elgg–an open source Social Networking Platform–was holding a conference on Social Media for Education, and a more specific conference on Elgg. I know and understand the needs of Education that the promise of Social Media can bring. I was very glad someone decided to bring people together to talk about it. Since it was on Friday and I was at work that day, I couldn’t make it. Thankfully, I did make the second conference on Saturday.

At ElggCamp Boston 2009, I was able to see the need for the "Social Networking Platform".Speakers made it very clear that Elgg was not for the person that needed to put up a generic social network to link people together. Facebook, LinkedIn, MySpace, and Twitter do that just fine.

Elgg did not want to be a content management system because that market is well over saturated. Elgg did not want to be yet another blogging or discussion board tool, especially when there are excellent tools for both. The purpose of Elgg was to allow people use the basics of a social networking platform and extend it to do other things.

Some of the various uses which I saw at the conference which made sense were exhibited by people from different industries. : The Homeschool Social Network
Brett showed the group how Elgg was extended with a combining a mix of plugin development, and a singular purpose of bringing together the Parents and Children in the home schooling community of the United States. : The Social Application Platform for The Hedge Fund & Investment Community
Ken showed the group how Elgg was extended with a combination of pure brilliance, financial market know how, and high end programming to provide a digital marketplace for especialized financial data and applications that utilize it. : The Social Network Enabling the Earth Observation Community
Roger showed the group how Elgg was extended with super and virtual computing to bring together scientists from around the world to share research data, computing power, and their results in a collaborative environment to conduct Earth Science research.

The aforementioned websites are highly customized instances of the open source social networking platform. They are not what most of the thousands of current downloads probably end up as. Most websites that are running Elgg are probably like Free Vermont Radio which brings together people appreciate and broadcast Vermont independant music and radio.

Bringing up an Elgg site is not that complicated and there are many different hosting providers including GoDaddy which support Elgg hosting in one way or another. After bringing up a Standard Elgg site, there are a few suggested plugins which are useful and as the research from Ed suggests, very popular. The Events plugin was the one which seemed most mature, however not complete. The community of Elgg is young and not many substantial plugins exist, but it is possible to build whatever you want on the PHP platform. Other plugins such as the Twitter and Facebook plugin allow users to sign into an Elgg site without creating another user account and use their existing accounts on those respective websites. If your users use Google, AOL, or any other OpenID providers, new users to an Elgg site can use their login information as well.

Many of you reading this probably didn’t get a chance to catch up with the Elgg team or the people using it in Cambridge this past weekend because the effort was probably too considerable to pull you away from more important tasks. I personally justified the trip because we are able to deploy Elgg for a large non-profit client and because I hadn’t seen Boston in a while.   None the less, if you do have an interest in Social Media in your organization, please review the slides in the embedded presentation before you make a decision. If you are a non-profit, we at Beaconfire are more than happy to guide you through the process through our Software Evaluation service line.

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