WordPressMU Leaves me Lonely

I’ve been looking at WordPressMU for a work project.  It’s a great solution for letting people create individual or group blogs, but the recently released 1.0 version isn’t great at building community between those people.

This is demonstrated over at Edublogs.  In the year since it first launched using a beta version of WordPressMU, it’s accumulated an impressive number of readers and writers, but, as Lorelle notes, it’s not developed an obvious community:

Honestly, I thought the “community blogging” spirit would take off stronger than it has. I expected to see a lot of grouped bloggers working together within their own communities, emphasizing collective knowledge. That’s part of the spirit of Web 2.0. As WordPress.com and other WordPressMU blogging tools become more stable and easier to use, more groups will embrace it.

I don’t think it’s simply a matter of stability and ease of use though.  I think the problem is that WordPressMU lacks community features that help people find and stay connected with other bloggers using the service.

A quick look at Livejournal, which also makes it’s underlying software available under an open source license, suggests some improvements that will help WordPressMU support a blogging community, rather than just a bunch of freestanding blogs.

Livejournal lets you identify people as “friends,”  Once you’ve marked someone as a friend, their posts show up on your friends page.  This helps you keep up with your friends posts, making it more likely that you’ll comment on them, or post a response on your blog.

WordPress users can do this now by adding RSS feeds for their friends blogs to their RSS aggregator of choice, but it doesn’t give the same sense of place you get checking your friends updates on the same site you post your own updates.  WordPressMU would be strengthened by extending the existing blogroll functionality to make it simple to blogroll other blogs on the same WordPressMU installation and then adding an RSS aggregator that shows the latest posts for all the sites (including those not hosting on the same WordPressMU installation) on each users blogroll.

Doing so would help create a sense of place and community where people can go to check up on friends and join in discussions with them.

Of course, there is the question of how people who haven’t met in real life find “friends” on any given WordPressMU driven service.  The friends aggregator helps here too, because it’s not just available not just to the owner of a blog, it’s also available to anyone who stumbles upon their blog.  So, if you find a blog that interests you, you can click to see posts from the blogs the author(s) is reading, which exposes you to new people you might share interests with.  Those people also have their own friends aggregator, which exposes you to even more new people…

Livejournal also supports communities, which are kind of like group blogs, but they have option of allowing anyone to join in and post without having to be approved.  Communities provide a common space for conversation and meeting new people, not unlike a neighborhood coffee shop or pub.  They also come with a page aggregating all the latests posts from their members.  Both create more opportunities for discovery of other bloggers using the service.  WordPressMU could adopt similar features, giving each group blog an aggregator page with the latests posts from the other blogs owned by it’s contributors, and also the blogs of it’s most recent commenters.

There is more than can be done to help bloggers make connections on WordPressMU.  The community tagging features on WordPress.com suggest one avenue, though I think it should be more of an integrated experience for both writers & readers.

These are just a few obvious ideas, I’m sure there are lots of other avenues.  I hope that the recent release of WordPressMU 1.0 will provide a foundation for innovation of plug-ins offering community-oriented features that will eventually find their way into the core product.

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