Social Networking

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I recently created another BuddyPress test site and I am pleased with how much the procedure has been simplified. I blogged about the difficulty in the past, so it is only fair that I note vast improvements.

I never fully succeeded installing BP the first time I tried. It involved a long process of manually uploading a variety of files and opening them to edit the code in numerous places, then testing and adjusting. I was able to install BP itself, but I never quite got the forum component bbPress (then in Alpha) to work as it should. Trying again several months later (about a year ago), I succeeded and noted that it had been simplified to to a 13 step process still involving moving files and editing code.

Now BP can be installed entirely from WordPressMu and even plain WordPress entirely through the backend. There is no longer a need to use ftp at all or edit a single line of code. Simply install WP or WPMu then install BP through the plugin installer. One no longer must use ftp to manually move themes to the appropriate folder. Next activate one of the BP themes installed with the package through the Appearance menu. All that is left is activating bbPress by going to BuddyPress–>Forum Set up and basically turn it on.

BuddyPress is now installable to even those with few tech skills. Most shared hosting services with control panels have point and click WordPress installers. Now that WP and WPMu have merged, one could convert a standard installation to WPMu, but that still requires some mucking with code. If one needed the multi-blog functionality, it is probably easier to manually install WPMu than make the conversion. I’m sure that will change with time.

BuddyPress has joined Elgg as a viable replacement for proprietary solutions such as NING. I look forward to revisiting both and reporting my experiences.

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While visiting the BuddyPress site for fresh news, I encountered a blog post entitled BuddyPress in K12 Education. It appears that BuddyPress is being piloted by the Dearborn, Michigan school district. It’s always great to hear about Open Source adoptions by public K12 ! I could see deploying components of BuddyPress in our school’s existing WPMu installation.

I was disappointed, however, to see that two of the key plugins for making this possible are for pay: Site-wide Privacy Settings and Content Monitoring. It seems to me that privacy settings for blogs should be a basic functionality for Social Networking platforms. I hope that BuddyPress will integrate some form of access/privacy settings that will make it appropriate for K12 in the near term!

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Social Bookmarking site Ma.gnolia experienced a disastrous database corruption which has brought the site down. On February 17, Ma.gnolia owner Larry Halff announced that the data could not be recovered. He answered some interesting questions about Ma.gnolia and cloud computing services in general in this interview. It is long, but I really think the video is worth watching.


Citizen Garden Episode 11: Whither Ma.gnolia? from Larry Halff on Vimeo.

I appreciate Mr. Halff’s candor. There are a lot of lessons to be learned here. The first of which is entities on the web might not be what they seem.

On the Internet nobody knows you’re a dog. It is easy and tempting to project an image of being an being a greater entity than a company really is. I got started with working with the web in collaboration with an Australian tie-dyer who was obsessed with keeping the world from knowing that his apparel firm was a three person drop ship operation consisting of him, my wife, and me. It made me uncomfortable then and skeptical now. As pointed out in the interview, there are probably countless other web services that are as small and as shaky as Ma.gnolia.

This leads to the inevitable conclusion that our data in these cloud Social Networking Apps may be considerably more vulnerable than we can imagine. We need ways to backup our important data housed by these services. I have found some leads in this area and I am actively pursuing them. I hope to report some possible solutions in the near future.

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Tentative release dates have revealed for Elgg versions 1.1 and 1.5. Version 1.1 has a target date of November 3, 2008. Version 1.5 is due next February. Bear in mind these time frames are not set in stone.

Pete Harris, the Elgg dev team’s designer, has released a number of great themes requiring Elgg version 1.09. Currently, this version is only available in Elgg’s SVN repository. Users that reported they didn’t have the expertise to obtain the files via Subversion, were advised by Pete that the target release date is November 3. Those willing to learn how to use SVN can go to my blog post Elgg and Subversion.

The current Trunk of Elgg is labeled 1.09. Today brought another round of updates, while not major, requiring another database upgrade. The Elgg team is obviously focusing on this as each of the last three times I updated my Elgg files I have had to update the database.

Ben Werdmuller announced the roadmap for the Elgg 1.5 release with a list of new features. Some of these features appear to address concerns about performance and scalability including views and location caching along with the abiltiy to create multiple sites with sub-sites.

Others appear to be appearance and customization related. More themes and a basic mobile view are planned. Also mentioned were a selection of canvas layouts and improved front page layout.

User enhancements include simple media embedding into text fields. While this is currently possible through some extended tinymce plugins, they work outside the core Elgg files system.

I am sure the team will continually work to enhance database performance and usability. They have mentioned a query object allowing deeper database work and a drillable site-wide stream making it easier to hone in on what you are looking for. The metastring garbage collection will delete lingering database remnants.

Some new administrative tools are planned. They plan to further develop a submenu system with better grouping. A construction tool for form based plugins is also in the works.

Finally, we will be able to delete groups. A long awaited upgrade path from Elgg Classic will be developed, and there will be enhancements to OpenDD.

While we all look forward to these milestones, we must bear in mind that not all goes as planned. It is better to be a little later and more bug free!

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New legislation passed unanimously by the US Senate and headed for the President’s desk mandates schools to provide instruction about safety on social networking sites. The language was appended to S.1492 bill Broadband Data Improvement. While the thrust of the bill is improving broadband Internet access to Americans, SubTitle A: Promoting a Safe Internet for Children includes :

(iii) as part of its Internet safety policy is educating minors about appropriate online behavior, including interacting with other individuals on social networking websites and in chat rooms and cyberbullying awareness and response.

What better way to teach them than to use social networking software in instruction, rather than lecture them about online perils? A closed environment monitored by teachers would give students real life practice in a safer environment. It would add relevance and authenticity to instruction. Discussion of appropriate online behavior prior to actually using social networking software would have a positive impact on student learning and is more likely to have a lasting effect on student online behavior. Mistakes would have lesser repercussions than on a site open to the world at large. They could be powerful teachable moments.

I plan to use this to bolster my case for the use of social networking software in our school. What impact do you think this may have on schools and their potential use of social software?

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