Community Tools Must Evolve With Their Communities: Lessons from ElggCamp

Elgg is a rather interesting, open-source, highly customizable social networking application. While it’s not all that known by the general public, all sorts of organizations — from schools to non-profits and brands — use it to set up social networks for their customers, students, and stakeholders, at their own website using their own brand.

I’m writing this from ElggCamp in San Francisco, listening to a series of presentations by people who have successfully deployed Elgg for their communities.

For me, one of the key questions is: why their own social network, and not just simply Facebook? And something interesting emerges …

I used to think it was mostly about being able to put your own brand first, not Facebook’s. About putting together the right collection of skins and plugins and terminology etc. for your community, instead of having to use generic Facebook or Google+ or whatever.

But there’s a stronger undertone from speaker after speaker talking about their projects. It’s about how the community wants and needs to own and control their social network (instead of just merely having a little section inside a worldwide social network). And how the community wouldn’t be as strong if they couldn’t. About the community needing to evolve the communication tools in parallel to how the community evolves. About how it is almost impossible to “work together” with others on a general-purpose site like Facebook, and how even high school students automatically switch to their school social network when attempting to get something done.

It is something that resonates. I’m a member of a number of communities, and it turns out, none of them runs on Facebook, and most of them never could.

So Elgg and apps like it will likely never be another Facebook. Or would want to be. Instead, they are the way to provide deeper, more meaningful, more useful functionality that evolves with their communities that Facebook ever can.

Stuff for thought…

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