I was shopping the other day ... and I saw this really cool bookshelf ... with great design, good finish, etc. ... and since I needed a bookshelf in the office, I ordered it without giving it too much thought.
When it was delivered and after I unpacked it ... it didn’t seem like such a great idea.
It just didn’t seem to fit into any of the spaces that I imagined it would, and the proportions seemed a lot bigger than they seemed at the store.
Now, I won’t go on about my new decor issues since this blog isn’t about that ... but the thought process is something I can relate to with those looking for a social software platform to build the website that they envision.
When you first plan a social networking website or a community website, you'll likely start with a very clear vision of what that site will be like, what functionality it will provide, and what the core value(s) will be.
Somewhere in the process of selecting technology options, this vision is blurred and many find themselves compromising and settling for what the software platform they plan to base their website on offers.
Look at Flickr and Youtube, for example.
Somewhere in their functionality they both offer a way to upload media, they both offer an internal messaging feature, the ability to add friends, and create groups. Yet, they maintain individuality because they have customized things to a level where they use these components around their core offering ... which for Flickr is photos and Youtube is video.
While most social websites are a blend of several components, it’s really 'how you can customize it' to offer more value that sets them apart.
Can you imagine if every single social website were to look and function exactly the same?
Social software platforms form an excellent base to build on for your social websites.
There is no point in re-inventing the wheel or having to build every component of a social website from scratch when you have a ready framework. The costs in terms of time and money may not be worth it unless your website involves something very drastically different.
At the same time, while 'ready to use platforms' may be perfect for some websites, they may not be perfect for all websites -- especially those that need re-modeling and changes to the source code to get a highly customized and specific end result.
When that is a requirement, you need to explore a social software platform with complete access to source code, or you may just end up getting stuck with a website that doesn’t give you what you envisioned and no way to alter it the way you need to.
For example, if you plan on building a social site aimed at building a community of fashion conscious teenagers that helps provide each other with style tips and how to put together great looks, you would have some clear vision of how that website would turn out.
You know that you will need components such as sign on, membership, ability to add friends, blogs, messaging and similar components, but you also need to integrate some other core components that you would like to build -- such as the ability to assemble a 'look' visually. Having access to the source code of a social platform or social networking software will give you the freedom to integrate different components and come up with a customized end product, rather than taking a standard social platform and stamping a logo on it -- which doesn’t work out when you’re trying to build a unique offering.
So if you're evaluating social software technology with a specific aim of creating something unique, make sure you have access to the source code or at least access to a robust API -- make sure you have room to customize and do your own thing.
Also, if you ever buy a bookshelf or some goofy office furniture, make sure you know it will fit in the space it's supposed to!
Tim is a co-founder and president of Axero and the author of his forthcoming book, Who the Hell Wants to Work for You? Break Down the Invisible Barriers to Employee Engagement. He's spilt insightful ink on the pages of Fortune, Forbes, TIME, Inc Magazine, Entrepreneur.com, CNBC, Today, and other top publications.
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