It has already been a year since I started full-throttle work on the latest version of the site. I can’t believe how quickly time flies the older I get. And as time marches on, so does technology, along with the needs of the adopting audience. The difficult thing is trying to figure out where everything and everyone will move to next, and be prepared with the tools needed.
Thinking up the tools
Back in July, I posted about a “Site Redesign Concept” for the-spot.net and its forums, to try to figure out what people expect from the internet today, and what they would expect from the internet of tomorrow.
I came up with the concept art at left based on the newly released Google Inbox service, as a way to quickly address the type of content that forums are at their essence: threaded conversations. Forums are basically a single thread email chain that anyone can participate in.
This design shows you what’s new since your last visit, bubbles up people you’re more interested in while still showing all posts in chronological order. It gets the information that’s new to you out in front, but still lets you browse around to find additional topics to discuss.
This is all just a concept at this point, and I don’t think it’s a complete one.
Building the tools
For starters, I will have to take on the phpBB code myself, and develop an application programming interface (API) to gather all the data needed from the forums since that is not easily done, and hasn’t been worked on by the phpBB community for a minimum of 1 year, or the core developers for over 2 years.
The other major hurdle: existing social media sites. Some people have invested nearly a decade in sites like Facebook and Twitter. When the mass exodus of MySpace happened, people had only given up a couple of years, to leave an ad-ridden site to move to a clean white and blue site, with the exclusivity of knowing that only their university friends could see their profile, and not the internet at large. Remember when you had to have a .edu email to log in? The service has come a long way from “would you date?” apps and Farmville games, and now has a more powerful API.
And there’s Twitter, who managed to get long-form bloggers typing in SMS-sized messages to convey a point. Unfortunately those points are generally “point-less,” and the service has become riddled with spam, marketing, and celebrity nonsense while there is the occasional intended use of “what are you up to?” during major breaking world-events. Even so, it’s still a service people use, and it has an API.
There are other social networks out there, but these two should be good starters for the idea I’m about to bring back up from a decade-old slumber…
Resurrecting an idea
I’ve spent the last six months thinking over the tsn8.2 concept above, and have learned even more about developing my own APIs and such (as I’ve had to do for work with www.dallassports.org which we launched recently). Working with that site also got me involved in integrating real-time social media information, and it got me thinking…remembering.
In October 2005, the idea was floated around the-spot.net to create a new site to consolidate the reading and posting of a user’s various blogs into one location. This new site would be called “the-blot.net” – a riff on the ink-blot concept, as a play on words with “the spot.” It wasn’t long before sites like MySpace started rolling out with their own blogs on a user’s profile, followed quickly by Facebook and Twitter a few years later. This necessitated a quite different service.
It was services like the late ping.fm that came along and did the heavy lifting of allowing a user to post to all locations at once. The need for the-blot.net quickly died as did the blogs the project was designed to facilitate. The ping.fm service was bought up and after a few years shutdown. Now all that remain of service aggregators are sites like seesmic and hootsuite, focusing more on monitoring your streams than becoming a seamless social experience.
The new idea would be to fork (or heavily modify) the phpBB code to turn it into a social networking platform that allows the users to still post in the forums, but also the option to blast that post out onto their social media sites. It would also bring in any posts they’ve done on the external sites that are public, or that are visible to others who follow them on tsn and the external site. There would be an overhaul of the user profiles, a lot of challenges around permissions and data caching, and probably the need to move to a real server, instead of a web host.
And now here we are, full circle, a decade later, and it turns out there is still a need for a service to aggregate the social sites, and allow a simulcast of content – because who would have thought in 2006 that we’d be staring down the barrel of 2016 and have the same two major social networking sites we did back then? And of course, that the-spot.net would still be around…