A new open source cross-site social networking service called Explode launched today and looks like a very appealing alternative to the now Yahoo! owned MyBlogLog. Built by UK open-source social network provider Curverider (whose primary product, Elgg, is similar to PeopleAggregator), Explode offers an embeddable widget that links out to users’ respective profile pages on any social network but allows commenting and befriending in one aggregated location. I found Explode via Steve O’Hear’s The Social Web, one of my new favorite blogs.
MyBlogLog has been a fascinating success story – it’s very appealing to see the faces of people who have been reading your blog. People are willing to expose a lot of personal information in exchange for the experience. The service’s explosive growth, if you will, combined with its underlying data capture capabilities lead to a Yahoo! acquisition.
Unfortunately MyBlogLog has been plagued by problems. Spammers (nothing personal Mr. Online-Pharmacy, thanks for reading my blog) are relatively easy to block from your widget but identity problems have been a bigger challenge. From my face appearing in comments left by my friend after I borrow his computer to my boss’s face appearing in comments I leave because we co-author the same blog to Michael Arrington’s dog’s face appearing next to comments I leave around the web for who knows what reason – MyBlogLog cookies have a tendency to get mixed up. This month’s spate of random invitations to be added as co-author other users’ blogs was just the most recent issue. On top of it all, I now find myself unable to gracefully deny having read a post on someone’s blog once my face has appeared in their sidebar.
Even if these problems were all solved, there’s a level of data capture by Yahoo! via the service, and subsequent lack of access on the part of users, that’s disconcerting. You can opt out of a lot in MyBlogLog and still use the service, but it’s not at all obvious how to do so. An open source, community based alternative could prove very welcome.
Explode requires that users click a link on a site they visit in order to befriend that site’s author, unlike MyBlogLog’s default addition of users to a site’s community after a given number of visits to that site. It would be nice if Explode allowed users to add each other as friends while on the Explode site and unless there’s good reason to prohibit it I expect this functionality will be added soon.
The idea of adding a cross-network friendship and commenting community isn’t a shocking innovation, but if Explode can implement it well then it could find strong support among users. The creators of Explode report that they will soon implement widget skinning, OpenID and an API. Explode is a simple system, but it solves a very clear problem of siloed social networks without asking people to abandon the services they are already invested in.