Philip Greenspun: Online Community Integration
Philip Greenspun kindly asked me what I thought of one of his recent ideas, "Online Community Integration". I think it's a good one. So of course the question becomes, "Why hasn't it been done already?"
It's an interesting question because people have been nibbling at the problem from a variety of related, and sometimes more general angles. There have been / still are, as Philip notes, major authentication initiatives, like MS Passport and OpenID. Yahoo! Pipes (example) provides a powerful means for building aggregation services. We have RSS readers (though not yet branded readers, which I think are still a good idea).
The most obvious answer would seem to be that there's no practical standard, like RSS, for expressing the data structure of a bboard post in an online community. Why not isn't clear to me. Since many communities use a much smaller universe of widely adopted toolkits to support their bboards, you might have imagined a standard might have emerged from these? After all, we have iCal, why not iPost?
Another reason might be that publishers are reluctant to allow aggregation of their communities' content. But this doesn't seem to hold water, since they often allow members to subscribe (and sometimes reply) to posts by email, and otherwise expose their content via RSS.
Or, perhaps it might be that users (members of multiple communities) are reluctant to entrust all of their online community passwords to a single publisher of such a tool, or to set up an OpenID.
Maybe it's because the run-of-the-mill email client is a close-enough substitute. However, it's an ugly way to read threaded community discussions. I've been trying Google Wave, which looks better for this. Turns out you can look at public online community discussions implemented as waves. Since building a critical mass of accessible content would seem to be a key to Google Wave adoption, maybe what Google (or a third party developer) needs to do is extend its Embedded Wave API to allow publishers to expose / transform their online community activity as / into Waves that can then be read in Google's client?
Philip leaves the marketing to prospective entrepreneurs to whom he's freely offered his idea. I think the answer to the marketing challenge might lie in addressing some of the issues above.
Postscript: Mozilla Raindrop