The Hub: Social networking on a publishing platform

The Hub, a key 20FourLabs project, changes everything. To some extent, it’s the realisation of of these thoughts I had in 2007 that all websites, all businesses, and in fact all things are social networks. It’s an obvious point in many ways, but then again not so obvious in others.

theHUB_signup_02Wrapped up in the Hub is an element of Disqus and an element of TimesPeople and elements of a pre-existing comment aggregation strategy. There are also new elements and features we workshopped internally with Labs’ product managers Alistair Fairweather and now Stefano Sessa — now being interrogated by developerguru Ronny Srnka and the rather talented 20FourLabs dev team.

The theory behind The Hub is that online publishing sites like (and pretty much all others) have natural networks around them. Now what these sites, in particular, do badly is formalise and realise those networks. Some do it better than others. For example, user comments below articles are a crude form of social networking in a publishing context. Social networks on a basic level would also include a user submitting and publishing stories or photos to a website. These create small, crude and “unrealised” networks.

Publishers do this badly. Very badly. Publishers are good at connecting with users, but could go further when it comes to connecting users with each other. I always use the example of CNN and Facebook. Obviously these perform very different functions (at the moment), but it’s interesting to point out that Facebook and I have a sophisticated relationship. The site knows all about me. In contrast, even though I’m a regular reader of CNN — it knows relatively little about me, perhaps apart from the cookies its adserver drops on my computer.

So this where The Hub comes in. The idea is to inject a layer of social sophistication into the key areas where users are commenting, debating and interacting. Then it takes things further and enriches user interaction: users are profiled, they can see activity feeds, they can follow each other, then can IM each other, they can create dynamic groups or “Hubs” to take the debate further and network some more. A spinoff to this will also result in personalised content, services and advertising to users.

It also removes a key issue that publishers tend to agonise over — whether to moderate comments and how to moderate comments. I believe in ruthless moderation. There is no other way to ensure quality in large-volume public areas. But here is a way to serve this but also simultaneously give users more ownership over the content they create on a publishing site. Content appears on user profiles regardless, but is also aggregated to the publishing brand, depending on quality or relevance. (Anonymous comments are also supported for those that want their identities hidden).

Most importantly, The Hub is independent. It plugs into other sites. It will not just be a service, but a key to making any site it plugs into social. The grand plan would be to connect those sites.

Comments (4)

  1. Justin Arenstein wrote::

    Hola Matthew.

    Sounds very interesting. I’m about about to launch a small hyperlocal news site for one of my magazines. How do I pilot HUB to see whether it works in the real world?


    Thursday, October 22, 2009 at 8:30 am #
  2. rafiq wrote::

    May I have a look at it when I’m at 24 on Monday? ideas… ideas.. ideas

    Thursday, October 22, 2009 at 3:40 pm #
  3. Sounds good.

    Will be nice to see it in action.

    You have been profiled. 😉

    Thursday, October 22, 2009 at 3:46 pm #
  4. Darb wrote::

    What kind of a relationship does this have to OpenSocial?

    Does it try to do something different to OpenSocial, or is it a hosted service that could implement OpenSocial protocols?

    Would love to hear what kind of relationship the two have (if any)

    Sunday, October 25, 2009 at 10:06 pm #

Trackbacks/Pingbacks (2)

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    […] love The Hub and the concept behind it. It is a step in the right direction and it is a very real experience […]

  2. » Startups of Le Web 2009, Paris on Tuesday, January 26, 2010 at 3:00 pm

    […] a plug & play application that turns your site into a social network (not too dissimilar from the Hub actually). The runners up were CloudSplit and […]