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.
Wrapped 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 news24.com (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 24.com-centric service, but a key to making any site it plugs into social. The grand plan would be to connect those sites.