I always cringe when seeing people try to build an open source rival to Facebook. Projects like Diaspora gain publicity as a nice idea, but get little real traction.
However, I’ve come to believe that there is a potentially viable and very real open source rival to Facebook … WordPress.
That might sound silly at first, but hear me out:
WordPress runs nearly 17% of all websites and well over 20% of all English-language sites. About half of that number is self-hosted and the other half is hosted on WordPress.com, run by Automattic.
What might happen if all those WordPress sites were linked together into a network?
It’s not hard to imagine. Automattic is adding more and more features to their JetPack plugin. Currently JetPack has over 1.6 million downloads and lots of hosting companies are installing it by default.
JetPack offers analytics, social sharing, WordPress-branded shortlinks and now a commenting service. JetPack’s features are also on WordPress.com.
So, right now, it’s safe to say that JetPack’s features probably cover around 10% of the web. That’s adding the ~8% of the web which is on WordPress.com to those who installed JetPack on their self-hosted sites.
To use JetPack, you need to create a WordPress.com account. So at the moment, around 10% of site owners on the web have a WordPress.com identity.
Now think about how many people have a Gravatar account, which is perhaps the central identity platform on the web for avatars and also owned by Automattic.
With the addition of comments to JetPack, it’s possible to see that number growing well beyond 10% in years to come.
The real opportunity from growth will come from more features such as comments which appeal to casual end-users rather than just site-owners and bloggers.
WordPress.com has already become a login option on many different websites. As it continues to grow, it could provide a central identity tool for the web that rivals Facebook, Google and OpenID.
Of course, WordPress also has all of the benefits that projects like Diaspora claim when targeting Facebook:
- You can use WordPress anonymously.
- You control the source code.
- You can easily export your site from WordPress.com and take your site with you.
Take this description of Diaspora from Wikipedia:
The Diaspora social network is constructed of a network of nodes, or pods, hosted by many different individuals and institutions. Each node operates a copy of the Diaspora software acting as a personal web server. Users of the network can create an account on any server of their choice, but can interact with other users on all other servers
Notice how easily that description now applies to the WordPress network?
The only difference is that WordPress actually could make it work and become a viable open source rival to Facebook.