Curated by: Luigi Canali De Rossi

Thursday, January 4, 2007

Ad-Supported Open-Source Community Blogging Becomes Reality: OpenServing Is Here

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Social media defined the last year of developments across the web, with social bookmarking, news, networks and community blogging rising into the ascendant. The web has transformed itself, moving forward from one-way, static communication into a sphere dominated by democratic, peer-driven content unfolding in a dynamic conversation between its users.


Open-Source culture has also played an integral role in this unfolding landscape, with success stories such as Wikipedia tapping into the wisdom of crowds to maximize its enormous range of information. Wherever you look, users have become active participants, rather than passive audiences.

While the Open-Source, democratic media ideal certainly gives us a warm fuzzy feeling inside, however, it doesn't always pay the bills. As this new web evolves, so new ways to monetize our content grow with it. Leading the way, of course, is contextual advertising.

What if the power of this Open-Source, socially-driven web could be used to create free, networked content, while offering an opportunity for community webmasters to make some money from the proceedings? This is the thinking behind a new, totally free service that promises to bring the power of community blogging and social news sites like Digg to anyone with the time and patience needed to set up such a community.

Open Serving is the solution, and while the service offers 100% free hosting, bandwidth costs and the Open-Source software that will run your community for you, it also promises to turn over 100% of ad profits made from your site directly to you. That's right, 100%. All of it.

In this brief introduction I walk you through the key features of what looks to be a very promising social news and community blogging platform, with the rich potential to reward those that put it to good use.

User generated content


User generated content - also known as consumer generated media - has transformed the new media landscape. Newspapers, TV networks and web developers alike are clambering over one another to get at this rich source of content - that produced by the people formerly known as the audience.

It is certainly possible for a website to survive without a community element and the input of its site visitors, but to really thrive in the Web 2.0 environment, integrating their creative or critical powers into your product is at least desirable.

OpenServing gives you the opportunity to build a community from scratch, or to create an easy to use community space for your existing site visitors, thus extending the range and breadth of what you are able to offer them.

The platform is driven by its users, and while you are in control as the site administrator, with the ability to edit and determine the nature of the content, your users are nevertheless going to play an active role in the day to day content of your 'OpenServe' - the company's name for your collaborative blog. With OpenServing, any user can add an 'opinion' - a short blog post - and these opinions will make up the essence of your community dominated website.

Let's say you decide to set up an OpenServe about online collaboration tools, for instance. You have chosen the topic, and you will have final control over the content, but ultimately you are one contributor among the many of your community. If successful, this makes for a stream of fresh, user generated content pouring into your OpenServe. A horde of voices gather, each bringing something unique to the table.

The more cautious among you will at this point be wondering what happens to quality control if this is the case. How does the good content get seen if it is hidden among a growing pile of garbage? The answer, in this case, is via the process of user democracy.

Democratic content serving


Shamelessly ripping off Digg's central idea of news items voted on by site visitors, OpenServe relies heavily on a voting system. Rather than content being selected by a single editor, it is instead voted on by those taking part in the community.

The result is simple, and will be familiar to any Digg-ites - the most popular content makes it to the front page. News, or blogging, becomes viral, and the more people interested in what an individual has to say will propel their content to the forefront of the site, bringing it to more people's attention.

There is nothing new here, but I am inclined to say that if it isn't broken, don't fix it. This has been a very effective method for Digg and seems very much in keeping with the democratic, Open-Source ethos behind the OpenServing project.

In actual fact, they have managed to take things one step further by extending the democratic voting process to the management of comments.

Comment-level control


So while traditionally the webmaster is responsible for filtering spam, and authenticating comments, here the task is to an extent handed over to the community at large. Just as 'opinions' can be voted on, so individual comments find their place in the ecosystem by means of user votes.

This way, the best comments literally rise to the top, and those of little interest sink down into the depths. This is a nice touch, and extends the already profoundly social nature of the platform. As the person responsible for your online community, then, you are much less and uber-editor or circus master as you are a gardener gently pruning and refining the organic content growing up around you. This is how communities prosper.

Of course the added benefit of being the person behind the community is the ability to profit from any ad-revenue generated by your users.

Advertising revenue


The ad revenue, generated via Google, goes straight into your pocket if you have (or get hold of) a Google Ad code. This is not to be scoffed at, as obviously you are getting completely free bandwidth, the tools to create and maintain your community, and storage space to host it for nothing. And then, on top of all of that, you are entitled to the full 100% of any profits made from pay-per-click click-throughs.

Again, while this is unlikely to make you a millionaire, there is the very real possibility that with time you could stand to profit considerably from your involvement with the platform. This will obviously be to the extent that your community grows and prospers, but I can see this amazing feature of the platform drawing in sharp-minded people with their eye on the money. Fortunately, as users will be drawn by the quality of content and community, there seem to be no loopholes for those that would try to create communities on a flimsy pretext.

Ultimately, a community is as strong as its user-base and content, and those that are likely to see the most rewards from the ad revenue potential of OpenServing will be those that spend the most time and effort on developing a rock solid community.

Wikia - the people behind the project


So who are these philanthropists handing out bandwidth, storage space and free software without taking a fat cut of your profits? The people behind OpenServing are Wikia Inc, and they have long been providing free community wikis using the MediaWiki platform most famous for running Wikipedia. OpenServing is the brainchild of the same people. Co-Founder Jimmy Wales says of the project that:

''Social change has accelerated beyond the original Wikipedia concept of six years ago. People are rapidly adopting new conventions for working together to do great things, and Wikia is a major beneficiary of that trend.

OpenServing is the next phase of this experiment. We don't have all the business model answers, but we are confident - as we always have been - that the wisdom of our community will prevail''
Jimmy Wales, 2006. Wikia Press Release

It is refreshing to hear of a project that is driven by the will to further disseminate knowledge and hand over the tools of production to everyday people, even if the business model may be trailing behind those admirable ideals.

I don't doubt that OpenServing will find its business model over time. But if Wales' track history is anything to go by, it will not be an intrusive one. I look forward to seeing a solution evolve here, and am sure that the communities contributing to this Open-Source project will find ways to make it sustainable. Wikia, in many ways the platforms predecessor, is now enjoying its fifth year, and seems to be going strong. OpenServing promises to be even more successful.

Possible drawbacks


OpenServing is powered by MediaWiki, the Open-Source platform that serves up Wikipedia, which is great.

One potential issue I can see - and this is yet to be confirmed - is the inability to use web video. The name MediaWiki is perhaps a little misleading in this sense, in that it draws the line at rich media. As Internet video continues to dominate the evolving web, it would be nice to see video embedding as standard, as this is proving to be an increasingly popular way to share content. Time will tell if this will be included or not, but initial indications suggest that video will not be part of the OpenServing equation.

This is not the end of the world, and OpenServing has been designed to support existing blogs and websites with an easy to plug in, freely hosted community blogging and news platform. Nevertheless, social media are increasingly driven by audio-visual content, and if communities are to be successful in terms of ad-revenue and user retention, this would be a nice addition.

In conclusion


OpenServing is set up to offer a very rich experience to those with the power to bring, or grow, a community in the sub-domain of their choice. While it is unlikely that the platform will be producing any millionaires in the near future, there is something very cool about being able to create what is effectively your very own Digg and take home any profits made from the advertising. This is a bold project, and deserves to be applauded for not taking a cut for itself.

Ad-revenue aside, the service provides an excellent, very easy to use platform for extending the social dimension of your personal blog or even company website, and the range of applications for the service seem diverse. Companies could use the service to engage with customers, or indeed colleagues while independent publishers will certainly benefit from the ability to create communities around their content.

Finally, what needs to be reiterated is that OpenServing is totally free. There are very few services out there without some economic catch, but this would seem to be on of the rare exceptions. You really have nothing to lose in registering your OpenServing sub-domain, and should you have the time, energy and talent to foster a community, it would seem that there is a lot to gain - in terms of direct ad revenues, but also in terms of forging communities and strengthening your cause and online presence.

For this alone, OpenServing deserves to be applauded.

Additional resources

If you would like to learn more, or get involved with setting up your own OpenServing community, you might be interested in the following links:

Readers' Comments    
2007-01-05 00:07:48

Web developers

As with open source software, the quality could improve only and not decrease. Anything done collectively with a common goal will achieve its purpose. So is open content writing.

2007-01-04 09:33:30

Sepp Hasslberger

Great article Robin.

As always you catch the essence behind the evolving trends of the net.

This user-centered and user-driven way of sorting and annotating content reminds me very much of Roger Eaton's idea of the "annotated web".

posted by Michael Pick on Thursday, January 4 2007, updated on Tuesday, May 5 2015

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