A social networking site is a website that makes a virtual community available for people who want to gather. The social network might have a particular focus or the users who join might create their own focus. Most often, social networks provide a number of features such as member profiles, ways for members to communicate and interact, and a variety of ways to access the site. Open source software is software for which the source code is made available to everyone as long as they maintain any modifications as open source. Open source social networking software is software that is available for people to build their own social networking sites and modify the code, if they wish, while keeping the results freely available.
There are a number of different examples of open source social networking software, but they vary in important ways. Different types of open source social networking software may have different scope of use and be intended for different audiences, different features, and varying amounts of flexibility. They are built on different code platforms and may also have built-in limitations in terms of content, access, and other elements, better or worse documentation and support, and varying environments in which they will perform. In addition, they may be offered under different licenses.
Open source social networking software often, but not always, has a code base involving PHP, MySQL, and/or Ruby on Rails. Features may include a blog, calendar, forum, and wiki; sharing of audio, image, and video files; messaging, social grouping, and tagging. Connectivity with other social networking sites such as AIM®, Amazon®, Ebay®, FaceBook®, Flickr®, Google®, Twitter®, and YouTube® is typical.
The names that frequently come up when open source social networking software is mentioned include the WordPress plugin BuddyPress, Drupal, Elgg, Mahara, Dolphin, Joomla!, and PHPizabi. WordPress itself, though often considered as a blogging software, actually won the 2007 Open Source Social Networking Content Management System Award from Packt Publishing®, at which time Elgg and Drupal tied for second. The category was not continued after that year.
It is important not to confuse “open source” with free. Open source social networking software may or may not have charges associated with its use. It may be entirely free. On the other hand, some plug-ins, modules, applications, or ad removal may only be available if paid for. In some cases, the open source software may require a paid license.