About a month ago I announced our upcoming hosted community platform. This resulted in a couple of hurricane of comments from the SE community, mostly because of our decision to name the new platform “SocialEngine 5″. After reading through all these comments and speaking with dozens of SocialEngine site owners directly, I now clearly see where everyone is coming from. Calling the new platform “SE5″ implies that it’s a replacement for SE4. It’s not. Both platforms help you build an online community, but they do it in really different ways. We are going to continue building on both platforms and have no plans to discontinue our PHP products. The name of our new service needs to reflect that, and “SE5″ failed to do that properly.
We’ve decided to finalize the name of our new platform as SocialEngine Cloud. The new service is built on Amazon’s cloud hosting technology, and I think the new name helps people understand that it’s a hosted service, unlike SE4, which is a PHP script that you host on your own server. To make the distinction even clearer, we’ll be referring to the self-hosted PHP product line (including the current SE4 version) as SocialEngine PHP.
So aside from SE Cloud being hosted, and SE PHP being self-hosted, how are they actually different? Here’s a super high-level overview with some of the key benefits of each option.
SocialEngine PHP (SE4):
- Includes 100% unencrypted source code. This is a big benefit if you’re a developer (or you’ve hired a developer) and you have an extremely custom social concept in mind. It’s also great if you’re using this as a corporate intranet that needs to sit on your own server.
- Offers a relatively more traditional social interaction format that’s a bit more like a “walled garden” by default. The focus is more on member profiles and simple, chronological status updates, and less about sharing content to and from other websites.
- Includes very nuanced member profile design options and membership levels. SE4 has dozens of pre-built profile field types (Birthday, Gender, Relationship Status, etc.), plus the option to create any kind of custom profile field you want (text field, pull-downs, checkboxes, and many others). You can also create multiple custom profile types (Owners and Pets, Teachers and Students, etc.), and each type gets its own set of profile fields. SE Cloud gives you custom profile fields but not nearly with this level of complexity.
- Has custom membership levels. As the site owner, you can assign moderators on different levels, or charge members for premium access. Membership levels are totally custom, so you can make as many as you want and label them any way you want. SE Cloud is slightly more rigid with just Admins, Moderators, and Members.
- Has very easy-to-edit HTML/CSS themes and templates. It’s much more designer-friendly than SE PHP, but a little less flexible in terms of customizing exactly how features work from the inside. Themes can be downloaded/installed with just a few clicks.
- Offers a forward-looking social interaction format that’s more like an open forum. The focus is more on making it really easy for members to share stuff from around the web or content they’ve hosted on other services (like YouTube, Flickr, Soundcloud, Vimeo, and others). Members spend more of their time browsing posts and comments rather than other members’ profiles. It’s inspired in part by some of the amazing interest-focused social communities like Reddit, Pinterest, Canvas, Quora and Chill, that are now emerging around the web.
- It’s less competitive with mainstream social identity providers like Facebook and Twitter. It actually works with these services in every way possible, going way beyond social login.
- Has a major focus on simplicity and performance. The built-in themes are really simple and designed to guide your members into a sharing mindset without overwhelming them with tons of links and content sections. It’s also insanely fast because we host it for you on high-end cloud servers that we’ve configured especially for our software.
- It was built with SEO in mind. We’ve learned SEO best practices and have baked them into the new platform. It’s designed so that posts are highly sharable and should generate some great link juice for your site.
So which one is right for you? Should you hold off on buying SE PHP?
If you’re currently considering buying SE PHP but you’re waiting to see what SE Cloud is like, I definitely suggest that you go ahead and buy SE PHP, especially if you know that you want to host your community on your own server. They are really different platforms, and if you like what you see in SE PHP, then it’s right for you. There will also be some major incentives in place for those of you that want to switch from SE PHP to SE Cloud, especially if you buy SE PHP close to the launch of SE Cloud, so there isn’t much risk in starting with SE PHP. Details on that coming soon as we work out the details internally. If you still have questions, get in touch with us and we’ll help you sort out which one is right for your community.
I hope you all like the new name, and I hope this clears up the confusion around how we are moving forward with SE Cloud and SE PHP. Stay tuned for more updates on this blog about both platforms. Thanks to all of you for your candid feedback. It worked. =)