SocialEngine: Looking Forward

Hey all,
Big, big things are going down at SocialEngine. I’m incredibly excited to announce that we are nearly ready to ship our next-generation community platform, SocialEngine 5. We’ve been working on this for nine months, and the SE5 release marks a major shift in our company’s direction, so please bear with my overly verbose explanation of how and why we are doing this.
SE4 has been, and continues to be, an interesting and challenging ride for our team. While it’s helped us grow as a company, it’s also clearly shown us that we haven’t been helping you all build communities in the best way possible. We’ve learned that offering SocialEngine as self-hosted PHP software ultimately results in a number of variables that we can’t easily control. Unusual server configs can result in speed issues, multiple third-party plugins don’t play nicely together, custom changes to the SE4 codebase interfere with updates – you get the idea. We’ve spent the last year updating SE4 and doing our best to account for all these variables, but we now know that the permutations are infinite, and it’s become harder for us to do what we really want to do: build new tools and features to help you create powerfully captivating online communities.
SocialEngine 5 is our solution. It’s an entirely new platform. Here some of the highlights:

  • We host SE5 for you. There’s no more software to install. Your community is hosted on cutting-edge Amazon cloud servers that have been perfectly tuned by our team to serve up your website with blazing speed. We maintain the servers and roll out software updates for you so you can focus on building your community. You can easily add your own domain name for no extra charge.
  • SE5 themes are much easier to customize. We give you a simple list of HTML templates and CSS that you can edit from your control panel or locally on your computer. No more hunting through nested directories to find the view scripts you need – just a simple, flat list of templates. Designers can easily create their own themes and upload them or sell them to others.
  • SE5’s features are boiled down to what we know brings people together around interests. We’ve stripped out most of SE4’s side-dish features and designed this platform to help your members focus on sharing and creating content within your community. Out of the box, SE5 lets you launch a community with microsharing and curatorial features similar to those found on increasingly popular interest-based networks like Reddit and Pinterest, but we’ll help you go way beyond that.
  • Upgrades will have little to no impact on your customizations. We’ve separated the code that powers your community from your front-end theme so we can easily fix bugs and roll out updates in the background.
  • SE5 will make your community more open to the world. We are opening as many doors as possible to mainstream social channels like Twitter, Facebook, and Disqus. SE5 will pull and push content to and from these channels, making it much easier to draw new members into your community. Of course, if you prefer to keep your site private, that’s also built-in.
  • We’ll release an API to give you unlimited creative control. A data API means you’ll be able to extend any part of SocialEngine’s functionality with your own code. You’ll also be able to host your site on your own server while simply pulling your community data from ours. With our API, SocialEngine truly becomes a social engine in the most fundamental sense. We’ll have clear API docs and kits to help third-party developers rapidly build new add-on products.

So what about SE4? Are we just going to abandon it? Hell no! SE4 is our bread and butter, and we’ll continue to sell and support it because we know that a hosted solution simply isn’t an option for some, and sometimes it just makes sense to have the entire codebase on your own server. SE4 already works really well for many people, so it’s here to stay. Our SE4 team will continue to optimize and improve the codebase and SE4 clients will be eligible for a very substantial discount if they decide to upgrade to SE5 in the future.
On August 20th, we’ll spin up a SE5 beta community and open it to a small group of SE4 site owners. Let us know in the comments below if you’re interested in joining and giving us feedback on the beta. The goal is to get your feedback and bug reports on the basic features in SE5. After the beta, we’ll turn this site into a public resource for community builders everywhere.
Here are a few SE5 screengrabs that I hope will get you as excited as we are!

These are the two very basic themes we are rolling out with the SE5 launch. “Board” is great for photo-sharing and curation. “Stream” is great for communities that are focused on link-sharing and ranking. Both are deliberately simple to make it easier for you to customize your layout. We’ll be creating many other stock themes in the near future, some of which will more closely resemble the layout and feeds in SE4.

Making content sharing insanely easy is one of our top priorities as we build out SE5. We’ve already created a bookmarklet “share it” button. Members can drag this button to their browser’s bookmarks bar and click it anytime they want to instantly share a link with your community.

SE5 will help you learn more about your community and its members. We’ve already added some useful charts and analytics to help you track your growth.
Please hit us hard with your questions and comments below and I’ll personally answer as many as I can. We know that SE5 won’t be perfect for everyone, but it will ultimately solve the issues some people encounter with SE4 and bring us one big step closer to fulfilling our mission: to help you create and activate your unique online community.

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