Old skool portal and e-commerce vendor, BroadVision (remember them?), has caused a bit of a stir with the launch of its new social-network-as-a-service, Clearvale. You can use Clearvale to create closed (intranet), restricted (extranet) or open (Internet) networks.
I created a free Clearvale account so I could take a look and was immediately greeted by what is a reasonably customised, but instantly recognisable, as an Elgg site. Actually, this was a pleasant surprise!
Unfortunately, while ReadWriteWeb and TechCrunch were off comparing Clearvale to Socialtext, Jive, Ning, Salesforce Chatter, and Status.net neither of them quite joined the dots on this one! It would be nice to see some analysis of what this means for the Elgg platform itself.
Headshift has used Elgg on a number of projects, both here in Australia and also in the UK. If you aren’t familiar with Elgg, from a software architecture point of view it is a really interesting and very sophisticated people-centric (rather than being document- or content-centric) platform. The out-of-the-box Elgg interface is really a special set of plugins that run over the core Elgg engine – so in theory you can take the Elgg engine and build an entirely customised application running off it. It also comes with an API (although RWW say Clearvale are building an API, which may mean they are in fact customising it for their implementation of Elgg). However, most people work with the engine and the default front end. At this level, you customise Elgg using plugins that hook into different functions, views and a widget framework – this makes it very modular. Heavy or deap customisation of Elgg can actually get complicated, because its not a case of simply hacking PHP code – you actually have to understand how Elgg works.
So with that in mind, and without fully testing the Clearvale customisations, on first look it does appear they have done a good job of selecting and integrating a number of customisations to create a good set of core tools for people to use. This includes supporting some basic theming options, which isn’t something Elgg offers fresh out of the box – so you can add your own company logo and pick from a selection of colour themes. However, unlike hosting your own Elgg you can’t add your own plugins or theme plugins (although there is a hint from TechCrunch that they might create a kind of ‘app store’, which might provide a controlled method for doing this following the Apple model). This also limits your ability to change the overall information architecture, to suit the needs of your project or organisation. One thing I did notice is that site doesn’t automatically default to HTTPS, even if you choose to create a closed network, but it does appear to work over a secure connection.
Incidentally, Clearvale aren’t the only people playing in this space. Elgg themselves also have a hosted service, currently in beta that might also be worth looking at.