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by Isaac Sukin
This summer I worked at Acquia building status updates and activity streams in Drupal. The modules I developed became the centerpiece of Commons 2.0, which was released on August 31st. This new major version of Commons represents a giant leap forward in the world of social business software. It introduces a familiar, easy-to-use communication interface into a realm previously burdened by its focus on static documents. In this release Commons has blended social networking with enterprise tools to create a sphere of "ambient communication" – discussions among employees and with customers that may not quite have the urgency of all those emails in your already-stuffed inbox, but which foster a community common space where you can catch up on important and interesting goings-on when you have the time to do so.
Specifically, Commons 2.0 introduces status updates, which allow users to post messages on their own profile or to other users and groups. Log in to Commons and you'll see a little box asking what's on your mind. Type in some brief thoughts and click "Share," and poof – your post appears immediately, where others can "like" it or comment. Feel free to get carried away and type a longer message – the box will expand to fit. You can attach images and links to your message too. It's the little details here that make status updates really shine: the familiarity and ease of use lowers the barrier to entry, making it easy for new users to jump in and start contributing right away.
Also new is the upgraded activity stream. Each user has a personal stream that displays the activity of their groups and people they follow. User profiles also have a stream of that user's activity, and group home pages show all activity within that group. Like status updates, the activity stream integrates with virtually all parts of a Commons website, but it was designed to be flexible and extensible so that site administrators can adjust the defaults to suit their needs.
The most exciting part of the Commons 2.0 release for me, though, is not the specific features we built or even the new class of truly social business software we created. What's most exciting to me is that Commons and the modules that power it are free and open source. What that means is that now that I developed the activity streams feature for Commons, any of the millions of Drupal websites anywhere in the world can install those modules for free and have enterprise-class social networking capabilities just like that. The kind of technology that once made Facebook unique is now freely available for anyone to download, use, or modify. Because they are free, powerful, flexible, and extensible, I genuinely believe that these tools – Commons and the modules that power it – will be used to make the next generation of deeply social websites, creating communities and bringing them closer around the world. Think of the businesses, movements, innovations, communities that free software can inspire! When we reduce the cost of innovation, everyone benefits. And since Commons is built on top of Drupal, any of the thousands of Drupal modules can be plugged similarly into it to add new functionality. The pace of innovation with an open source community as big as Drupal's is relentless. So watch out, proprietary software; this is an open-source world now.
For businesses, the fact that Commons and the modules it uses are open source doesn't mean that you're on your own to figure out how to use it. Acquia provides comprehensive support, hosting, and professional services that help your company get the most out of Commons. Acquia also provides migration services to bring your legacy content into Commons – and because it's an open platform, if you ever decide you want to move away from Acquia or Commons, there is no vendor lock-in; you can switch hosting or support companies or move your data out of Commons altogether. Why pay exorbitant amounts for supposedly "social" software that ignores those crucial interactions with customers and among employees when you can get Commons for free and still take advantage of world-class support and hosting?
I had a great experience as an intern at Acquia building software that can make a difference. Try it, and let us know what you think!