BobaBoard is a modern, open source community-building software built with an eye to the needs of transformative fandom. It prioritizes privacy and fluidity of identity in a framework that includes high levels of customization and fine-grained permission settings, encouraging creative expression across different formats and styles of communication.
Unlike other decentralized software, BobaBoard is built to host multiple separate communities (“Realms”) on a single instance (“Galaxy”). This allows a single sysadmin to serve a wider set of users, separating the skills needed to run the servers from the skills needed to effectively run social spaces. Growing the first Galaxy is also a big part of the project: as of November 2022, “boba.social” includes two Realms, one active, and one under construction. At present, we’re also defining our strategy (and requirements) to recruit more community managers and further expand the space.
BobaBoard is highly-experimental software. As we build a system that’s flexible enough to accomodate a variety of use cases and extensions, we’re actively seeking to rediscuss common assumptions on the features and user experience that community software on the modern web must provide.
Story and background
The last decade of the internet was overwhelmingly focused on social networks centered on individual experiences, leaving another important category woefully behind: community platforms. While some modern forum-like software exists, they’re usually targeted towards business applications and text-heavy styles of communication. As social platforms grew to incorporate complex means of personal expression—like photosets, videos, stories, twitter threads, re-sharing, and more— community platforms on the open web haven’t seen the same level of modernization. Indeed,the largest player in the “community platform” space is not only not suited to the asynchronous style of communication typical of older forums, but it’s not even accessible outside of its own app.
The initial idea behind BobaBoard was born while decrying the current status of modern social networks, and the failures of independent efforts to meaningfully disrupt the space. While many projects sought to recreate the experience of platforms like Twitter or Tumblr “but different”, the idea behind BobaBoard was to challenge the assumption that platforms needed to rely on a large set of users in order to thrive. The first phase of BobaBoard meant to answer the question: “what would a platform that only 50 people love to be on look like?“. With the initial ideas validated, the second and current phase expands the target beyond the initial audience, seeking to answer the same question in a manner that’s repeatable across different (but ethically-aligned) ways to build community online.
While the not-so-secret overarching goal of BobaBoard is to build a community software that can be customized to accomodate wildly different social spaces, its development path argues that it’s impossible for developers to imagine such software on a whiteboard. The experience of building communities and software alongside each other is integral to carving a path towards “the BL fangirl-led WordPress of online communities”.
Inspirations & acknowledgements
- The origin of the name “BobaBoard” is two-folded: on one side, the software is meant to encourage the creation of safe “social bubbles” in a highly chaotic internet; on the other side, “BobaBoard Software” shortens to BBS as a callback to old Bulletin Board Systems (a.k.a forums).