UNA is best understood as a website framework. It is far more sophisticated and capable than SE or Elgg for building unique experiences. Our Dolphin (Legacy) platform is similar to those and we have designed UNA to address some challenges that SE, Elgg and Dolphin presented. For example:
1. You can build, not just customise. In UNA you can create custom pages, assign visibility permissions, insert blocks from system and external modules, create reusable navigation and action menus, manipulate forms, etc. In effect you can build a unique combination of pages, features and permissions that would be absolutely different from a vanilla UNA-based site. Whereas with SE and Elgg you are limited to their specific choice of functionality with some preset customisation options. You can ovverride that with custom coding, breaking the site upgradability. we Have been through this with Dolphin - thousands of cooki-cutter sites that look exactly the same and a few customised networks that run on ancient version codebase due to custom modifications they can’t merge.
2. Separated configuration and administration layers. Putting content management and site management into one interface is only going to work for small websites managed by solo or small teams. When we talk about scalabilit’s, it’s not just about using remote storage and allowing for database cluster - theres much more to think about in terms of site management. In UNA you can create membership levels like Admins, Moderators, SuperModerators, Assistants, etc. - then create custom dashboards for each one, tuning for their specific task set. SE and Elgg are simply not designed for, say, a team of 1000 admins.
3. Account and profile separation. This is a very important feature that mustn’t be overlooked. A user may have one account and multiple profiles with different form fields. Then they can switch personas. This capability allows for really interesting configurations, like when a user can have their personal profile and their company profile, using either one depending on situation. Say, a Real Estate agent and Agency. An org profile may have multiple associated accounts and may be relinquished. Think of cases like Teacher/School, Parent/Child/Family, Team/Employee/Personal, Doctor/Hospital/Patient, etc, etc. So far, this feature alone brings more unique ideas to our ecosystem than anything else.
4. Content and contexts. UNA has a context/content/object data model, which is followed closely in UX development. You can post a discussion to a group, space, event, profile and it would have privacy setting governed by the context. Context types can be configured in different combinations, allowing for really unique structures of subcommunities. Say, you can build a site with public subcommunities attached to a location to contain local content, while also have ad-hoc groups for interest-based subcommunities.
There is a lot more, but I’ll stop here for now. Point is that UNA is a much more ambitious platform, closer to Drupal than to Elgg or SE. It is still in nascent state, because actual “field” tests with Large active communities only started to happen and we took a lot of time to build the core system, but it is quickly improving and will feel much more polished in coming months.
It does take at least twice as much effort to build a platform like this, but once the bases elements start ticking it proves to be 10 times more capable.