I stumbled upon an interesting post by Moroagh on social raiding. He defines it as: "Social raiding is characterized by heterogeneous groups (needing accessiblity time-wise, flexibility in raid composition and tolerance in encounter sensitivity to individual error). It’s also characterized by low attendance and fluctuation in individuals attending and it’s optimized around happiness of the participants (fair raid slot distribution (no benching if specific classes if at all possible) and flat loot distribution (no favored players to optimize performance) and not speed of progression." Good definition, and you can clearly see how this social raiding existed in classic WoW, and disappeared in the Burning Crusade. Thus Moroagh's question of whether Wrath of the Lich King will bring it back.
Twice a month for the last couple of years I'm spending a Monday night with friends playing pen & paper roleplaying games. We just finished a long D&D campaign that lasted almost 3 years, and are now starting with a d6 Star Wars RPG campaign. And when I hear "social raiding", I have to think of my pen & paper RPG group. The thing about that group is that we get almost nothing done during one session. The story advances slowly, and we're lucky if we complete one combat per evening. But that doesn't matter at all. Getting anywhere or leveling up or gaining anything just isn't the point. The role-playing is basically just background, a good excuse to hang out, to sit around a table eating junk food, to chat, joke, swap WoW stories, and have fun. Theoretically we could just hang out without the RPG, but that isn't likely to happen. The structured environment of a RPG campaign with a fixed date and time makes it easier to set such evenings up.
And that is something that is missing from World of Warcraft right now. You could theoretically hang out in a tavern somewhere in Azeroth, but there isn't a structure to it. A 40-man raid to Molten Core gave such a structure, while at the same time having enough slack to still allow taking all your friends with you, regardless of class, and whether they were very good players or not. The TBC 10-man Karazhan raids removed that slack. To get anywhere on a Karazhan raid, you need to have the right class composition, and everybody needs to stay focused. That makes for superior gameplay, but for a lousy social environment. You don't even have the time to do much chatting or fooling around with the people that are there. And you had to kick out or not invite some of your best friends and fun social characters, because they were of the wrong class or just not playing well enough.
In my RPG group, which is nowadays better informed about WoW than I am, because most of them are still playing, somebody mentioned the addition of Zul'Aman in the next content patch. And my first question was whether it would be easier or harder than Karazhan. Apparently it will be harder, and I wasn't happy with that answer. And I ain't happy either that it is a 10-man instance. I'd rather see a new raid dungeon that is easier than Karazhan, and is for 25 players. Because that is what would enable social raiding again. This isn't about "free epics", of course the loot should be less good than Karazhan loot. This is about enabling large groups of people to hang out in a low-stress raid environment and get some raiding experience. Right now the barrier to entry into raiding is just too high. If there was some social raiding, some people would always learn how to raid better and evolve into better raiders, able to take on Karazhan and more. But basically we just want a good excuse to hang out and have fun.