WordPress For the Web Developer: Join The Social World With BuddyPress

By David Fiedler

WordPress is not only one of the world's most popular blogging tools, but it's also a solid platform on which to base news and even commerce sites, using the right plugins and perhaps a bit of custom programming and creativity. But it's almost always been a broadcast facility, in terms of the "old" web, and not the give-and-take of today's Social Media whirl, until now. BuddyPress was first released in 2009, and has now taken the WordPress community by storm.

BuddyPress adds multiuser features (such as entire individual blogs for each user), instant messaging, threaded commenting, friending, and other Facebook-type features, bbPress-based discussion forums, and even Twitter-style following to a standard WordPress installation – and incredibly, it's completely set up as a standard plugin. That means you could literally add BuddyPress to your own WordPress site in the time it took you to read this far! But don't install it quite yet; keep reading to find out what else is involved.

First, The Basics of BuddyPress

Like WordPress itself, BuddyPress is open source software licensed under the GNU GPL (V2) from the Free Software Foundation, so it's not a proprietary secret bunch of code that you might later lose access to. At the current time, BuddyPress (itself currently at version 1.2.6) has minimal software requirements as well. You'll need a running copy of WordPress or WordPress MU version 2.9.1 (or newer), plus the underlying MySQL (4.1 or newer) and PHP (4.3 or newer), with the Apache mod_rewrite module enabled. The first (and for many developers, the only) "gotcha" about BuddyPress is that the theme design is a bit trickier than normal, since it has to incorporate the extra BuddyPress menu items with all the normal WordPress features, and support making them disappear properly if the corresponding parts of BuddyPress are disabled.

The default theme could be considered rather plain, but it's quite similar to Simplicity and a few other basic blue themes. However, there are all kinds of interesting compatible themes (you can search for them right from your Admin panel using the tag "buddypress"), including one called "Facelook". But what if you've already spent a great deal of time and energy getting your site's theme just the way you want it?

Plugins For Your Plugin

Luckily, there's a plugin for that, too! The aptly-named BuddyPress Template Pack actually walks you through the process of modifying your theme to be compatible with BuddyPress. On the theme I was using for test purposes, much of it was done automatically, but about ten HTML files had to undergo minor repetitive editing.

And there are plugins for BuddyPress itself too; in fact, when this article was written there were over 250 of them at the BuddyPress Plugin Gallery. There are not only the usual multimedia albums and ad management programs, but also offerings intended specifically for the group nature of BuddyPress, such as event registration and courseware.

Getting Started with BuddyPress

Actually installing the BuddyPress plugin is the usual single click, but it takes quite a bit more time than normally, simply because there's a lot going on in the background, including many additions to the database. When it's done, you'll have the flexibility to enable or disable any major component from a single menu:

You'll probably want to leave these all on for maximum flexibility, but if you want to turn any of them off, now is the best time to do so, since removing capabilities from a busy user community will not make them happy. The default installation will give you new social buttons on every page (which also correspond to permanent subdirectories): Activity, Members, Groups, and Forums.

Activity shows recent member activity of all kinds. On a busy site, this can be quite overwhelming, so there's a very handy filter menu:

Members is a straightforward list of names with avatars.

Forums lets you jump directly to the list of public discussions.

Groups is one of the most powerful features of BuddyPress. By allowing dynamic groups, BuddyPress allows an administrator to set up a correspondence to an actual organization with real departments, or users to create ad hoc committees on the fly, or almost any structure that makes sense. As the webmaster or site administrator, you also get fairly complete control:

Having a blog used to be pretty cool; BuddyPress lets your site be cool again. Give it a try!

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