A few weeks ago, I was working with a fellow developer and trying to figure out how we could enhance the functionality of a WordPress website that required managing visitor logins. The site, which was for poets and writers, would allow visitors to set up accounts, submit content, interact with others on the website and share content to outside circles on Facebook and Twitter. After scratching our heads for a number of days, we came to the conclusion that BuddyPress would provide the needed solution. A couple of weeks later, we can see our decision was not misguided.
In our case, BuddyPress worked because it accomplished what it was created to do: enable people with similar interests to connect and communicate. The BuddyPress package however is more than a social networking tool. Companies can use it as an internal communication tool and some universities and colleges have used it to deploy a wide social network on their website. While most institutions are powerless to control and monitor Facebook interactions, BuddyPress provides a safe and secure environment with similar functionality but with the ability to monitor student activity.
BuddyPress is open source and makes available its core code online. In addition, users are free to use its themes, plug-in extensions and contribute their time and knowledge to the project.
The BuddyPress Core
Since BuddyPress is essentially an enhanced WordPress plug-in, it is written with the same primary technologies that power its parent base i.e. PHP and MySQL. Most users will therefore find it real easy if they have previously been working on WordPress. The package extends the integral functions of the WordPress engine to include themes, plugins and widgets effectively inheriting what has been there all along.
In order to allow the creation of social networking applications, BuddyPress comes installed with some basic functionality that includes Activity Streams, User Profiles, Group Creation, Friend System, Bespoke themes and Blogs per user. Even with its own login functionality, BuddyPress integrates with the underlying WordPress platform in such a way that only a single sign-on is required to the system for users thereby providing seamless experiences across the board.
With most users already on social networks, BuddyPress offers a solid strategy of helping you attract new members by allowing you to link user profiles to their other social networks like Facebook and Twitter. Using a code snippet or a plug-in, users can easily share their activity on social networks as well as allow others to check out their other profiles on these outside platforms. Members can even share their profiles on social networks if they want others to join them in their new ‘social network’.
Groups and group forums are popular on the Web and within communities, and BuddyPress offers communities an easy way to post and reply to forum posts. Members have the freedom to search all public forum topics from the Forums Directory and even post a reply or start a forum topic in a public group even when they are not group members. Any time a member adds a post or replies to a forum post, he or she auto joins that group. Group forums in BuddyPress are made up of Forum Topics and Discussion Threads. Forum topics are proposed discussion subjects while discussion threads are the conversations and replies that result from a particular topic.
Users can easily search and filter forum topics and groups using various parameters as well as create new Forum Directory topics in the same way.
BuddyPress also offers other enhancements that include site-wide forums, avatar uploads, a friend messaging system and a bunch of interesting plugins and themes.
BuddyPress can be installed directly through the WordPress dashboard plugins page or downloaded manually from the plugins repository and uploaded to your website. The latest BuddyPress build can also be downloaded from the SVN repository for developers who want to get their hands dirty.