When you think of social networks the big three jump out at you, Facebook, Twitter and Google+.
Social networks offer something that traditional sites can’t offer to the same degree: community. On all of these websites there is a constant flow of communication between its members and to the public and that is something that you may want to take advantage of.
You may be hesitant to use one of the big three for your own purposes though. They are liable to change the functionality of the service so that it doesn’t do exactly what you want anymore. You may simply be talking about confidential information that you don’t feel comfortable having on a third party server somewhere no matter what assurances you are given.
If that sounds familiar then the answer to your problems could be BuddyPress. It is a WordPress plugin that according to its creators, Automattic, is “Social networking in a box”. In this post I’m going to explain what BuddyPress is, why you may need it and show you how to install and expand on it.
Why You Should Use BuddyPress
While the current crop of social networks are extremely useful at building a large community, they may not be ideal if you only want to create a small social network for your company, niche interest, sports team, or something else altogether.
You may have a company where you don’t feel comfortable creating a group or area on an external website, or those sites just aren’t exactly what your looking for. You want your employees to be engaged with each other online in a social way, but you want to have complete control over everything about the website they use.
BuddyPress gives you these options and is extremely easy and quick to setup on your own server. Using BuddyPress gives you a more private and intimate social network. It can be a social network where you control every aspect and use only those features you think are necessary.
Let’s take a look at how you install BuddyPress.
If you decide to try BuddyPress then installation is simple. All you need to do is search for it in the WordPress Plugin Directory and click install.
Once the installation is complete you will be presented with the BuddyPress settings page, which will inform you that it has installed a few components by default. You have the option to use further components or remove the pre-installed ones as you see fit.
I would recommend leaving the default two components active and then selecting a few others that you think you will use, such as “Extended Profiles” and “Account Settings”.
After the basic setup there are two new main tabs in your WordPress dashboard. These are “Activity” and “Groups”. Activity is a running feed of everything that happens on your BuddyPress site. This is only available for the admin, and it lets you filter the activities by type, such as “Created a group” or “New member registered”.
The Groups tab allows you to create and manage user groups on the site. These groups come in three types:
- Public – These groups are open to every member of the site. All communication within these groups can be seen and searched through.
- Private – These groups are open to every member of the site. All communication within these groups can be seen and searched through.
- Hidden – These groups are completely hidden from everyone and can only be accessed through invite by the group admin. They never show up in the group directory or through any searches on the site. Content can only ever been seen by members of the group.
You are also given a selection of new sidebar widgets to use. They are:
- (BuddyPress) Groups
- (BuddyPress) Members
- (BuddyPress) Recently Active Members
- (BuddyPress) Who’s Online
As well as these widgets a login widget is created in your sidebar for members to use to login, or register an account if that is something you allow.
The Key Features of BuddyPress
The Activity Stream
The fundamental feature of BuddyPress is the Activity Stream. Each member can post updates to their own activity stream from their profile.
Each stream can be followed by any member using RSS or email notification. And using the @ symbol followed by the member username allows you to mention that user in your stream, in a very similar manner to the one currently used by twitter.
Streams can be commented on and tagged as a favorite by members to enhance discussions. Each group also has its own activity stream that is controlled by the group visibility.
We’ve already touched upon one of the key features of BuddyPress: User Groups. Creating multiple groups allows you to segment the communications occurring between members of your site and allow them to have focused discussions within each group.
They also allow you to keep conversations private to a selection of people if that is something you need to do. An example of ideal group use would be for a company that wants to separate their discussions by department, or location.
Members and Friends
BuddyPress extends upon the core WordPress user system. Users are now “Members” and can do several things that are more in line with your social media user expectations. Members can be friends with other members allowing for a more focused social connection. They can follow other members activity feeds, as well as participate in various group discussions and communicate directly with other members.
The basic user profile in WordPress doesn’t offer a great deal of customization. BuddyPress changes this by allowing you to add completely new fields into the user registration. You can make these fields a requirement in order to register or simply a means for the members to share more information about themselves within their profile.
Extending Your BuddyPress Installation
As with WordPress, BuddyPress can be expanded upon using a multitude of plugins created specifically for it. Here are a few plugins to consider.
While there is one blog associated with your site, this plugin allows you to extend the Groups options to associate a single blog with each group created. More information →
This is an experimental plugin. It includes three BuddyPress experiments that are in beta. It allows you to have an auto-complete function when doing @mentions, gives you a quick admin section and also adds a Like button. More information →
BuddyPress Activity Plus
This plugin allows you to embed images, video or links into your activity stream that makes sharing media on your site simple. More information →
This plugin adds collaborative documents to your BuddyPress community. More information →
There are far more than this small selection of plugins, and a complete list can be found on the BuddyPress.org website.
The Best Private Social Network?
BuddyPress is a simple and highly customizable solution for creating small social networks. It may be exactly what your looking for if you need to make use of a social community while retaining the privacy and control of your own website. The best way to find that out is to download a copy, install it on you server and give it a try.
Are you a BuddyPress user? What do you think of this social network for WordPress and what recommendations do you have for extending its functionality? Have you tried BuddyPress and decided that it’s not for you?
Please let us know your answers to these questions in the comments section. If you have any other questions or comments about BuddyPress, we’d love to hear them too.